I just watched Seventh Son, directed by Sergey Bodrov, starring Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, and Julianne Moore.
As far as one-off fantasy movies rate, I’d give it a surprising 7… and surprising to myself, as I’ve been burned by One-Off Fantasies! I was disturbed by the gratuitous evils portrayed in Stardust, and bored by the simplicity and clichés of Eragon. Inkheart was the only one-off fantasy I’d recommend to anyone; and that as a good date-movie: there isn’t tons of action, but it was a charming little fantasy bubble. So when Seventh Son flashed across my computer screen last night after Hawkgirl said, “I’d be up for a movie tonight…” I didn’t have high expectations. The trailer looked like it would be a solid encyclopedia of fantasy creatures screaming into the camera, and I said, “Sure, why not.” I quite enjoyed it. The story is based on the books the Spook’s Apprentice, by Joseph Delaney. As with Eragon, the danger is that you introduce too many figures who are pivotal or iconic in the book, but don’t have the time to flesh them out in the movie. I did feel a little bit like that at the beginning, but eventually the characters who were important to us “movie-only” crowd were developed, and I found there was more story than I had planned on. Sir Gregory (Bridges) is a Spook, carrying on an order of knights that fight or contain monsters. His apprentice is killed when a powerful ancient witch, Mother Malkin (Moore), escapes her prison under the light of a waxing Blood Moon. The only person who can take over the apprenticeship is the seventh son of a seventh son; in this case, Thomas Ward (Barnes), a handsome young lad with troubling visions of the future. He has one week to get up to speed on creature fighting, as he and the dour Gregory trek to the witch’s fortress before she can summon all her lackeys, and reach the apex of her power at the full Blood Moon. On the way, lots of evil fantasy creatures will scream into the camera lens. I guarantee it.
Bridge’s Gregory is a ton of fun to watch. He sports a mustache that could put Gandalf’s eyebrows to shame, and his voice has been run through enough foley filters that he reverberates on a spectrum that sounds like a kettle drum falling down a mineshaft. For “an old guy” I really enjoyed how dangerous, strong, and fast he was: a refreshing twist on the old mentor character.
Barnes’s Tom is a little bit of a modern American youth thrown into an epic, old-world fantasy video game, filled with level 6 Gasts, and level 20 Witches (I didn’t say the movie was flawless). He shows weakness and promise, like every good apprentice. Unsurprisingly he finds a cute young American witch with a conflicted backstory to help muddy the ethical waters, as she sees the Spooks as cruel men who hunt poor witches. Aside from the weak video game similitudes, and some cheesy dialogue, I found the tired platitudes of modern tolerance fit poorly into the epic backdrop of legacy monster hunters. The film had difficulty deciding what it was trying to say. Gregory embodies a morally undisputable vampire hunter, with the unforgiving, callous, mentality of a witch-burning witch-hunter. But apparently somebody forgot to tell the order of Spooks about Glenda the Good Witch. Of the 10 witches/warlocks depicted in the film, only seven were actually completely evil, two turned out to be good (ish. plus or minus a betrayal incident), and one was undecided. I choose to let this [are-witches-inherently-evil question] slide in the fantasy setting because I’m a big proponent of personal responsibility. At the end of the day a person is shaped by their actions, and evil is as evil does. Meanwhile, for all his hard-blown talk, Gregory keeps an ogre helper around (secretly, to protect him from the outside world) because he is a deeply loyal friend. Gregory acts as a “keeper” to the lesser monsters of the world, rather than a destroyer, not harming the harmless Gasts in the woods. It seems that it’s mostly the Wicked Witches of the West that he crusades against with his brutal dogma. Justice has a little mercy around to spare, it seems. So… it was no Tolkien or Lewis. It was, for sure, fantasy-lite. But inside of that category, I give it a nogrometer rating of 7.