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Alexander Ludwig battles evil forces in 'The Seeker.' Alexander Ludwig battles evil forces in "The Seeker." (fox walden)

"The Dark Is Rising" is one of the lesser-known fantasy-novel series for younger readers. Written by Susan Cooper from 1965 through 1977, the five books don't have the cultural cachet or the readership of, say, "The Lord of the Rings," "The Chronicles of Narnia," "A Wrinkle in Time," or "Harry Potter." That just makes Cooper's fans more impassioned, though; one of my co-workers calls the books "only the most formative series of my childhood years."

With this in mind, I suggest the makers of "The Seeker" enter a witness-protection program posthaste. As literary muggings go, the film isn't up there with "The Bonfire of the Vanities," but it's thorough and dispiriting and certain to enrage the only people who stand to care about it. The producers - Fox Films and the usually reliable Walden Media - have tried to gin up the story for multiplex audiences. They've succeeded in making a movie for no audience at all.

No need to go into line-item offenses against the book, which you probably haven't read anyway. "The Seeker," based on the Newbery Medal-winning second in Cooper's series, tells the tale of Will Stanton (the pallid Alexander Ludwig), a 13-year-old American living with his family in rural England. Will discovers he's the long-awaited savior in the endless battle between The Dark and The Light, gifted with superpowers and charged by the Old Ones to find the six signs - they look like collectible buttons - that will turn back the forces of evil forever.

In practical terms, this means a scavenger hunt across historical epochs: Will gets a funny feeling and, poof, he's in the middle of a Viking battle and the sign is hidden in a berserker's shield. Directed by David L. Cunningham and written by John Hodge ("Trainspotting"), "The Seeker" hustles us from one frenetically-shot sequence to the next without pausing for breath; it feels like a highlight reel for a film we never get to see.

On Will's side are a local Grande Dame (Frances Conroy) and her butler (Ian McShane), two of the Old Ones; against him is a metrosexual meanie called The Rider (Christopher Eccleston), sort of a He Who Can Be Named. In general, Cooper's story line has been Potterized to little avail: Will's family is as large as the Weasleys, as unloving as the Dursleys, and no fun whatsoever.

"The Seeker" doesn't have the expansiveness or the special-effects budget to work as a decent one-shot fantasy film, either. Choppy editing and Ritalin camerawork create confusion rather than excitement, and any larger message gets fumbled in the crush. What exactly are The Light and The Dark? The filmmakers sincerely hope you don't ask.

Ty Burr can be reached at

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The Seeker

Directed by: David L. Cunningham

Written by: John Hodge, based on the novel "The Dark Is Rising" by Susan Cooper

Starring: Alexander Ludwig, Ian McShane, Christopher Eccleston, Frances Conroy

At: Boston Common, Fenway, Boston, and suburbs

Running time: 94 minutes

Rated: PG (fantasy violence, scary images, literary desecration)