Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Sergei Bodrov
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes, Alicia Vikander, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington, Olivia Williams, Antje Traue, John Desantis, Jason Scott Lee.
Jeff Bridges will forever be the “dude” from The Big Lebowski. But since winning an Oscar a couple of years ago for Crazy Heart he seems determined to piss away whatever cinematic goodwill he has left with special effects laden sci-fi/fantasy stinkers like The Giver and the awful R.I.P.D. And now there is this silly and generic medieval swords, sorcery and dragons fantasy based on the novel The Spook’s Apprentice, the first book of 14 in the popular young adult series Wardstone Chronicles, written by Joseph Delaney. But any hopes the producers may have had of kickstarting another popular new Lord Of The Rings like franchise are still born with this tepid and underwhelming fantasy.
Bridges plays Master Gregory, a legendary witch hunter and slayer who comes from a long line of witch hunters. He is very good at his job, but as he is growing old he has to find an apprentice and pass on his skills and knowledge. For some reason the apprentice has to be the seventh son of a seventh son, which means that they are in short supply. And given their dangerous job description they have a very high mortality rate. When the film opens, his current apprentice (played by Game Of Thrones‘ Kit Harington) falls victim to the evil shape changing witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore, recent Oscar winner for Still Alice), who used to be Gregory’s lover. Until he buried her deep beneath the earth. Now she has managed to get free and is seeking vengeance.
Gregory chooses as his new apprentice the young farm boy Tom Ward (played by Ben Barnes, who used to be Prince Caspian in the Narnia chronicles), who seems to have inherited some special powers from his mother (Olivia Williams), who gives him a powerful amulet to protect him. Master Gregory and Tom set out to save the world from Malkin and her army. But matters are further complicated as Tom has started a relationship with the beautiful Alice (Alicia Vikander, from Son Of A Gun, etc), who just happens to be Malkin’s niece.
By all reports this was a troubled production that was originally slated to be released in 2013, but has instead taken two years to reach our screens. And it’s easy to see why producers and distributors lacked faith in this mess.
This mess has been adapted for the screen by Charles Leavitt (the superb Blood Diamond) and Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Locke, etc) so it is surprising that the story is so bland and forgettable.
There is a strange performance from Bridges, who at least refuses to take the material too seriously and hams it up atrociously. He plays the grizzled Master Gregory with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, growling and grumbling his way through the film, although much of what he says is almost indecipherable because of his thick accent.
Moore seems disinterested throughout the whole thing, and it’s almost as if she is looking over her shoulder waiting for a representative of the Academy to tap her on the shoulder and take away her recent Oscar. It’s a strange performance that will no doubt invite comparisons with fellow recent Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne’s bizarre post awards turn in the sci-fi turkey that is Jupiter’s Ascending.
Rounding out the cast is the usually solid Djimon Hounsou, whose strong presence is underused here as Malkin’s shape changing henchman Radu, and an almost unrecognisable Jason Scott Lee plays Urag. Williams brings a touch of class and compassion to her smaller role as Tom’s mother.
Seventh Son has been directed by Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov, who has made as couple of epic productions with Mongol, etc, but here he fails to capture that same sense of grandeur and sweeping adventure. His direction here is laboured, uninspired and lame and lacks the kind of flair and energy that Peter Jackson brought to the fantasy genre. The action sequences are clumsily handled and offer up little that we haven’t seen in one form or another elsewhere. The digital special effects that create fire breathing dragons and shape changing monsters are rather shonky and second rate, but have given plenty of work to a number of third world computer programmers.
Technical contributions are fine, with some great production design from Martin Scorsese’s regular designer Dante Ferretti, and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (Drive, The Usual Suspects, etc) captures some gorgeous scenery as the gorgeous Canadian landscapes stand in for the fictitious kingdom.
But the post production 3D conversion is unnecessary and adds little to the film. And Marco Beltrami’s overwhelming and bombastic score eventually beats the audience into submission.