Seventh Son Review
A VISUAL, BUT FAILED FANTASY
With the success of Harry Potter films, many Hollywood studios tried to recreate that formula by adapting similar YA fantasy books for the big screen. Try as they might, these books to film movies were met with mediocre results with films like The Golden Compass, Eragon, and The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (which had potential to be great and launch a movie franchise), but missed its mark and failed in capturing the cinematic following that the boy with the lightning bolt scar had done. Many years after extravaganza of the Harry Potter movies, Universal Studios brings another YA fantasy book to moviegoers everywhere with the film Seventh Son, based on the popular books series (The Wardstone Chronicles) or in the US (The Last Apprentice) by Joseph Delaney. Does this movie have what it takes to launch a movie franchise or is it just another run-of-the-mill fantasy flop?
After being imprisoned for years, the witch queen Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) has escaped from captivity, eager to reclaim her dark dominion over the land, with her sister Lizzie (Antje Traue) and Lizzie’s daughter Alice (Alicia Vikander) by the her side. Handling disasters of witches, demons, and other fantastical creatures is Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), a magical defender or known as a “Spook” who requires the aid of an apprentice to complete his mission duties. After learning of Malkin’s return and losing his most recent apprentice to the evil witch, Gregory seeks out a new seventh son of a seventh son, finding a new apprentice in a lowly farm boy named Tom Ward (Ben Barnes).With little time to spare, Tom receives a hasty education from Master Gregory, learning the tricks and dealings of the evil creatures that populate the world, while also crossing paths with Alice, resulting into a forbidden relationship with the mystical woman. As Malkin’s bides her time for the “Blood Moon” to arrive, a time when her magic reaches its maximum potential, Tom and Gregory cross the treacherous land, battling the witch’s allies of monster and magical beings as the young apprentice gets use to the idea of living the life of a spook.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Seventh Son has endured a lot on the theatrical road to the big screen. With the principal production taking place back in 2012, the movie, which was originally released for February 15th, 2013, was met with several delays and changed studio handlers (Legendary Pictures parting ways with Warner Bros. and partnering with Universal Studios) before landing on the date February 6th, 2015 for a theatrical US release date. I initially decided to forgo this movie in theaters, choosing to watch and review Jupiter Ascending (https://jasonsmovieblog.com/2015/02/07/jupiter-ascending-review/). After Seventh Son got released to digital download, I decided to rent the movie (via iTunes) and review this fantasy adventure. Unfortunately, while the movie has the makings of a classic fantasy romp, Seventh Son is loud, noisy, and a bland endeavor.
Seventh Son has the elements of a stereotypical fantasy adventure. A powerful dark antagonist that threatens the land, a destitute boy / hero, a wizen knight / wizard to guide the destitute lad, a love interest, a creature side-kick, swords, and, above all else, magic. These elements, in the right hands, can produce something quite interesting, layering the fantasy archetypes of storytelling with new cinematic aspects. Seventh Son, however, doesn’t do that with its narrative feeling too generic for its genre. Plot points are predictable, events transpire as one would think, and everything in the movie seems to running on fantasy autopilot. The movie also feels kind of “campy” (and not in a good way), feeling like lost TV series from the bygone days of Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess. In short, the movie’s narrative is hollow, campy, and boring with little surprises to completely entice viewers with excitement and intrigue.
Writer / director Sergey Bodrov has a background sense of large historic epics with more practical effects with films like Mongols and Nomad: Rise of the Genghis Khan. For Seventh Son, Bodrov has goes into the world of more digital effects to bring this fantasy land to life. In that regard, Bodrov succeeds, collaborating with cinematography director Newton Thomas Sigel in painting the movie’s medieval setting with scope and scale in aerial shots and swooping camera angles. Also, production designer Dante Ferretti does a good job in the set design as well as costumes and props. The creature designs in the movie are actually good, but nothing spectacular that could rival the effect shots found in Peter Jackson’s recent The Hobbit trilogy (at least, their uniquely designed). All in all, it’s not quite the quintessential fantasy world, but Seventh Son’s setting is decent enough to buy into.
Of the actors in Seventh Son, the two biggest are actor Jeff Bridges and actresses Julianne Moore. Bridges plays Master Gregory, a sort of clichéd character in the fantasy genre that acts as a mentor to the young journeying hero. Bridges seems to be drawing inspiration from his role of Rooster Cogburn in True Grit (with a dialect drawl to his voice), while also drawing upon various fantasy mentor figures (Gandalf, Dumbledore, Obi-Wan, etc). The result is a weird, off kilter character, but probably the most memorable and entertaining one in the entire movie. Opposite Bridges, Julianne Moore plays the chief villain in Seventh Son as the evil Mother Malkin. Moore doesn’t deliver powerful theatrics in her role, but is wonderfully in a stereotypical and cartoonish villain way. Unfortunately, Ben Barnes’s Tom is pretty flat in the movie, acting as the generic hero archetype. Barnes doesn’t bring anything new to that role, so he’s pretty forgetful and uninteresting, which is sad because he’s the main protagonist in the movie.
Like Barnes’s Tom, Alicia Vikander’s Alice is generally flat and generic. She’s beautiful to look at, but is pretty much a fantasy stock character. It also doesn’t help that her and Barnes lack chemistry with each other, resulting with romantic scenes that are off-putting. The rest of the cast includes Djimon Hounsou as Radu, Olivia Williams as Mama Ward, Antje Traue as Lizzie, John DeSantis as Tusk, and Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington as Mr. Bradley. They make the best of their roles, but their acting talents still feel wasted in this mediocre fantasy picture.
Seventh Son tries to capture the spirit of fantasy adventure films of the past, but can’t quite emulate to satisfaction. The movie has interesting creature designs and a film landscape of fantasy motifs, but its one dimensional characters, weak story narrative, and overall campy tone makes Seventh Son pretty unmemorable and forgetful. To me, it could’ve been a whole lot better, but is disappointingly bland and fails to discern itself from similar fantasy movies. Fans of the genre might get the movie a chance as a rental or wait for it to come to television, but, for many out there, Seventh Son is probably worth a skip. If you’re looking for a cinematic tale of monsters and magic, get your kicks elsewhere.