A film review by Craig J. Koban February 22, 2015


2015, PG-13, 99 mins.


Jeff Bridges as Master Gregory  /  Julianne Moore as Mother Malkin  /  Ben Barnes as Tom Ward  /  Alicia Vikander as Alice  /  Kit Harington as Billy Bradley  /  Djimon Hounsou as Radu

Directed by Sergey Bodrov  /  Written by Max Borenstein, Matt Greenberg, and Charles Leavitt, based on the book by Joseph Delaney


How can a fantasy film with all sorts of magical creatures like dragons, witches, ghosts, and ogres and featuring multiple Oscar nominated and winning actors like Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore be…such a mind numbing bore? 

Such is the fate of SEVENTH SON, a new 3D fantasy flick based on the novel THE SPOOK’S APPRENTICE by Joseph Delaney.  The storyline to SEVENTH SON is one of the cookie-cutter, dime-a-dozen variety of a young farmer that gets whisked away on a series of adventures by a wise old sage-like mentor.  Outside of the plagiaristic similarities to STAR WARS, SEVENTH SON’s biggest sin – beyond lacking a scintilla of modest originality – is that it utterly squanders the titanic performance talents of Bridges and Moore, who appear to be in pure paycheck coasting mode throughout the film.  Russian director Sergey Bodrov is a solid talent (look at his Oscar nominated MONGOL) and he certainly tries to make SEVENTH SON a fairly breezy and unpretentious film of action packed delights, but the wall-to-wall CGI here becomes anaestheticizing after awhile, not to mention that it drowns out the actors and reduces them to props.

SEVENTH SON also makes the mistake of casting Ben Barnes – who played the role of Prince Caspian in one of the NARNIA films – as the lead protagonist, and here he’s essentially a good looking, but charmless hero that’s sort of mystifyingly bland.  He plays Tom Ward, the titular “seventh son" or chosen one…or whatever…that makes him destined to eventually become the apprentice to a “Spook” (yeah…awkwardly named, indeed), or witch and monster hunter.  One of the most iconic spooks is Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) that, much like Obi-Wan Kenobi, is one of the very last of his kind still in operation.  Of course, Master Gregory decides to take Tom in as his apprentice and away from his mother (Olivia Williams) and the monotonous doldrums of agriculture.  Gregory thinks that the witch-hunting Force is strong with Tom, but the lad is a relative greenhorn when it comes to battling supernatural entities and will require ample training. 



The situation for the heroes becomes rather desperate when it’s revealed that one wicked witch, Mother Malkin (Moore) has sprung herself free from a long period of incarceration.  She’s all-powerful and can morph herself into a dragon, making her a dastardly threat, but she’s set to become even stronger when the once-every-hundred-years “blood moon” arrives to make her all but invulnerable to anything and everyone.  This, of course, makes Master Gregory all the more determined to train Tom for the deadly mission to come, but his attempts fall short when the fair-haired and easy-on-the-eyes Alice shows up (Alicia Vikander, luminously beautiful, but lacking thespian range) to derail Tom’s journey to become an unstoppable spook.  It appears that Alice is destined too to become the love of Tom’s life, but the fact that she’s also a witch – and the niece of Mother Malkin – makes things all the more complicated.  That, and Master Gregory apparently did the no-pants dance with Mother Malkin years ago as well.  

Ooooohhh...the plot thickens! 

Okay, there are few pleasures to be had in SEVENTH SON, like the fact that its pacing is reasonably good and doesn’t waste too much time on lazy and obligatory exposition scenes.  There’s also something nifty to be had of witnessing a BIG LEBOWSKI reunion of sorts for Maude and The Dude himself in Moore and Bridges, so on a level of those two stars sharing the screen together again SEVENTH SON does have a pulse of intrigue.  Yet, the performances by the pair range from the phoned-in variety to overtly hammy.  Bridges inexplicably plays his mentor like he’s trying to harness equal parts Rooster Cogburn and Bane, saddling him with a bizarre and mumbling accent that’s more befuddling than endearing.  Moore herself – caked out in eyeliner and letting the wardrobe do the talking – doesn’t seem genuinely invested in making her witch a memorable screen villain.  Then there’s actors like Djimon Honsou, a ferociously empowered actor that may have half a dozen lines in the film and is essentially reduced to being turned into a lizard creature half the time. 

Barnes and Vikander fare no better.  They are limitlessly attractive stars, to be sure, but their chemistry and romantic story arc is so half baked that you have to pinch your arm to remind yourself that you’re supposed to give a damn about anything that happens to them during the course of the film.  Nothing in the script demands much of these two performers, outside of giving each other puppy dog like glances and embracing in would-be-passionate embraces and kisses.  You'd expect Moore and Bridges to at least pick up a majority of the mournful slack left by their younger co-stars, but since they're occupying a level of campy overkill in their work SEVENTH SON becomes kind of unendurable on a level of dramatic interest.  There’s simply no one here worthy of our rooting interest.  I will at least concede that Bridges appears to having fun in his role, despite the fact that his performance is all over the fantasy map. 

Beyond wasting an excellent crew in front of the camera, SEVENTH SON could have redeemed itself in the arena of action and eye popping visual candy.  There’s certainly some novelty here in terms of the various creature designs, but sword and sorcery films like this live and breath on their sense of immediate immersion, and that’s where SEVENTH SON kind of fails.  There’s some handsome location shooting here and there using real world locales, but Bodrov fills the frame with so much middling-to-passable CG artifice that the film, more often than not, comes off as an ostentatious video game filled to the brim with visual effects animation (one scene with Bridges battling a poorly rendered CG bear is a unintentional howler).  Exacerbating the lack of visual effects polish is the film’s 3D upconversion – which has been reported to be one of the main reasons for the film’s struggled and delayed release – which is murky, distracting, and lacks suitable crispness and pop.  When are filmmakers and studios going to learn that spending more money and delaying a film’s release to give it a multi-dimensional upgrade is a foolish and wasteful endeavor? 

And again…SEVENTH SON is…just…dull.  Tired, uninspired, and derivative plotting mixed with antiquated effects work further married to hollow performances makes for one disappointingly flat and unimaginative fantasy adventure.  You can sense that Bodrov and company spent most of their energies on pixelized monsters and such, but they mismanage story elements here to egregious levels.  Yeah, there’s a hint of giddy enjoyment in seeing Moore’s vamped-up witch and Bridges’ cotton-mouthed spook face off versus one another, but SEVENTH SON becomes a watch checking endurance test the more it careens towards an unavoidably conclusion that sets up a sequel that will most likely never happen.   

Oh well.  At least us Moore and Bridges fundamentalists will still have THE BIG LEBOWSKI.

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