06 February 2015

"Seventh Son": Book vs. Movie

Legendary Pictures
Back in early December, my family was standing in line at the movie theaters when a trailer for Seventh Son played on the lobby big screen. Intrigued, my son wanted to know more about it. I knew only a little, having noticed a while back that its release date was rescheduled several times. That night I looked it up, found out it was based on a book (naturally), and downloaded a sample for my Kindle. It hooked me right away. I purchased the full book, pictured below, and finished it that night.

The movie arrived in theaters today, but the critic consensus is not good: an embarrassing 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. (This weekend's other epic genre film, Jupiter Ascending, has a 22%. Both are far outdone by - wait for it - The SpongeBob Movie, at 74%.) Between the terrifying book it's based on, the amazing cast, and the exciting trailer, one might wonder how the film could be that bad...release date warning signs notwithstanding.

This isn't a review of the film, as I haven't seen it yet. The thing is, as soon as I compared The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch (otherwise known as The Spook's Apprentice) with the trailer that exposed me to it, I knew the filmmakers had taken huge liberties. Granted, I have yet to read the other twelve books in Joseph Delaney's YA dark fantasy series, so I wouldn't know if the movie draws on them, too. While it stands to reason that an adaptation will make the story and characters its own - and watering down a book for movie audiences is practically axiomatic today - it's concerning if it repels people from the source material instead of attracting them to it. The trailer worked on me and my son, but maybe the full movie would have the opposite effect. While not meant to discourage anyone from seeing the movie (which, again, I haven't), here are three important differences hopefully proving the book is worth your time:


1. The Hero

Book: Tom Ward is the 12-year-old narrator of the book, described as small for his age despite growing up on a farm. As the seventh son of a seventh son, he can see things other people can't and therefore has the potential of becoming a spook (more on that below). He never once picks up a sword and undergoes zero combat training.

Movie: The "white male hero" tradition is intact, of course, and any originality is streamlined even further, as you can see in this pic of actor Ben Barnes: aged to enable romance, sword in hand, combat ready.

2. The Mentor

Book: Master Gregory is a spook, which is like a sheriff of the supernatural. There's only one spook per county, and the impression is that he is no more or less unusual than other specialized trades of the time. He's even paid for it. "[I]t was a scary job. I was going to learn how to protect farms and villages from things that go bump in the night. Dealing with ghouls, boggarts, and all manner of wicked beasties would be all in a day's work." Maybe most importantly, Master Gregory teaches Tom not to destroy those "beasties," but how to ward off and/or capture them. Otherwise, "we're no better than the witch we kill."

Movie: Jeff Bridges seems like a good cast to me, though in the trailer, he describes spooks as "knights" and there's a lot of emphasis on fighting. He explicitly says (with a mouth full of marbles), "If you see a witch, kill it." That aside, the "aged mentor" trope is played pretty straight in both cases.

3. The Villains

Book: Though Tom first undergoes a terrifying initiation by spending the night alone in a haunted house, this ultimately proves that most supernatural creatures are more misunderstood than harmful. The real conflict begins later, when he is tricked into releasing Mother Malkin from the pit where the Spook kept her. She's like a mature Samara from The Ring, with a particular appetite for children's blood. Her allies include her granddaughter Bony Lizzie, Lizzie's niece Alice, and Tusk, a mindless ogre-type. Tom finds an instructional tome called Dragons and Wormes in the Spook's library, but no big scaly creatures appear.

Movie: Though the names are the same, the actors playing them are, like Ben Barnes, sexier and equipped for big screen action sequences. Also, several new ones have been added, making the movie less whitewashed, but by way of the problematic idea that African and Asian cultures are stand-ins for "evil" in medieval Europe.



Also, several of these characters seem to possess the power to transform into dragons, as heavily showcased in the trailers.

As is probably evident by this point, the difference between the book and the movie is a matter of genre. While the former is called a "dark fantasy" and reads like a much scarier version of an early Harry Potter book, the latter is more epic in scope. The stakes in the book are the the lives of Tom, his family members, and the local county; the stakes in the film are, no doubt, the entire world. This isn't to say one is better than the other, but it's definitely true that they're different, and should be judged separately. So whether or not you buy a ticket to Seventh Son, I highly recommend The Last Apprentice, for being an interesting, atmospheric, often frightening, and overall quick read.

2 comments:

  1. I was an avid reader of the series, as is my 12 year old son now.

    For a genre that has shown to be a HUGE moneymaker in the book-to-movie area, they made a pretty big error in my opinion. Think SpongeBob or even larger, Harry Potter.

    It's super frustrating.

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    1. That's a good point. This could have been a long-running series in the same vein as Harry Potter, but different than anything we've already seen because of the subtlety and scariness. Having now seen the Seventh Son movie, I can definitely say it has neither. Such a shame!

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