Of all the casualties suffered from Legendary Pictures parting ways with Warner Bros. to shack up with Universal, none suffered more than Seventh Son. A fantasy-action movie loosely inspired by the first Wardstone Chronicles novel, The Spook’s Apprentice (known as The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch in the U.S.), Seventh Son was set up at Warner Bros. and ready to go for the start of 2014. Marketing materials, including posters and trailers had even already started to circulate, advertising an early 2014 bow.
Then, Legendary decided that they no longer wished to work with Warner Bros., which caused a rights dispute with certain projects, forcing extensive litigation and negotiating to sort everything out, and leaving Seventh Son in production limbo for an entire year! When the movie was finally set up once again at Universal, its prospects were pretty grim, with production difficulties being pretty evident in the final product.
There’s no nice way to say it; Seventh Son is a hot mess. The movie at least has some style and cheesy entertainment value, but it’s well beneath what avid fantasy fans would hope to expect. If you’re not aiming to take it seriously, it can be an interesting experience to watch ironically, but it’s an insult to the source material if you’re a fan of the books that inspired it, being a casualty of a business deal gone sour that Legendary just dumped into the slower early months, clearly having no confidence in it whatsoever. It’s not difficult to see why.
The main character of Seventh Son is Tom Ward, the seventh son of a seventh son. In the Wardstone Chronicles novels, it’s established that seventh sons can see otherwordly spirits, and that’s why they’re sought after by the Spooks, the knights charged with protecting the world from said creatures. In the movie however, the Spook that comes to fetch Ward, John Gregory, simply wants any old seventh son to be his apprentice, and it’s not clear as to how or why he decides to recruit Ward over anyone else.
Ben Barnes of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian fame plays Ward, a typical impetuous youth protagonist who is about as rounded as cardboard. He’s a dull hero at best, but fortunately, Jeff Bridges picks up the slack very nicely as Gregory. A cynical drunk and biting teacher, Bridges seems to be fully aware of the fact that he’s in a schlock fantasy movie, and thus, just has fun with it. Bridges’ Gregory owns all of the movie’s funniest lines, and Bridges’ performance is so proudly hammy, that you can’t help but chuckle at it. He really elevates this entire movie into being surprisingly watchable for those who enjoy cheesy entertainment.
Likewise, Julianne Moore, reuniting with Jeff Bridges after their iconic turn in Coen Brothers classic, The Big Lebowski, plays an equally ridiculous villain as witch queen, Mother Malkin. Like Bridges, Moore just doesn’t seem to care about turning in a good performance at all, and also like Bridges, she helps to make the movie at least watchable for those looking for a laugh. Her villain at least has some cool capabilities, namely turning into a dragon, and having a whip-like daggertail protruding from her that she uses as a deadly weapon, but she’s nonetheless impossible to take seriously the second she opens her mouth.
Mother Malkin has several underlings, all of whom would feel right at home as the boss battles in a video game. None of them have any explanation or development, beyond a token introduction by Gregory at one point, and they simply exist to drop a lot of bodies, and eventually attempt to provide some flashy action sequences for the audience. Some of their designs are actually reasonably cool, but that will just make you wish that they were present in a better movie.
Seventh Son also has the audacity to attempt a love story between Ward and Mother Malkin’s niece, Alice, played by Alicia Vikander, but given that both of their characters are so wooden, it’s doubtful that the audience will care. The idea of Ward being romantically involved with a witch is something that may have worked if the movie was better-produced and better-written, as he’s been aged significantly from his 12-year-old counterpart in the source novel, but the script just can’t make this love story work. These characters are devoid of chemistry, and they have virtually no personality anyway.
You get the sense that the movie’s world is more interesting than it’s presenting itself, having exotic creatures and strange lands that, again, would feel right at home in a fantasy RPG. The script even seems to make cheeky references to experience and leveling up, as if the writer is aware of the RPG similarities, and is trying to draw attention to them. This might help gamers enjoy Seventh Son ironically as B-movie fans can, but that’s faint praise when the characters are still flat archetypes that are largely being carried by the leftover charisma of a The Big Lebowski reunion between a hammy Bridges and an even hammier Moore.
Seventh Son’s plot has clearly been hacked to bits in the translation from novel to movie, and the script has more holes than swiss cheese as a result. Many critical plot elements of the novel are never explained in the movie, namely how seventh sons actually work, along with several other pivotal segments of witch lore. Even when the movie does try to explain something, each explanation feels rushed and non-sensical. Some things the movie just entirely pulls out of its rear end at worst.
The main gist of the plot is that Gregory once attempted to imprison the witch queen, Mother Malkin many years ago, but Malkin has recently broken free. After killing his latest apprentice, Gregory seeks to recruit Tom Ward, now aged to be a young adult in the movie adaptation, who has psychic visions of the future. Gregory has little time to train Ward to fight Malkin and her lieutenants, as the Blood Moon is approaching, occurring once per century, which gives witches unlimited power and allows Mother Malkin to enslave the world, or something like that. It’s not explained that well.
Given that the movie’s story is told in such a patchy, sloppy manner, it’s difficult to really care about the stakes, or understand the nuances of this fantasy world. Audiences just have to take everything at face value, with no depth or intrigue to read into, which makes it difficult to care about things like Ward’s training, or Malkin about to get unlimited power.
By the end of the movie, you’ll feel like you don’t understand most of what happened at all, and you’ll feel like you never actually got a chance to properly enter the world of Seventh Son. For the story of a fantasy movie, that’s a pretty big problem, as it’s missing the core sense of enchantment and adventure that this genre heavily depends on.
Seventh Son is thanklessly helmed by foreign film director, Sergey Bodrov, who has an extensive list of directing credits overseas, but has done pretty much nothing for domestic Hollywood. In fact, this movie even mis-spells his name, crediting him as ‘Sergei Bodrov’ in the cast roll. That’s a huge sign of how little Legendary apparently cared about this entire production!
Regardless, Bodrov’s direction feels bored and detached. He also seems to have a problem shooting around the demands of a 3D presentation, with a weird sense of atmospheric warping in several scenes that will play havoc with those suffering from motion sickness. If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, I’d exercise extreme caution with this, since the 3D version of the movie will make you feel nauseated within minutes. If you have the option at all, just watch the movie in 2D to save yourself a whole lot of discomfort.
Anyway, Bodrov has some ability to create cool action, but many of the action scenes also feel haphazardly shot at times. The action is competent for the most part, but there are some dicey edits here and there, and some of the angles and framing in these scenes are just bizarre. It’s serviceable, but there’s no arguing that Seventh Son doesn’t always sport as much directing polish as it should.
MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK
Marco Beltrami composes the music for Seventh Son, a composer that largely started with strictly horror movies, but has more recently branched into more widespread and mainstream blockbusters. There’s very little to say about the score, which is your usual phoned-in fantasy movie score. Beltrami seemed to care about as little as most of the movie’s remaining crew.
As for the rest of the audio work, again, serviceable, but nothing special. The movie doesn’t really hit with a lot of punch in most scenes, and it’s nothing that you haven’t heard before in many other, better fantasy movies. There’s really very little that one can say about the sound. It’s spectacularly unmemorable.
Seventh Son manages to crawl above being a complete disaster thanks to its above-average visual effects. If nothing else, the movie is at least reasonably easy on the eyes, having some neat creature designs, and a few cool sequences of magic and other such flashy elements.
In terms of realizing the novel on the big screen, the movie adaptation actually doesn’t do a bad job from a visual standpoint. It’s not an amazing job, but the visuals are the one element of Seventh Son that seem like they’re at least trying. There are some scenes that do manage a decent amount of atmosphere, namely one scene where Gregory and Ward encounter Ghasts, or floating spirit fragments, which are especially neat to watch in 3D. There’s also some larger monsters that look remarkably cool, and lend themselves to some decent action sequences.
I did see Seventh Son in 3D, and the 3D job is certainly interesting. On the one hand, the 3D presentation is actually not bad. Like so many other things, it feels cheesy, and definitely echoes that old-school 3D where the movie just obnoxiously tries to make things pop out at you for its own sake in certain scenes. Despite that however, the 3D is mostly rendered well, with the camera being what works against the 3D the most. The presentation itself is pretty solid, but it feels sloppily applied in post-production, making for 3D that is potent and well-rendered, but comes at the expense of certain scenes having a lack of focus and consistency with the camera, as if you’re watching the movie drunk. Like I said, if you suffer from motion sickness, you might want to give the 3D cut of Seventh Son a wide berth, since it will make you lose your lunch! If you like that kind of silly, obnoxious 3D done in some schlock movies like this though, the 3D cut is the one you’ll have the most fun with.
As much as this movie is undeniably schlock in the end though, at least it’s got some style to it. At least you won’t have a difficult time watching it. It may have left a sense of adventure or whimsy on the cutting room floor, but at least Seventh Son has enough window dressing to make it look sharp and action-packed, despite its many poorly-realized working parts.
Seventh Son is a movie that was clearly abandoned by all of its controlling parties, and feels completed and released out of obligation, rather than a genuine desire to entertain. Legendary clearly just wanted to try to make back as much of their nearly $100 million budget investment as they could, so they placed the movie at the start of February over a year after its original planned release under Warner Bros., not hurting its perceived value in the garbage month of January, but also not overestimating it with the Summer lead-in blockbusters of March.
Needless to say, fans of the source novel are going to be pretty let down by this movie adaptation, which feels pretty loose and poorly-realized overall. Many of the finer details and intrigue of the book got lost in translation, leaving the movie feeling like a pale imitation of a much better story. The movie at least offers some pretty visuals that the book obviously wouldn’t give you, but the movie’s storytelling is downright embarrassing in contrast to the book’s.
If you’re trying to get through the slower early movie months of 2015, and are in the mood for a solid genre flick, Seventh Son probably isn’t worth the investment, especially if you take your love of fantasy movies seriously. It makes for a solid unintentional comedy, but its direct box office competitor, Jupiter Ascending, while a flawed and long-delayed production itself, offers far better visuals that firmly outclass Seventh Son’s, hurting that area of its appeal as well.
Even if there is some fun to be had with the prodding 3D presentation and hammy Jeff Bridges/Julianne Moore performances, Seventh Son is perhaps best skipped on the big screen, and saved for a cheap home viewing rental for the very morbidly curious and easily amused. It’s a movie that its creators clearly didn’t care much about, and it’s hard to deduce why audiences should care any more about supporting it in turn.
Seventh Son is a clear casualty of Legendary's soured business deal with Warner Bros., leaving Universal to pick up the pieces with this sloppy, poorly-produced and often unintentionally hilarious fantasy schlock
MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK
THE GOOD STUFF
Solid creature designs
Some decent action
Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore are fun, albeit hammy