When I was a wee bairn, I found Joseph Delaney's book The Spook's Apprentice (named The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch in the US, since white Americans have never met a word they didn't want to use as a racial slur) in my school's library. Trying to read it several times, I found that the relatively bland prose and very much stock fantasy plot meant that I couldn't get more than halfway through it at any time. Understand, this was a slender book, the type that it's fair to say you could devour in an hour or two, had you the enthusiasm. I did not have the enthusiasm.
So, when I heard it had been made into a film, with Ben Barnes in the lead role (the character in the book is twelve, by the way, and Barnes is well into his twenties, in the most egregious case of Dawson Casting I've ever seen) and Jeff Bridges as the Spook, I was moderately eager to watch it, since sometimes terrible books are more palatable when adapted into films.
The film follows Tom Ward, the seventh son of a seventh son, who becomes the apprentice of monster-and-witch-hunter (called Spook) John Gregory after the last apprentice died. With the queen of witches, Mother Malkin, due to wreak havoc on the world in one week, Tom must learn how to battle the forces of evil. Complicating things is Alice, a young half-witch woman who Tom has started to fall for.
My god, it was physically exhausting writing out that synopsis.
|It's visually boring, too.|
Let's start by talking about one choice that made me roll my eyes and one choice that was just bizarre. While the book is set in Fantasy Britain, with Tom being from a Lancashire equivalent. In the film, this is changed to a Generic Fantasy Land where everyone has American accents - that's the eye-rolling choice, because this is not the first film Hollywood has pulled that stunt with. The bizarre choice is that the cast is still overwhelmingly from the UK, they're just all putting on terrible American accents: Ben Barnes, Kit Harington, and Olivia Williams are all British (and Alicia Vikander is Swedish) but they're all emulating broad US accents. Badly. Horrendously badly - they are painful to listen to, that's how bad their impressions of Americans are.
It feels, in a way, like they cast Jeff Bridges after most of the rest of the cast, and when they found out that he couldn't put on an accent from any part of the UK, they structured their film around that rather than just recasting him.
(Another eye-roll-worthy but entirely expected choice is that, as mentioned earlier, they took a twelve year old character and cast him with a twenty-something man - the character is aged up as well, I should note, they don't have Ben Barnes going around growling about how he'll be thirteen soon. They do the same with Alice - also a twelve year old girl in the books - and throw Tom and Alice into a very rushed and hasty romance. The two do end up in a romance in later books, but it's built up over time, rather than in about three scenes.)
|Is this from the same scene as that last picture, or is it an entirely different act of the film?|
I actually watched the damn thing and I couldn't tell you.
Speaking of Bridges, he has the dubious honour of playing the only consistently written character in the film. While the Spook's personality remains fairly constant, everyone else in the film is subject to complete personality overhauls as the plot demands, and nobody suffers from this more than Tom. Is he an awkward, frightened little duckling ill at ease in this new world? Is he a confident, flirtatious trickster who can charm anybody around him? Is he bitingly sarcastic and grumpy? Who knows! The writers certainly didn't, and by jove, they're going to make sure you don't have any idea either.
Actually, that's not entirely true. Juliane Moore, playing Mother Malkin, gets to consistently be cacklingly over the top evil and yet still somehow boring to watch. That takes real talent, she did well there. Making that worse is that they've given the character the ridiculous motivation of being a lover spurned, which I hate. I hate it with a hatred that is deep and pure and hateful.
|I'm not doing this deliberately, by the way. I didn't choose the most boring shots to use|
in this review, they're just all like this.
But the worst crime of all is that this film is just boring. It's a checklist film, one made by going down a list and ticking off things that a Hollywood blockbuster should have. That must be so dull for the people making these kinds of films - it certainly seems to be, since the final product is so dull and lifeless you'd think that nobody involved in the staff actually put any effort in. I'm not as annoyed as if this had been a book that I even remotely liked, but still, guys, c'mon. If you're going to adapt somebody else's work, at least try.