Many moons ago Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) managed with all the effort his sorcery could muster to trap the witch dragon Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) in a pit in the ground which he salted and bolted an iron door over. However, now she has become stronger over the years, so strong that she manages to break free from her prison, sending Gregory to attempt to better her once again, but he now needs an apprentice to assist him. He has chosen Bradley (Kit Harington) who is ready and willing, but may not be as able as he’d would like, for once they have tracked Malkin down and used various spells to keep her in place, she grabs the young man and holds him in the cage with her. Gregory has no option but to sacrifice him…
Which sounds as if Seventh Son will be a particularly unforgiving slice of action fantasy, but as it turned out it was the audience who was unforgiving as they rejected this game try at cashing in on the success of both the Tolkien and Harry Potter franchises which had been so hugely successful in then-recent times. The trouble with that was other young adult franchises had supplanted that kind of influence, and we knew even adapting those was no guarantee of a hit, so when a frankly lacklustre, full of sound and fury dungeons and dragons effort blustered its way onto the screen there simply was not enough interest in it to justify making more.
This left Seventh Son as yet another potential franchise stuck with one opening movie and no more than that, looking more like its contemporaries such as Season of the Witch and The Last Witch Hunter which took the actual history of deeply unfortunate women who were executed thanks to superstition and prejudice and made them the villains of the piece, so that in this telling the witches had genuine supernatural powers and could change into various forms – there were, what, warlocks, that could do that here as well. So don’t go expecting a harrowing exposé of the methods as in Witchfinder General, this was strictly emphasising the spectacle, and a load of computer generated spectacle at that.
But all these cartoonish setpieces tended to be overshadowed by one performance that dominated all others. Many singled out Julianne Moore as the most egregious waste of talent here, but while she wasn’t great, she assuredly wasn’t as bad as the other Oscar-winner in the cast, Jeff Bridges. It was difficult to understand precisely what he thought he was doing, but whatever it was it played as an enormous distraction, starting and possibly ending with his choice of voice. Apparently endeavouring to out-Gandalf Sir Ian McKellen, Bridges laboured under an English accent so gruff that it would be comical if it were not so misjudged, and the fact this notched up the third fantasy-based dud in a row for him gave his fans no pleasure whatsoever to admit it.
Seeing as how Harington didn’t make it much past the first ten minutes (well, he wasn’t as famous as when this was actually filmed a couple of years before its eventual release), our apprentice was Ben Barnes, the seventh son of a seventh son of the title, Tom, who lacked much in the personality department and was mostly around to support Gregory as very much the second fiddle. His love interest was Alice (Alicia Vikander) who was the daughter of a witch and therefore on the side of the bad guys, which gave rise to an intriguing proposition where the younger generation had no stomach to continue the feud of the older generation yet were dragged into the conflict nevertheless. Needless to say, the film promptly squandered all of that for yet more CGI battles as actors were flung about, fire and other zappy effects dominated, and it all got very loud, which spoke less to Ray Harryhausen and more to your average console game – your very average console game. Music by Marco Beltrami.