CENTURY CITY, California — Amelia Warner is preparing to attend her first Comic-Con this month, but she sheepishly admits one thing: She is not a geek.
"I went to see 'Lord of the Rings,' but I have never been into fantasy or science fiction or anything like that," the actress said recently, flashing a disarming grin. "It's all quite new to me."
If Warner has her way, "The Dark Is Rising" will soon become familiar to millions of filmgoers. Based on the beloved fantasy series by Susan Cooper published in the '70s and '80s, the "Rising" sequence depicts the eternal struggle between the Light and the Dark. Combining the best elements of Arthurian legend with a "Harry Potter"-like stable of youthful protagonists, the movie, due October 5, is being positioned as the next great franchise from the production company behind "The Chronicles of Narnia."
"It's quite epic and it's exciting; it's very beautiful to look at, and it's got an element of magic and fantasy," observed Warner, a British actress whose biggest role until now has been a supporting part in "Aeon Flux."
"['Rising'] is about the pathway between the Light and the Dark," she said of the good-vs.-evil battle at the center of the story. "There is a boy who is chosen and can see the Signs, and you need these Signs to fight the Dark. He realizes that he is the chosen one, and the film is about his journey finding himself, with the Dark testing him."
In the flick, Warner is the mysterious temptress who has an increasingly complicated relationship with 11-year-old Will Stanton, the heroic seventh son of a seventh son. "I play a girl named Maggie Barnes," the actress said. "[Will and his siblings] first see her at school, and they think she is a new girl. Then she's around the village and befriends one of the Stanton brothers. She starts hanging out with the Stantons, and Will has a huge crush on her. And then she reveals herself as something else."
Asked whether Maggie is in cahoots with the Light or the Dark, Warner smiled. "I can't say," she said.
What she can say, however, is that "Rising" follows the recent blueprint of balancing big fantasy with small, accomplished actors. "Ian McShane is in the movie — he plays this character named Merriman who is in a group of characters called the Old Ones, who've existed throughout time and are fighting the Dark," she said of the "Deadwood" Golden Globe winner. "Christopher Eccleston plays the Rider, who leads the Dark and is out to destroy Will."
Judging by his scary visage on the film's film's recently released poster, the Rider may soon be haunting our nightmares, à la He Who Cannot Be Named of "Harry Potter" fame. "He's the biggest villain and the biggest one to fight," Warner said of the Rider. "He's in all this leather and has ropes and crows all around him. He rides a horse and is so scary, and he just gets stronger and stronger as the film goes on."
As the adventure unfolds, so do several eye-popping adventure scenes. "I want to see this sequence of scenes at the end of the movie," Warner said excitedly. "There's a huge flood, and everything kicks off that."
But whenever possible, she added, director David L. Cunningham chose practical sets over special effects. "It's going to be like a 'Narnia' because they were pretty much able to build all of the sets — there wasn't any need for green-screen sets," Warner said. "We were really there, and I think that makes a huge difference. There will definitely be effects in it, but they will be believable."
And if all that isn't enough, this hodgepodge of an epic should appeal to modern audiences by reinventing their boy wizard with a more determined 2.0. "Harry Potter is sort of sweet — he was the misfit or the geek," Warner said. "But Will Stanton is like a classic hero who knows what he wants to do. He wants to do it right and is more assertive."
At the end of the day, Stanton might even make a worthy adversary for the wand-wielding warrior himself. "Harry Potter has magic, but Will can use magic too," Warner said. "He gets extra strength when he finds his Signs. I think, overall, it would be a pretty close fight."
In a few short months, we'll see if the box-office battle is equally well-matched.
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