Stormbreaker: A Review

Well, Saturday saw me venturing off into the unknown with my eight-year-old nephew (who, at inopportune moments, announced my age to the population of the train we were travelling on).

Destination: Chichester Gate Cineworld complex
Reason: To see the first Alex Rider film – Stormbreaker.

I had a few thoughts about the film immediately after watching it but I feel that it would have been a better film had I not already read all six Alex Rider books (which are in many ways of a similar quality to Harry Potter). I am a biased viewer. I watched the film having read the books through for the second time and I couldn’t help but notice things that ruined the film for me, although it didn’t mean that I couldn’t look at Alex Pettyfer (who played the young spy) and think, give him a few years and his parents’ genetics will really shine through (his mother is a model and his father an actor).

The cast (mostly British) couldn’t be called untalented (Bill Nighy, Stephen Fry Sophie Okonedo), but I have to admit that I found that they, at times, over-acted as though they thought “this is a kid’s film therefore it isn’t necessary for us to stretch ourselves” (much the sort of attitude I felt Michael Gambon expressed when he played Dumbledore in Goblet of Fire – how many accents did he use?).

For me, Bill Nighy was the most disappointing, I have always credited him as a good actor (even in the dire Underworld films), but his version of Alan Blunt was not up to his usual standard at all. In the books you almost hate the character of Alan Blunt (the head of MI6), but in the film he was almost laughably over-acted, totally over the top, a man you couldn’t hate because you were too busy laughing at him. One scene in particular stuck in my head – the scene at the funeral where we meet Blunt for the first time. His hand movements when he responded to Alex’s comment about how his uncle was always careful and wore his seat belt. Blunt’s “Not careful enough”, punctuated by strange Indian dance hand movements was peculiar.

The changes in the storyline could almost be excused, if the movie studio/executives/writers stuck to the original plan of just having the one film – the inclusion of Sabina Pleasure (Sarah Bolger) who doesn’t appear until the third book; the change in attitude of Wolf (Ashley Walters) suddenly trusting, accepting and almost respecting Alex at the training camp, and Mrs Jones (Sophie Okonedo) showing a relative amount of concern for her young charge – but now that we are aware they are planning on making more of the books into films (of course with a different Alex because Pettyfer has shot up and could easily pass for 18 rather than the 14 his character is meant to be).

The Alex Rider books (unlike Harry Potter) cover only a very brief period of time, each of the six books covers about a month, and they are very close together, in all six books (so far written) he is 14, which means that the actors have to look that age (shame because seeing that Alex getting broader and taller would be a pleasure to watch on screen, but it’s not meant to be). The series (we have been assured by author Anthony Horowitz) will only cover his fourteenth year, so Alex Rider will be forever fourteen, rather than getting a year older in each progressive book (which is a shame, but I can see the reasoning behind it from the author’s perspective – by book six Alex would have been 20 and there would have been no novelty value in a 20-year-old spy, even if he did start at the ripe old age of fourteen).

Anyway, back to the film. Overall I was impressed with the action scenes (excellently choreographed and executed – rumour has it that Alex Pettyfer performed the majority of the stunts himself), the cast was well thought out, but an American rather than an Arab as the villain (Herod became Darrius, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks (Mickey Rourke)), was a bit annoying. The majority of children who went to see the film would not have understood the potentially political message about Arabs and the like, so why not keep it in?

All in all it was high-octane, fun, had some amusing moments (the fight between Jack Starbright (Alicia Silverstone) and Nadia Vole (Missi Pyle) and the scene where Alex is introduced to Mr Grin (Andy Serkis)), but not a patch on the books. A well spent budget (the flashy stunt moves, the pretty convincing sets, the relatively good (and well-thought out) cast, it’s just a shame they felt that they couldn’t make the film longer and fit in a bit more of the above (perhaps delve into Alex’s parents’ past etc so they didn’t feel they had to make another film and change the dynamic due to an enforced change of cast).

The differences between the book and the film are compiled of a rather long list, I won’t go into all of them here, but I will list a few that stick out well in my head:

Jack Starbright – appearances aside she is not a cook by any means and in the books relies upon takeout and can make a mean plate of scrambled eggs. In the film not only can she fight adequately (albeit making use of rather unusual weapons), and she can prepare a mean plate of sushi!

Sabina Pleasure – in the books she doesn’t even appear until the third in the series, Skeleton Key, and she isn’t interested in Alex in any way other than as a friend. In the film she is there from moment one and is almost his romantic interest.

Darrius Sayle – in the books he is Herod, and hates the PM and public school boys because of the way that he was treated at school as a coloured foreigner. In the film he is Darius, an American whose mother won the lottery and sent her son off to get well-educated, the nickname is the same, but the backstory isn’t.

Wolf – he hates Alex and in the books does everything he can to get the younger boy kicked off the training course because he doesn’t want a boy on his team. In the film he accepts him and there’s a totally corny scene which you have to see to groan at!

There are just a few of the main differences, there are far more than I have listed (and my fingers are going numb so I won’t!).

Well, there’s my strangely unstructured review…I would give the film 1 thumb up (and not only because of the pretty!), the 1 thumb down has to be because it wasn’t on par with the books, Bill Nighy’s unconvincing Alan Blunt (the most disappointing bit of the entire film for me it has to be said!) and the girl who played Sabina Pleasure (who really shouldn’t have been in it at all, she is such a small part of the books when you put them together and look at the six as a whole!).

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