I’ve always been a fan of Anthony Horowitz’s YA book Stormbreaker, first published in 2000. I never wanted to watch the film because I was afraid it would be disappointing. However, used DVDs are so cheap these days that I have no excuse to avoid films based on my favourite books.
The story is about a teenager, Alex Rider, whose uncle was killed in service as a spy. It turns out that Alex was groomed to be a spy himself. MI6 send him to check out a dodgy billionaire, Sayle, who is gifting thousands of new computers to schools.
This film is fun, with a fabulous cast which includes Bill Nighy, Sophie Okonedo, Andy Serkis and Mickey Rourke. Alex is played by Alex (coincidence?) Pettyfer, who is rather cute. The locations are excellent – mostly real settings in the UK in addition to Pinewood Studios. Horowitz wrote the screenplay, which means that even though elements of the plot are changed, it’s all authentic and wouldn’t ruffle the feathers of die-hard fans. Still, the humour which permeates his writing was toned down, no doubt to make the film more accessible for various audiences. I think this probably backfired, because there are no real distinguishing features that would make you think, ‘ah, this is Anthony Horowitz’. It needed a more original narrative viewpoint, or something. The film does match its marketing – a sort of young James Bond. There’s a hint of romance, with Alex Rider’s girlfriend from later books, Sabina, introduced to take part in the adventure. The housekeeper, Jack Starbright, is given more of a role too.
A cynic might say that this thriller is a composite of the usual clichés – car chases (or bike chases – and even a horse chase), villains conveniently explaining everything before being foiled, the old dangling-from-the-edge-of-a-building scenario. I think it’s tongue in cheek. And don’t forget that it’s a children’s film. Its PG (Parental Guidance) rating ensures that there’s no blood and gore (people are shot but you don’t see their injuries) and that there’s even a wholesome feel. Sure, it’s not a believable story but I don’t think this was the intention. There’s a darkness in the book which doesn’t make its way into the film. Had the series been developed, it would have become darker.
It’s a shame that no more of Alex Rider’s adventures were filmed. Stormbreaker made a loss, which must’ve been so disappointing for everyone involved. It’s really not a bad film, but then it’s not an excellent one either. Entertaining, but it doesn’t do the book justice.