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Book vs. Movie: Stormbreaker

December 4, 2012

Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker

Next up in Book vs. Movie is Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker, based on Stormbreaker, the first book in Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series. There are nine books in the series and I’ve read seven of them so far. Here’s a link to my review of the first book. The books are entertaining and fast-paced and I’ve quite enjoyed them for the most part, although they do start to get a bit repetitive after a while. The basic premise is that a fourteen-year-old boy named Alex is recruited by the British intelligence agency, MI6, after the death of his uncle who also worked for the agency.

The general plot of the movie version is essentially the same as that of the book, but there are many smaller changes, which make varying degrees of sense. Largely the changes amount to a decrease in Alex’s detective work and an increase in action scenes and car chases. For example, toward the beginning of the book, Alex has trouble believing that the reason his uncle was killed in a car accident is really because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt, so he tracks down the junkyard where the car was probably taken so he can get a look at it. In the movie, he follows a van that’s carting away his uncle belongings and there’s a long chase scene with Alex following the van on his bike and zooming recklessly around in traffic. It does make sense to cut some of the detective work stuff, particularly later on, since some things do have to be cut to fit the story into a 90-minute movie, but I can’t really condone cutting scenes just to replace them with car chases.

The tone, I think, is where the biggest change occurs. The premise is pretty ridiculous and hard to believe in both versions, but the movie version is far sillier. Everything is very fake-TV-spy with crazy gadgets and over-the-top secret spy headquarters and so on. Like, during the scene in the junkyard, there’s this part where Alex is hiding inside the car as it’s about to be crushed, which happens in the book too, but in the movie he only gets out because there’s an ejector seat button in the car. And then he fights five grown men at once with his mad martial arts skillz, instead of the one guy he takes out in the book. The entrance to the MI6 headquarters is possibly the most ludicrous part. Instead of just having a building that’s ostensibly a bank but really not, like in the book, there’s this silly Get Smart-style entrance in a photo-booth in a train station. Oh wait, I lied. The most ludicrous thing is the addition of a fountain pen gadget that shoots a dart which will make someone do your bidding, like they’re under the Imperious Curse. What?

There is also a slight change in the way Alan Blunt and Mrs. Jones present their offer to Alex, which I think makes a big difference. In the book, they claim they just want this one thing from Alex because they have this mission that requires a teenage boy, but in the movie, it feels more like they just really want him to be a spy and then happen to have this convenient job for which he’ll be perfect, which is a little bit harder to believe.

There are some good casting choices here, but in general, everyone feels more cartoony and less real.

  • Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) was one of the better-cast characters. Pettyfer looks the part and the character is mostly accurate, although you don’t get quite the same sense of his reluctance to join MI6, and his fighting skills were totally overblown.
  • Jack Starbright (Alicia Silverstone) bears little resemblance to the book version. For starters, she’s supposed to be a red-head, but instead is blonde. Plus, everything about her is just utterly ridiculous. She has way more involvement in the plot, including a car chase and a completely absurd fight scene with the (also ridiculous) Nadia Vole.
  • Alan Blunt (Bill Nighy) was well cast. During his first scene, I thought he was perfect. He looked exactly right and I love Bill Nighy, but in later scenes it became clear that he was just a bit too goofy. He didn’t have Blunt’s coldness.
  • Mrs. Jones (Sophie Okonedo) is fairly unremarkable. I don’t think she has quite as much personality in the movie, but perhaps she doesn’t in the book either and I’m thinking of later books in the series. Looks-wise, she’s described in the book as having “a strange, potato-shaped head” and a bad bowl cut, while the movie version is rather more attractive.
  • Darrius Sayle (Mickey Rourke), I’m sorry to say, was white-washed. He’s American instead of Egyptian, and was made fun of in school for…being a red-neck, I think? He’s okay otherwise, although his name was changed from Herod to Darrius. I can’t complain too much about that part though, since Herod is a bit on-the-nose, isn’t it?
  • Yassen Gregorovich (Damian Lewis) didn’t look at all like I imagined, but looking back at the book, he’s actually more accurate than my mental image was. Character-wise, he’s mostly the same as the book version, except that he seems to have just a little too much affection for Alex toward the end, which detracts from his cold-blooded killer persona.
  • Mr. Smithers (Stephen Fry) doesn’t look a thing like his description in the book. He’s supposed to be enormous and “bald with a black mustache and several chins.” He’s also missing that spark of delight and excitement about the gadgets he designs that makes him so likeable in the books. Plus, the movie version works in a toy store for some reason. And…designs spy gadgets in a back room? I don’t know.
  • Sabina Pleasure (Sarah Bolger) is largely superfluous. She’s not in the first book at all, so her inclusion is just for the sake of adding a love interest and it’s unnecessary. Plus, she’s kind of been reduced to this simpering, damsel-in-distress character, whereas the book version has more of a personality.

Other Thoughts
Sayle wasn’t the only character to get a name-change, and while I can understand that one, the others seem somewhat arbitrary. Why change Crawley to Crawford, Snake to Bear, or Stryker to Slater? What’s the point?

Finally, I have a bit of a pet peeve about exposition, so I can’t even tell you how much I detest the opening scene of this movie, in which a teacher for some reason singles out Alex to tell the class about his family so that we can get all the information we need about his parents dying and his uncle taking care of him and so on. It’s so unnatural, the way Alex just spills his guts about all this stuff. What is even the point of this assignment? And then the teacher asks him where his uncle is now, which frankly just makes him sound suspicious. Just…ugh.

And the Winner Is…
Like I said, they’re both somewhat ridiculous, but I think it should be clear that the book wins by far.


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