Stormbreaker (2006)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 22-Jan-2007

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio-Visual Commentary
Audio Commentary
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Stunts, The Horse Chase, Creating Sayle's Tower, Donnie Yen
Featurette-From Page To Screen, Casting Alex
Featurette-Overview
Teaser Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2006
Running Time 89:28 (Case: 95)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Geoffrey Sax
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Sarah Bolger
Robbie Coltrane
Stephen Fry
Damian Lewis
Ewan McGregor
Bill Nighy
Sophie Okonedo
Case ?
RPI $34.90 Music Alan Parker


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    When author and scriptwriter Anthony Horowitz released his teen novel Stormbreaker in September 2000 it sold a modest 25,000 copies. According to Horowitz (in the special features on this DVD) each successive novel doubled its predecessors sales. Stormbreaker is now something of a publishing phenomenon having sold 8 million copies.

    It was probably inevitable that the book would get a film treatment. Unfortunately for all involved, the disappointing performance of the movie at the box office worldwide has put plans to film the sequel to Stormbreaker on hold. This is a great pity for whilst there are problems with the film adaptation of the book it certainly deserved more than the meagre $650,000 it took at the US box office. It is no worse than the Cody Banks series or the Spy Kids franchise. Stormbreaker is a teen spy film aimed squarely at the 10 to 15 year age bracket. In book form the story seemed targeted towards boys, however Horowitz has fleshed out the female roles to give it some attraction to girls as well. It differs from the above teen spy films firstly because it is British and secondly because it has a James Bond seriousness about it despite some outlandish bad guys. It is darker in tone than the average kids fare. Alex Rider is an orphan living with his uncle Ian Rider (Ewan McGregor). Both are cared for by an American housekeeper Jack Starbright (Alicia Silverstone). For a bank manager Ian Rider spends a great deal of time away from home attending to what Alex assumes are boring meetings. In fact, he is a spy for MI6.

    In an action sequence not present in the book, we see Ian Rider killed by international assassin Yassen Gregorovich (Damian Lewis). Alex is told that Ian died in a car crash after failing to wear a seat belt. Knowing his uncle to be extra cautious Alex investigates.

    He is taken into confidence by Alan Blunt (Bill Nighy) and Mrs Jones (Sophie Okonedo) who explain that Ian has been training Alex as a spy, teaching him languages and various physical skills. They want him to work for MI6 investigating, amongst other things, his uncle's death. He was told that Ian was investigating suspect businessman Darrius Sayle (Mickey Rourke) when he was killed. They propose a plan and then a blackmail. Investigate Darrius Sayle for them or Jack Starbright (whose visa has long expired) will be prosecuted and sent back to the US. Poor Alex has no choice but to co-operate.

    Before engaging on this mission he is sent through training with the special forces and provided with a series of fun gadgets by Stephen Fry. Darrius Sayle is currently the centre of media attention as he has made a generous offer to the British people: he will provide every school in the UK with one of his amazing Stormbreaker computer systems. The computers are being shipped and all that it will take is for the Prime Minister to put his finger on the button to engage all the Stormbreakers at once.

    Alex poses as a computer nerd, having won a prize to be the first kid to examine Stormbreaker. He instantly distrusts Sayle and his evil offsiders, Nadia Vole (Missy Pyle) and Mr Grin (Andy Serkis) an ex-carnival performer whose loss of attention during an act where he caught knives between his teeth has resulted in grin-like scarring and the loss of his tongue. After some sleuthing Alex learns of the sinister plans behind Stormbreaker and must use every resource and gadget available to defend himself against deadly attacks and prevent the Prime Minister (Robbie Coltrane) from pushing that button! Although Stormbreaker had a modest 40 million budget compared to the standard Hollywood action film, it was fairly high for a British film. The budget has gone into various set pieces although the film does at times have a slightly cheesy look which comes from trying to do the best you can on limited funds. I watched the film with an 11 year old who had read the book. His view is that some of his favourite moments from the book were removed. In the commentary the director, writer and producer constantly stress the need for pacing in order to keep the film to a 90 minutes time frame. In my view this is one of two key problems with the film. The Harry Potter experience has shown that kids will watch movies in excess of 2 hours if they are presented with a good enough storyline. In Stormbreaker Horowitz has compressed a lot of the investigation aspects of the book into a brief slideshow. The effect that is we don't really get enough time to take in the character of Alex Rider. He jumps from one gadget action sequence to another without a moments thought. The marvellously over-the-top Mickey Rourke has some great exchanges with Alex and I feel that if Horowitz had trusted his own material a little better rather than relying on pure action the film would have been more engaging. Secondly, I have a theory that there is a difference in the level of "maturity" between the films that children see and the books that they read. Children of 15 may well read the Alex Rider books but they expect more adult and aggressive fare when it comes to the movies. Stormbreaker the film therefore comes off as somewhat childish in a way that the book does not. Experienced TV Director Geoffrey Sax comes to this project after the success that wasn't White Noise. His action direction is a little suspect with so much light speed editing that I could have sworn I saw some subliminal messages. All in all Stormbreaker is a fun romp for kids but also represents something of an opportunity lost.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Stormbreaker comes to DVD in a 2.35:1 transfer which is consistent with its original aspect ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced. The transfer is all that one could expect from a recent mid-budget movie. There is a nice crispness to the image with nice blacks and healthy skin tones. The print is clear and free of any visual artefacts. There is no grain.

    When the film was released at the cinema some critics complained that the colours were a little dull, however, that does not seem to be in evidence on the DVD. There are no compression problems.

    The film is subtitled and also contains an audio descriptive track for the visually impaired in which the narrator does a good job of filling in details between dialogue sequences. The layer change occurs at 53.59. It is at the end of a scene but I still found the effects slightly jarring.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Stormbreaker comes with a prime audio track in Dolby Digital 5.1 running at 448 KB/s. The audio is generally excellent.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand, even if Mickey Rourke does tend to mumble a bit. There are a few explosions throughout where the subwoofer gets a workout and the music score by Alan Parker is suitably pounding in all the right places. The music is not particularly original but it does well suit the piece.

    Audio sync is fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The DVD contains a number of special features including the descriptive commentary track referred to above.

Main Menu Audio & Animation

    A fun spy-like intro asks the viewer to insert security access codes!

Audio-Visual Commentary

    As referred to above.

Audio Commentary

    The audio commentary is provided by producer Mark Samuelson, director Geoffrey Sax and writer Anthony Horowitz. I am always a little dubious about audio commentaries on kids flicks and you always have to be concerned with a commentary when one of the participants urges the listener to turn it off at the 2.28 min mark! Horowitz is joking of course but he is clearly unhappy about giving away too many of the tricks behind the film. The commentary is more of a fireside chat than a detailed analysis. Horowitz describes his decision to expand the character of Jack Starbright in the film as a classic bit of storytelling and the commentators engage in back-slapping as they progress through the film.

    Still, there are some interesting tidbits found. Those familiar with the book will know that the wreckers yard was changed from Jack Stryker to another name. This was done because they found during pre-production that Jack Stryker is the name of a well known porn star!

    Similarly, the real secret service approached them about the character of Crawley in the book. They required the film makers to change the name to Crawford for the reason that a real spy called Crawley exists. The commentators consider whether the act of requiring the change has in fact now outed the spy!

    There is a bit of amiable discussion about the location shooting on the Isle of Man and working with the various actors. Interestingly, Horowitz often returns to the theme of adapting some of the violence in the book to maintain a PG rating. Hence, Alex was only allowed to handle a gun in one scene where he does damage to property and not people.

    Some fans of the book might be horrified that distinctive aspects of the characters, such as Mrs Jones' continual sucking of peppermints, were omitted from the film as Horowitz "forgot about it"! It is not an essential commentary but neither is it without value.

Featurette- Featurette Overview (22:32)

    This is a strange beast! It appears to be simply the individual making of featurettes combined into a whole or, alternatively, the original featurette was split down into component parts. I could not see any additional material in this feature to the features below.

Featurette Casting Alex (5:25)

    As expected, the casting of this film created a Potter-like frenzy in Britain with hundreds of school children auditioning for the role. Alex Pettyfer stood out from the 500 auditionees because of his performance in the TV adaptation of Tom Brown's School Days the year before and also because of his good looks! His IMDb biography suggests that he was offered the lead role in Eragon but turned that part down because of his fear of flying (someone must have forgotten to tell him that dragons aren't real!).

    Alex speaks of his excitement about doing the part and all the work that went into the role, particularly from a physical viewpoint. Critics have found his performance bland but it seems to me consistent with the character in the book.

Featurette From Page to Screen (6:57)

    This feature largely consists of writer and script writer Anthony Horowitz talking about the process of turning his book into a movie. He acknowledges the changes that had to be made to the book to translate it into film. The producer comments that Alex Rider is intended to be intelligent and brave but not a superhero, which tends to separate him from some of the other similar characters. It is a bit sad to see how Bill Nighy can barely contain his excitement at being involved with a "big commercial action movie" after reading the Box Office figures!

Featurette Stunts (5:04)

    This feature concentrates on 3 stunts including a bridge, where they block off traffic for a lengthy period and the water tank featuring Darrius Sayle's deadly friend. The car chase at the beginning, which involved some dangling from a helicopter at great personal risk to the stunt person, was in fact so dangerous that the stunt co-ordinator decided to do the stunt himself!

Featurette Horse chase (3:25)

    Towards the end of the film there is a mad ride through Hyde Park and traffic on horseback. This chase is not in the book and was included both to give more screen time to Alex's girlfriend and to replace the obligatory car chase as Alex Rider cannot officially drive. Interestingly, the film makers were able to engage the Royal Horse Guards to assist in the chase, who trained for about two weeks for this short sequence.

Featurette Creating Sayle's Tower (4:30)

    Another addition to the movie was a tower in the centre of London named after the mysterious Darrius Sayle. This feature is hosted by the Visual Effects Editor from the film who takes us through all the physical effects of building the top of the tower and all the CGI work, making it look as if it was rising high in the centre of London.

Featurette Donnie Yen (4:18)

    For the film Horowitz fleshed out and modified a fight in the breaker's yard and added a fight between Nadia Vole and Jack Starbright. Both were choreographed by the legendary Donnie Yen. This feature shows him working with the actors to create believable fights.

Teaser Trailer (1:04)

    This short trailer was clearly made at a time when there was not much footage from the film to be shown.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 DVD has the same features as the Region 4 DVD.

Summary

   

    Stormbreaker is an exciting if impersonal spy thriller aimed at the early teen market. The transfer of the DVD is excellent both in visual and sound quality.

    The extras are enjoyable, if not indispensable.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DVR 630H-S, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TH-50PV60A 50' Plasma. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX - SR603
SpeakersOnkyo 6.1 Surround

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add) NONE