Is this just the beginning for 'Alex Rider'?

Jeff Strickler [Star Tribune (Minneapolis)]

MINNEAPOLIS -- With the opening of "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker" still a few days away, everyone involved is being very careful to say the modest, politically correct thing: It's just one movie, not the first of a series.

Not yet, anyway.

Truth be told, no one expects this to be a one-time deal. The movie is based on the first book in a series of young-reader's novels about a teenage British superspy. The popularity of the books -- six, with another in the works -- has exploded at an exponential rate, with each edition selling more than twice as many copies as its predecessor.

Nonetheless, when writer Anthony Horowitz and star Alex Pettyfer stopped in the Twin Cities recently to promote the movie, both were hedging their bets.

"Let's wait until the movie's out to answer that," Pettyfer said. In a separate interview, Horowitz admitted he's contractually obligated to write the second movie -- "if there's a second movie," he said. "We don't know how people are going to respond to this one."

But we can make a pretty good guess. Pettyfer's mother, who is accompanying him on the promotional tour, said that he's getting 2,000 fan mail letters a day. Or, at least, the other Alex is. "He has a very large fan base," she said.

"Alex Rider is very close to a lot of kids" hearts," confirmed Horowitz, a prolific author who has produced an average of a book a year for 27 years.

Pettyfer, 16, beat out more than 500 actors for the title role. With only one acting gig to his name, in a made-for-TV movie, he relied on his athletic skills to convince the filmmakers that he could sell the movie's physical elements.

"I'm lucky in that I can pick up things very fast," he said, noting that sports talent runs in the family; his younger brother is a nationally ranked tennis player. "This thing landed straight in my lap. It was a dream."

Because Alex Rider is British, Horowitz hopes the character isn't labeled a "young James Bond." A big difference, he says, is the teenager's attitude.

"I think that one of the keys to the books' success is that, like many teenagers, Alex is trying to figure out who he is," the author said. "There's an element of reluctance in the book that I hope also is in the movie. He isn't sure that he wants to be a spy."

There was no reluctance on Horowitz's part when the producers suggested he write the film adaptation.

"It was easy for me because I write very visually," he said. "You have to, if you're writing for kids these days. We were a literary generation, but they're a visual generation. Between the Internet and video games and MTV, you have to (think visually) for a book to succeed."

As for whether his movie succeeds, he has a different standard than the typical filmmaker. Sure, selling tickets would be nice, but turning kids on to reading would be nicer. That's been his mission since he started writing.

"I want the movie to draw kids to reading," he said. "And not just to my books. I don't care if it's my books or J.K. Rowling's (Harry Potter) books or (local author) Kate DiCamillo's books. I'm a great believer in the power of reading."


© 2006 Star Tribune (Minneapolis).






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