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Friday April 19th

‘Alex Rider:’ a pioneer of YA book adaptations

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By Ian Krietzberg
Arts & Entertainment Editor

“Alex Rider,” The IMDb TV adaptation of the famed book series written by Anthony Horowitz, has just been made available to stream in the US through Amazon Prime Video.

I’ve been a fan of “Alex Rider,” the British teenage superspy, for years, waiting excitedly for the latest release in the series, each of which enraptures readers with driving intensity and constant excitement.

When I had heard that they were doing a TV adaptation of the books, I was, at first, skeptical. It was probably because almost every adaptation of YA novels, with the exception of “Harry Potter,” have been utterly disastrous. The “Percy Jackson” films butchered the characters and storylines so much so that Rick Riordan has refused to watch them, the “Eragon” movie was terrible, and the 2006 “Alex Rider” film adaptation, “Stormbreaker,” completely fumbled the magic of the books.

But I can thankfully say that this latest TV adaptation of “Alex Rider” has laid the groundwork that will surely be followed by any other YA book-series adaptation to follow.

The biggest compliment I can give is that it’s true to the books without being a carbon copy.

This is a fine line to walk, and one that the creators of the show crossed masterfully. They combined the essential introductory plotline of the first book in the series, “Stormbreaker,” with the more general plotline of the second book, “Point Blanc,” creating an 8-episode series that was thoughtful, well-paced and fantastically acted.

The villains, heroes, and litany of gray characters (spymasters and assassins alike) were fleshed out in a way that makes sense to the books without being campy. Each scene was coupled with this pervading sense of severity and reality — and even though I’ve read the books, I was anxiously on the edge of my seat for much of the last five episodes.

‘Alex Rider’ has been approved for a second season (Sony Picture Entertainment).

It didn’t rush anything; rather, it breathed, it built characters, introduced us to the real-life streets and schools of London, and introduced us gradually to Alex’s situation by showing us the exact circumstances that led to his Uncle’s death.

And even there, at the very beginning of the plotline that catapulted Alex Rider into service for British Intelligence, the show laid the groundwork for an overarching story, the story that will tie each disparate season together — the story of Yassen Gregorivitch and SCORPIA, the Kabal-like organization that pervades the second half of the book series.

If anything, surprisingly this adaptation has worked to elevate the story. They accomplished this through a couple of different avenues, one of which involved fleshing out and introducing new characters. Tom, Alex’s best friend, is not an essential aspect of the earlier books. He has been fully realized in this screen adaptation, something that serves to complete the picture of Alex Rider, while also adding handily to the fear and grim reality that is his life.

Screenwriter Guy Burt also added the character of Kyra into the mix, something that served to elevate everything that occurred within the dimly-lit halls of Point Blanc academy. The introduction of her character, and the evolutionary nature of her relationship with Alex, served to make the reality of their situation even more real. Character-wise, she was entirely new to me, and they leveraged this in a way that further elevated the story. Rather than writing her off as a random, ill-conceived love interest, Kyra was central to the story and central to the evolution of Alex’s character.

Every scene of this show, from the way they show violence, from the pacing and filming of the many action sequences, to the creepy, horror/thriller elements employed throughout the middle of the season told me very simply that the creators of this show put a lot of careful thought, heart and soul into this adaptation.

Nothing was done flippantly; everything was carefully considered and perfectly executed.

It’s truly rare that an adaptation can even stand on par with its original source material. It’s even rarer when the adaptation serves to elevate that source material.

I think the resounding success of “Alex Rider” will very likely usher in a new generation of book-to-screen adaptations that carefully and completely understand the source material—adaptations that stay true to the original, while shifting and editing less significant things to elevate the entire story.

“Alex Rider” is high-intensity, fast-paced, anxiety-riddled, constant, exciting fun. It’s without a doubt, peak entertainment and peak TV.

The only thing I can say now is that I’m as eagerly awaiting season two as I have ever eagerly awaited for the next book installment in the series.


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