Saturday, February 13, 2010

Strike One! The Lightning Thief--The Movie

"This is a lot to process."

Thus spake Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon and a mortal woman as he first lays eyes upon his demigod peers playing at mythic war at Camp Half-Blood. That statement could very well be the watchword for the viewers of the movie based on Rick Riordan's best-selling The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1).

This production already labors under obvious parallels to the Harry Potter series: a young boy just turning eleven (the movie script ages him to approximately fifteen or so) has a presentiment that he is destined for more than mortal powers when he is suddenly attacked by mythical monsters. Seeking to preserve his life by putting him under the care of the director of a camp for demigods, the centaur Chiron (played by Pierce Brosnan with as much dignity as an actor whose rear end is a horse can), Percy's mother sacrifices herself at the gates of the sanctuary of the demi-immortals, Camp Half-Blood, to save her son.

At the camp, Percy's new self-awareness is telescoped into five minutes of film. In short order he learns that he is the reborn hero Perseus and that his quest is to discover the true thief of Zeus' lightning bolt, said to be in the kingdom of Hades, in order to avert a war of the gods which will destroy the earth. Like Harry Potter at Hogwarts, Percy acquires two loyal sidekicks, Annabeth, demigod daughter of Athena, and Grover, an adolescent satyr designated as his "junior protector."

Soon Percy and his cohorts are off on a quest for three pearls that will enable them to escape from Hades after their mission to prevent a cosmic, world-ending clash between Poseidon, Zeus, and Hades is complete. Assorted escapes from CGI iterations of classical monsters ensue as the three would-be heroes visit Mt. Olympus (above the Empire State Building), the Nashville Parthenon, Las Vegas, with a sojourn among lotus-eaters at the Lotus Casino, and at last the Gates of Hell, wryly located in the Hollywood Hills.

The acting is pedestrian and the best thing that can be said about the dialogue is that there is not much of it. But perhaps the film's major fault is the failure to keep its proper audience in focus. In slashing and burning most of Riordan's early exposition and character development in the interest of monster mayhem and warring pyrotechnics and tsunamis, the script has little of the grand theme of the Potter sagas or even the lesser moral motif of Riordan's novel. Unfortunately, what is left is basically live-action comic book content. Kids sophisticated enough to appreciate Riordan's novel juxtaposition of classical mythology and modern life will find the flat characterizations and all-too-familiar monster skirmishes less than thrilling, and younger viewers who might go for the mayhem will lack the mythological background to grasp the premise of the story.

As my own focus group, I took along a ten-year old and a fourteen-year-old. On the way out of the parking lot I overheard the following salient interchange:
Ten-year-old: "That wasn't a very long movie, was it?"

Fourteen-year old: "Would you have wanted it to be any longer?"

Ten-year-old: "No. Not really."

For an exciting experience with classical mythology and an appealing young hero, just read the book.



  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:14 PM  

  • Thanks for the heads up-- I adored the books, so I think I'll skip the movie and save my $$ for his new egypt series instead!!!! :)

    By Blogger Deirdre Mundy, at 6:02 PM  

  • It wasn't horrible and both my kids (10 and 5) enjoyed it. I went over it in my review. The best part is it got my daughter interested in the books (which she hadn't read).

    By Anonymous Mark S., at 7:49 PM  

  • If you are going to review a movie at least try to get the facts about the movie correct.

    - Percy is not the reborn hero Perseus, he is just another demigod like Perseus.

    - Percy's mother didn't sacrifice herself at the gates of Camp Half-Blood, she was captured by the minotaur and sent to Hades.

    - Percy didn't go to Hades to find the lightning bolt, he went to rescue his mother. No one had any idea where the bolt was except the real thief. As a matter of fact, in the movie the trio never intended to find the bolt.

    I don't have a lot of respect for a movie reviewer who apparently didn't pay much attention to the movie. Stick to Harry Potter movies.

    By Blogger Emersom Bigguns, at 8:07 PM  

  • My sons are enthusiastic readers and loved the books. The movie not so much. It was a bit of a disappointment.

    We're waiting for the next book to movie for kids - Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Hope it's better than this one.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:11 PM  

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    By Blogger Auntie Ann, at 8:54 PM  

  • I went with a 10 year old boy who had read all the books voraciously, a 9 year old girl who read the first one, a 7 year old boy and a 7 year old girl. I also read the books voraciously...several times.

    The older boy and I spent much of the time comparing the movie to the book. The others, I think, liked the movie in itself. I have no idea whether I liked it or not. I thought all the departures from the book were dumb, but it was a decent PG action movie.

    Most interestingly, Rick Riordan's website has no mention of the movie. I think that tells you his opinion of it.

    Read the books. They're good.

    By Blogger Auntie Ann, at 8:56 PM  

  • I loved it! So did professional movie reviewer, the brilliant Michael Medved, who gave it four out of four stars.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:02 AM  

  • Thanks for sharing, I love reading you should post more often...

    By Anonymous Geciktiririci, at 8:37 AM  

  • Dear Anonymous 2:02a.m.,

    I think it's at least safe to say this one got mixed reviews. Thanks for your comment!

    By Blogger GTC, at 9:57 AM  

  • "Horrible" sounds a bit strong. I think that this sounds more like the usual movie-based-on-a-book; it's the Standard Plot with character names taken from the book. This doesn't mean it's bad.

    See, for example, Miyazaki's "Earthsea" versus LeGuin's books.

    By Blogger halojones-fan, at 11:56 AM  

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    By Blogger submandave, at 12:07 PM  

  • My sample audience: 11 y-o daughter (huge fan of the books and avid reader), four of her friends (two boys, two girls), also book lovers and fans of the series, and 7 y-o daughter (recent reader of the books).

    The boys loved it and were acting out their favorite parts. The girls also seemed to like the film, but I was treated to a lengthy discourse from my older girl on all the things that were missing and questions about all the "unnecessary stuff" that was added. I caught her and one of her girl friends having a similar discussion the next day, as well.

    It seemed to me that CC chose to maximize the action at the expense of characterization. I remember there were some who criticized his pacing in the first two HP films, and perhaps his decission on PJ-TLT was informed by this experience. From a franchise POV, he may have made the better business choice, but the result is ultimately less satisfying to those who care about the books and characters.

    By Blogger submandave, at 12:07 PM  

  • This affair seems to be the stuff which is gonna amuse next.
    As soon as I finish writing in here, I will head to rent The Lightening Thief.
    Your recommendation is rather well welcomed.

    By Anonymous Cheap Viagra, at 5:21 PM  

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