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.