Saturday, August 10, 2013

Fleeced! Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters: The Movie, based on the book by Rick Riordan

This second movie in the Percy Jackson series begins with a flashback exposition that reenacts Percy's arrival at Camp Half-Blood, in which the four new campers, Percy, Grover, Annabeth, and Thalia are attacked and Thalia martyrs herself to save the others.

With that out of the way, moviegoers learn that things at Camp Half-Blood are not so godly these days either.

It seems that Luke, the runaway renegade camper, now plans to revive his grandfather Kronos and destroy the gods of Olympus. To nullify any opposition from the demigod campers, he has managed to poison the Thalia tree and thereby breach her protective shield around the camp.

Percy, believing that he is the last demigod standing, the last child of the big three, Poseidon, Zeus, and Hades, feels that it is his duty to mount a quest for the Golden Fleece, the only talisman that will reverse the poisoning of the Thalia tree which protects the camp. Chiron and Dionysus, however, choose the take-no-prisoners, daughter of Ares Clarisse for the official Quest. Just before she departs, the campers are rescued from a steampunk bull, and meet a benign interloper,  Thyson, who turns out to be Percy's Cyclopian half-brother, also a son of Poseidon, who despite being challenged in the binocular vision department, is played with bumbling sweetness and charm by newcomer, Douglas Smith.

Having consulted the Oracle, Percy believes his fate is to save Olympus or die, so, with his allies--Grover and Annabeth, and the new-found Thyson--he sets out on his own quest. After a wild Taxi of Desolation ride (shades of Harry and Ron's Anglia Ford ), the three locate Hermes (cleverly employed as a crack UPS manager), who give them a thermos of the winds and a hand-held package sealing dispenser that can make things disappear to speed their mission, and after a cool ride on a CGI-created giant sea horse, Hippocampus, (the cleverest of the fantasy beasts here), the seekers board a ship under the control of Luke Castellan, where they undergo many tests of their prowess before they finally claim the Golden Fleece, vanquish Kronos, and return to Camp Half-Blood in time to restore the Thalia tree--and shortly thereafter the real Thalia--to life as well.

Touches of teen/adult-friendly humor lighten the tale, as in the scene in which the Percy and his allies meet up with Clarisse in a ship crewed by lurching zombie sailors (they had to work them into the story somehow).  One undead sailor responds to Clarisse's orders with a snappy "Aye-Aye, Captain," and then turns to the one-eyed Thyson, and deadpans, "Oops. Sorry, sir!" Oh, and poor cursed Dionysus is still hoping that when he pours a glass of his vintage wine, it won't turn into water, grumbling that that Christian guy gets to turn water into wine.

Although some of the monster encounters are intended to be frightful, the comic book nature of the action somehow renders all those CGI creations fairly non-scary and suitable for all but the most impressionable of elementary-age viewers. As with the first movie, kids unfamiliar with the actual book will find it suitable summer movie fare, with the requisite monster-a-minute formula that seems to appeal to middle graders.

With Chris Columbus (who directed the early Harry Potter movies), again involved, the parallels with the Potter stories are as evident as in the first movie, Riordan's The Lightning Thief, with the pleasant addition of Percy's well-meaning but befuddled Cyclopean half-brother, (also a son of Poseidon) Thyson, who, like Dobby, dies protecting his hero.  Unlike Dobby,  in a fortunate oversight by Lucas and his assorted monsters, Thyson is allowed to fall into a rampaging subterranean river and, apropos of a water god's son, revived to quest again.

I won't reiterate the compromises required by the screenplay's edits of Riordan's book: for those still pertinent criticisms, see my 2010 review here. My focus group for this movie was one now-fourteen-year-old (the ten-year-old critic cited in the review of first movie) who has long since read all the books, and a fourteen-year-old and eleven-year-old who had not read any of them. The non-readers liked the movie. The more sophisticated reader summed it all up well: "It was an okay movie, I guess, but it was NOTHING like the book! Read it!"

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters is rated PG for fantasy violence. For a preview of what the action sequences include, see the movie trailer here.

And if the movie inspires a desire to read the books, Rick Riordan's still popular tweener series includes The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1), The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson & the Olympians) The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3), The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4), and The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5), all ably written and still top-selling fantasies which may also motivate some boning up on Greek mythology as well. At the rate of one movie every three years, current kids have plenty of time to get the whole series read before Book 3 hits the screen. Sadly, at this rate my original ten-year-old co-critic will be well into his twenties before the last one comes out. But maybe, after four year of high school and four years of college, he can write that review.

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