A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 143 – Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief – July 21st, 2010

I really wasn’t sure what to expect with this movie. I read the book last summer, but I admit I didn’t buy it. I snagged it from work and read it in a night so I could get it back to hand to a kid. Because oh my goodness, this series is popular. Which is one reason why I haven’t finished the series and why I haven’t re-read the first book. It’s never in! Therefore, while I can definitely point to a few things that were missing/different between the book and the movie, this isn’t like Hoot, where I’d read the book that day.

And speaking of Hoot, look who’s playing our lead? Same kid, Logan Lerman. I hadn’t realized that until we put this in. I noticed fewer slightly awkward deliveries in this movie than I did in Hoot, and really, I think he did a fairly good job. He doesn’t come off too clueless or too cocky, both of which are risks with the character of Percy. Really, most of the cast was just fine. This isn’t Shakespeare, and I’m not expecting Oscar-worthy performances from anyone. The only performance I didn’t like was Uma Thurman as Medusa, but maybe that’s my snake phobia talking (and by the way, I totally held two snakes at work on Monday and I thought the ophidiophobia was getting better but then HHSSSSSS! MEDUSA!).

But let’s get to the actual meat of the movie. Percy Jackson is a teenage boy with some issues in school. He’s been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, which is explained to us through a clunky bit of dialogue with his mother. Turns out he’s actually the son of Poseidon and a demigod and he’s not dyslexic or hyperactive, he’s hardwired to read Greek instead of English and always be ready for battle. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Percy lives with his mother and his utterly foul step-father and has been leading a fairly normal teenage boy life, considering the reading and attention issues. Until he gets attacked by a Fury on a class field trip and his best friend, Grover, grabs him and his mom and makes them both book it to Camp Half Blood, a magical place for demigod kids to learn how to be heroes.

Here is where I start talking about things I miss. I miss the cabins. A lot. Largely because I really felt they both added to the atmosphere of the camp and the world, and because I liked how they set Percy up on his own. See, in the books, the big three gods, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, have vowed not to have any more demigod kids because their kids cause too much trouble or something. And when Percy gets to camp, he finds that demigods are claimed by their divine parent and take up residence in that god or goddess’s cabin. But since Poseidon isn’t supposed to have any kids, he doesn’t claim Percy for a bit, which leaves Percy bunking with the Hermes kids. I liked the feel to it. Sort of a Hogwarts for demigods. But I guess it was too Hogwartsy and so that bit was glossed over, as is the whole thing with Poseidon not claiming Percy. That’s never an issue in the movie and I missed that too. I also missed the focus on completing quests. In the book, quests are a Major Big Deal and I liked that. I didn’t miss the whole subplot with Ares, to be honest, so I won’t even go into all that. Suffice it to say, I was fine with the tighter plot.

So back to it. Percy gets to camp, but his mother gets kidnapped by a minotaur right as they arrive. And… then he trains to be a hero for a little bit? Turns out Grover’s a satyr who’s been protecting him and his teacher from school is a centaur and the whole thing with his mother is sort of put on the back burner until after a big capture the flag competition where he gets to face off with Annabeth. Annabeth is the daughter of Athena, who was always my favorite goddess so I’m a bit partial. At the post-capture the flag party, Hades shows up and demands that Percy return Zeus’s lightning bolt. Which apparently everyone thinks Percy stole. Hades promises Percy his mother back if he delivers the bolt to him and so Percy sneaks out of camp with Annabeth and Grover and the movie turns into a road trip. They hit Medusa’s lair, the Parthenon in Tennessee, and my favorite: The Lotus Casino in Vegas.

Now, like I said, I don’t mind the plot. It’s definitely been simplified from the book, with some divine meddling cut out. I’m sorry we didn’t get to see Ares on his motorcycle, but I’m even more sorry about the depiction of Hades. I’d have to say my two biggest complaints are in Hades and the ultimate titular lightning thief. But Hades first. He shows up as a devil. Like, big wings, horns, fire. Whole nine yards. I admit, my first reaction was to shout “GREEK MYTHOLOGY DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!” because really. No. I don’t mind his eventual regular guy/rock star persona, but the flaming wings? Save it for something Biblical. As to my other complaint, in the book there are all sorts of devious things going on with the gods bickering and trying to get power from each other. Since all that was cut out of the movie, it leaves the guy who really stole the lightning with considerably lessened motivation. It feels weak in comparison to the rest of the movie, which is a pity. The climactic battle scene is fun and all, but I couldn’t work myself up to care about the stakes.

Overall, it was a fun movie. I seriously enjoyed the Lotus Casino scenes, though while I understand why they used a Maserati for their getaway car (Maserati’s logo is a trident), I think using a newer Lotus would have been just as amusing. I do have to wonder why women in action movies never seem to have discovered hair elastics – one would think having your hair whipping around in your face would be a major liability in a fight – but other than that, no complaints about Annabeth. I like that the majority of the movie had a good team thing going, with Annabeth and Grover both getting to kick as much ass as Percy. It wasn’t perfect, and the Hades thing kind of pisses me off (seriously, hellhounds? not Cerberus?), but it was fun and I’m a sucker for Greek mythology.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 2 Comments

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

July 21, 2010

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

I’ve not read the book this movie is based on, so I’ll have to simply review the movie on its own merits, which is a pleasant change for me. Usually when I’m doing these reviews I wonder how they must appear to people who haven’t been exposed to the source material. Now I’m the one who hasn’t read the book and I can give my unbiased review.

And my unbiased opinion is that, well, it’s an okay movie. I can see how it might have been better, and I can see how it might have been so much worse. The movie does have its problems. Chief among them being that the writing lacks subtlety. Okay, yes, I admit that expecting subtlety from a film about an impending war between Olympian gods and the hapless son of Poseidon who has to try and stop it might be a little foolish, but there were points in the movie where it was laid on a little bit thick even for the subject matter. For example there’s the line – which was even in the preview – “I have strong feelings for you, I just don’t know if they’re positive or negative.” Maybe it’s a line from the book, and maybe it read well on the page, but in a movie it causes blunt force trauma. At the start of the film Percy straight out tells his mother he has ADHD and dyslexia. It’s like the script writers aren’t even trying. Again, I can see what is intended, it’s just not well done. I like the notion of a kid with problems discovering that he’s actually somebody important. If done well it could be a great and inspirational story. But as it is presented in the movie there’s no real evidence that Percy has any problems – we just have to take his word for it.

Then again, once the whole adventure begins that notion of discovering some hidden potential in yourself is entirely lost, and it becomes a fairly standard quest and adventure film. At least I can take comfort in the fact that once it decides that rather than having anything meaningful to say it’s just going to be a bunch of Greek mythology inspired action scenes the movie is at least fun to watch.

The story of the movie goes like this: Percy Jackson doesn’t much like his life. His father-in-law is a boorish stinky clod. He doesn’t do too well in school (apparently.) Actually, the truth of it is that we don’t actually get to see much about his life that’s in any way objectionable… even his interactions with his father-in-law don’t make him out in any way to be a victim. He has no trouble whatsoever standing up for himself and his mother, and treats Gabe more like an unwelcome interloper than a threat. (Until it was revealed that they actually lived with Gabe, I thought that he was a fairly recent unwanted boyfriend of Percy’s mother.)

Anyhow, Percy’s best friend is the crutch-bound but ever-so-hip Grover, and his one true claim to fame is that he can hold his breath for a long time. Clearly he’s related to Guybrush Threepwood: Mighty Pirate… but no. In reality – as is revealed pretty quickly for anybody who hadn’t already figured it out from the extremely heavy-handed opening and subsequent hints – Percy Jackson is the son of Poseidon. Very soon his mother is abducted to Hades and he finds himself hunted by every mythological beast in America because Zeus thinks that Percy stole his lightning bolt.

As I said before, the movie quickly gives up any pretense of being a film about an awkward kid who doesn’t fit in the modern world and becomes a kind of mythological road movie. Percy, Grover and Annabeth (daughter of Athena) set out to rescue Percy’s mother and to stop the impending war between Zeus and Poseidon. They visit Medusa, encounter a hydra, and do eventually go to Hades. (I was disappointed that Sisyphus and Tantalus didn’t seem to be there. Hades here is more a Christian Hell full of lakes of fire than a pale and depressing afterlife.)

Unsurprisingly the entire take of Greek mythology is fairly modernized. It’s more of an inspiration and jumping off point than an actual attempt to do a “what if the Greek gods were real” sort of thing. As nice as it is to see Sean Bean as Zeus he is no swarthy Greek man obsessed with his own machismo. (Why couldn’t they get Toblarone? Though I suppose he was Italian.)

The movie is fun though. The special effects are extremely well done (particularly they satyr Grover and the centaur Chiron.) Sure we’ve seen the same stuff done before – most recently in the Chronicles of Narnia movies – but Mr. Tumnus seemed to lack mobility when compared to Grover’s leaping about. As an adventure film full of big action scenes I’d say that it was pretty good. There wasn’t any time when I was particularly wowed, but neither was there any time when the movie stopped being fun to watch. I’d say it was safe and middle of the road.

I’m actually curious now to read the books and see just how different they are.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment