Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

percy-jackson-and-the-olympians-the-lightning-thief-posterPerhaps because director Chris Columbus directed the first two HARRY POTTER films, many critics compared PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF to the hugely successful POTTER series and found it wanting. In many ways, that is an unfair comparison, as Rick Riordan’s best-selling series never had the maturity and emotional complexity of R.K. Rowling’s work, nor was it intended to. Riordan initially invented his series as bedtime stories based on Greek mythology for his young, dyslexic son, in which the hero Perseus (a.k.a. “Percy Jackson,” played by Logan Lerman) is a demigod who discovers that he is actually the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) and that he has an easier time reading ancient Greek than modern English.

Whereas Columbus was faithful to Rowland’s plotlines in the first two Potter movies, he and scenarist Craig Titley make a number of significant changes to Riordan’s work, restructuring the plotline in an attempt to make it more cinematic and increasing the main character’s age from 12 to 17. Unfortunately, Percy is little more than a troubled teen, suspected of stealing Zeus’ thunderbolt, who heads off on a cross-country trek in a rusty old truck and aided by two supportive sidekicks, Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), the daughter of Athena and a kick-ass warrior in her own right, and Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), a wisecracking satyr assigned to be Percy’s protector. Percy’s mother Sally (Catherine Keener) is kidnapped by a minotaur and sent to the Underworld, but before Percy can retrieve her, he needs to uncover three magic blue pearls.

In terms of quest sagas, this is pretty standard issue stuff, competently done, but lacking any real emotional depth or resonance. Its appeal seems limited mostly to a younger audience, but PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF is successful at what it sets out to be: a well-executed kid’s film with state-of-the-art effects.  Since it is set in modern-times, one expects the Greek myths to get updated; its cleverest conceit is re-imagining lotus eaters as folks trapped in a casino who imbibe lotus-laden canapés and lose all track of time due to the forgetfulness the partaking of these delicacies entails

Uma Thurman as a modern Medusa

Uma Thurman as a modern Medusa

Of the two competing mythologically based movies, PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF is less gritty and more appealingly photographed than the CLASH OF THE TITANS remake. It also features the better Medusa, played by the stunning Uma Thurman with appropriate CGI snakes for hair. Steve Coogan gets to shine as an amusing Hades; so does Rosario Dawson as his tawdy spouse Persephone who seems to have a thing for satyrs. Keener seems wasted in her small role, but Pierce Brosnan at least gets to have a little fun as Jackson’s high school teacher, who is secretly the centaur Chiron, and Joe Pantoliano is amusingly hissable as the obnoxious boyfriend Sally settles with to keep Percy out of the sights of the Greek gods. Sean Bean makes for a mighty but pissed off Zeus, who will unleash the gods upon mankind if his stolen thunderbolt is not retrieved, while McKidd’s Poseidon booms out advice to his errant son from the sidelines.

As with recent attempts at creating a major fantasy franchise (THE GOLDEN COMPASS, THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES, CIRQUE DE FREAK, INKHEART, THE SEEKER: THE DARK IS RISING), we probably won’t see adaptations of the remaining volumes in the saga, but as a crash course in key mythological concepts aimed at the middle school set, PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF has its place. Sadly, if the film had a stronger sense of wonder and more engaging main characters, it could have sparked some real interest among fans of the cinefantastique.

PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF (2010). Directed by Chris Columbus; written by Craig Titley, based on the novel “The Lightning Thief, in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Peter Honess; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Howard Cummings; produced by Crhis Columbus, Karen Rosenfelt, Michael Barnathan and Mark Radcliffe; released by Fox 2000 Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 59 minutes. Cast: Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson), Brandon T. Jackson (Grover the Satyr), Alexandra Daddario (Annabeth), Sean Bean (Zeus), Pierce Brosnan (Chiron the Centaur/Mr. Brunner), Steve Coogan (Hades), Rosario Dawson (Persephone), Catherine Keener (Sally Jackson), Kevin McKidd (Poseidon), Joe Pantoliano (Gabe Ugliano), Uma Thurman (Medusa) and Jake Abel (Luke).

About the Author

Dennis Fischer

Author of Horror Film Directors and Science Fiction Film Directors (both from McFarland).

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