We caught Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief when it was in movie theaters and my daughter liked it so much we recently purchased the DVD. The movie got pretty so-so reviews when it first came out, so I wasn’t expecting much, and it was . . . O.K. Not bad at all. Entertaining. But I’m not sure how avid young fans of the books felt about it. The kids are all cute and the effects are just scary enough without being too scary. I have no problem with the movie being Harry Potter-lite, as that is also how the book seemed to me. The mystery of who was “the bad guy” was at a Scooby Doo level of complexity, but again, not too different from the book. I have since read the second and third books in the series, and although I still have some quibbles with the forced wise-assedness of its hero’s dialogue, they were both a much better read, and have spurred me on to finish the series and to even try out a new series by author Rick Riordan, which will focus on Egyptian mythology-when it comes out in paperback.
I have never had a problem with movies differing from books-two different mediums. And I frankly was relieved at all the cuts and slashes the Potter series received in its cinematic translations, as J.K. Rowling does go on and on (and on)-that series of books could have benefited from a braver editor, but c’est la vie.
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief the movie changes a few things around, makes the kids a tad older, cuts out some exposition, and thankfully doesn’t beat you over the head with the book’s ADHD references-it’s explained once and then it’s gone-if only Riordan could have been as economical in his prose. What it does do that isn’t as cool is downplay some of the Gods-in-the-contemporary-world parallels that Riordan works so hard to include in the books. For a student of Greek mythology like myself, these clues can be seen a long way coming, but they’re still enjoyable and a great way to introduce Greek mythology to kids and to show them how myth is alive in their own world. Two scenes hint that this may have originally been in the script at some point: Uma Thurman has major fun as snake-haired Medusa and Rosario Dawson & Steve Coogan chew scenery as Mr. & Mrs. Hades, the ultimate Rock & Roll couple. In fact, Rosario Dawson’s take on Persephone gives that mythological character an altogether new twist from the usual abducted maiden story. It is a huge disappointment at the end of the movie to see the gods decked out in togas, as opposed to the leather and jeans first sported by Sean Bean’s Zeus-what in the Hades happened?
So like the books, I would give the movie an O.K.-check it out. It’s never bad to expose kids to mythology. But the whole thing is just a little . . . flat. It is fine fun for my sophisticated six year old. But if you want classic Greek mythology on film: Jason and the Argonauts, with creatures by Ray Harryhausen is still fun for all ages, and Ulysseswith Kirk Douglas kicks serious ass. For fanciful mythic interpretations as kids get older (and for adults right now), the classic Orphéeand Black Orpheusshould not be missed. There are few things more beautiful or hip for its time on film than Jean Cocteau’s take on the Orpheus legend. The original Clash of the Titans was always corny fun, too. I haven’t caught the remake yet, which has had very mixed reviews . . .
And who knows, maybe with the next Percy Jackson film-because there probably will be one-they’ll do a better job. Riordan did with the books.