13 February 2010

Movie Review: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Tonight Rebecka and I went on our Valentine's date to eat at Fazoli's and to see Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.  The spaghetti was unexpectedly tasty this time around; the movie was also in many ways unexpected, but more about that in a bit.

The movie is based on Rick Riordan's first book in the Percy Jackson series. The title character (in the book) is a teenage boy with ADHD and dyslexia who finds himself facing monsters of mythological proportions and the revelation that reveals him to be the son of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea.  (More about the book can be found at my review of the book, once I finally finish writing it.)  Percy is taken to Camp Half Blood with his best friend Grover, whom he discovers is a satyr, and father figure and now camp counselor/trainer Mr. Brunner, who was his Greek mythology teacher, but now at the camp for demigods is in his true form as a centaur.

Director Chris Columbus (also director and producer of many of the Harry Potter movies, among other notable films) and Fox 2000 Pictures present a visually stunning sequence of action, disturbing monsters, and mythological adventure.  If this movie was not geared toward a 3D experience, it very well could be done.  I actually had to turn my head a few times to avoid hydra heads and a very frightening harpy (whose on-screen time was all too short).  Otherworldly locations like Mount Olympus and the Underworld were breathtakingly realistic.

Now to the aforementioned "unexpected" part of the movie.  Because I am writing this review from the perspective of one who enjoyed reading the series, much of my disappointment in the film is connected to the differences from the book.  The producers presented a rather shortened and reimagined film that ended up only somewhat tied to the book.  Sure, some of the characters are there (with the exclusion of a few that I thought were intimately connected to the enjoyment of the book), and the basic premise and goal of the movie matches the text.  Of course, I understand that movies have to edit down the books on which they are based for time purposes; otherwise you get a six-hour movie that the common viewer does not have the attention span to endure (not unlike Percy Jackson).

However, I do not understand the redrawing of many of the scenes to the point of no recognition.  One of the key plot points in the book was the way Percy discovered he was a son of Poseidon; in fact, much of the first half of the book was spent building up to that fact to the surprise of not only Percy, but the entire camp—Chiron included.  The movie (even from the trailers) just lays that fact right out and no one seems very affected by it save Percy.  In the end, I wondered if the screenwriter actually read the book; at best, I think someone he knew read The Lightning Thief when it first came out and then tried to recollect it to the screenwriter over the phone amid frequent dropped calls and other interruptions.

The movie's incongruity aside, it was still fun to watch.  And my wife, who had never read the book, really enjoyed it.  The movie is PG, but it seemed to be a bit much for some of our audience members under the age of eight; a couple mild vulgarities for "comic" effect seemed a little superfluous and might cause some to leave the younger ones at home.  So, I definitely recommend the movie more to nonreaders, even though readers and fans of the book will enjoy it; but, like me, they might spend most of the time arguing with the movie in their heads and spend the ride home explaining what "really happened" to anyone willing (or not) to listen.