Saturday, February 13, 2010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Not every book deserves to be made into a multi-million dollar movie. Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief attempts to mix Greek mythology with the modern day problems of teens into an epic adventure. The results are mixed.

Shortly after learning his son had be diagnosed with both Dyslexia and ADHD, Rick Riordan created a series of bedtime stories which would eventually become the Percy Jackson & the Olympians young adult novel series.

At times the story is all adventure, at others however it devolves into a pseudo-pop-psychology self-help manual with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer. Our hero, young Percy Jackson (played here by Logan Lerman) suffers from the same ailments as Riordan's son, as well as some serious daddy abandonment issues, but turns each of these into a strength over the course of the film.

When Zeus' (Sean Bean) magic bolt is stolen the god blames a young boy with no knowledge of gods, his own paternity, or the bolt. Why Zeus blames Percy is one of the many plot issues which will drive you crazy (such as the characters inability to count to four) if you let it. The film offers no plausable explanation (or any explanation) for Zeus' suspicion of Percy, but the entire story relies on this rather dumb mistake by the omnipotent father of the gods. Oops! Anywho, this puts Percy in danger and forces his mother (Catherine Keener) to reveal the truth to her son: he is the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd).

For his own safety Percy is taken to a camp for demi-gods (regretfully named Camp Half-Blood). Taking a page from the Luke Skywalker training method, Percy leaves well-before his training is completed to save his mother who has been captured by Hades (Steve Coogan) and taken to the underworld.

The rest of the film revolves around Percy and his companions, a satyr named Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) the daughter of Athena, as they travel cross-country, not to find the bolt, but in search of other magical items which may help them save Percy's mother.

There are quite a few problems with the script itslf including the perplexing issue of why entitle it "The Lightning Thief" when almost none of the film (at least until the final battle) actually deals with the theft of Zeus' bolt? The film is also saddled with some less than crisp dialogue in places that doesn't help you take the situations these characters find themselves in seriously.

That's not to mean the film's a wash. The script does a fair job of weaving several parts of Greek mythology into the tale including a Hydra which makes the dragons from the fourth Harry Potter film look like a cuddly kitten. And, at one point in the film, there's a minotaur who throws cows and cars at our young heroes. Now that's kinda cool.

The acting is fair. The three young leads come off well even when forced to deal with the script's sillier moments. Bean attempts to add some gravitas to the proceedings even as the film stubbornly paints him as constantly wrong and rather dim. Although Uma Thurman's appearance of Medusa doesn't work as well as it should, Pierce Bronson has a nice turn as one of Percy's teachers and Coogan and Rosario Dawson have a grand old time hamming it up as the rulers of the Underworld.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is a fair step down from even the least of the Harry Potter films. I'd also rank it behind the recent adaptaion of Eragon. That doesn't mean it doesn't have an audience. Based on the reaction of those in the screening I attended, as an adventure for kids 6-10 it should work well enough. It's far from a must-see, but it does have its moments for those who enjoy this sort of fantastical tale. (Hey, at least it's better than Legend of the Seeker). And, did I mention, there's a minotaur who throws cows?

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