PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF
Craig Titley (Novel: Rick Riordan)
Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Abel, Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, Melina Kanakaredes, Catherine Keener, Kevin McKidd, Joe Pantoliano, Uma Thurman, Maria Olsen, Julian Richings
PG for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language.
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Based on the best selling novels about the half-mortal son of Poseidon caught up in a war between the gods, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief tests the waters to see if more young adult novels can be successfully marketed and launched on the big screen.
The first film based on the hit book series establishes the character of Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), a normal high school kid whose real parentage is far more outlandish than anything he would have expected. His best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) pretends to be a physical disabled student at Percy’s school, but does so to hide his true nature. He’s really a Satyr: half-man, half-goat. He has been tasked with safeguarding Percy from the Olympian gods if they should ever find out his location.
And of course they do find where he is and in the midst of all the chaos, he is accused of stealing Zeus’ (Sean Bean) lightning bolt, a powerful weapon. Zeus threatens to kill Percy if he does not return the bolt. Yet, Percy does not possess the bolt and embarks on a wild journey to discover its location and return it before Hades (Steve Coogan) can get a hold of it. Along for the quest is a fellow demigod, daughter of Athena (Melina Kanakaredes), Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) who at first is at odds with Percy, but later comes to trust him and support him.
Although there are minor similarities to Harry Potter, most of them are superficial at best. Here, Percy Jackson is nearing adulthood and has the wherewithal to be confident in his abilities whereas Harry Potter was an inexperienced child whose confidence was tested and frequently diminished. And other than some characteristic similarities in the flow of the stories, but those can be attributed to sharing the same director.
Chris Columbus who helmed the first two Harry Potter films has taken the reins of the Percy Jackson film and has applied his measurable experience in the genre to the film. Distinctly more mature than the Potter films, the amazing improvements in visual effects since The Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001 have allowed Columbus to create a richer and more believable environment for his characters. If the film is a bit shallow at times, those problems aren’t nearly as prevalent as they are in his previous films like The Sorcerer’s Stone and Home Alone.
The actors are fairly average, but are at least interesting. On an acting level, Lerman, Daddario and Jackson are all suitable, but in need of extra training. Unlike the trio of young performers in the Harry Potter film, these three aren’t surrounded by a bevy of immensely talented British thespians. While Bean, Brosnan, Coogan, Rosario Dawson as Persephone, Kanakaredes, Catherine Keener as Percy’s mother Sally, Kevin McKidd as Poseidon, Joe Pantoliano as Sally’s live-in boyfriend, and Uma Thurman as Medusa are no slouches in the acting department, they can’t compare with the likes of Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Alan Rickman, Julie Walters and so forth.
After the huge windfalls studios received with their adaptations of Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, Twilight and A Series of Unfortunate Events, each is looking for the next big franchise to excite young audiences and bring much needed capital to their bottom lines. However, studios may have finally started hitting a brick wall.
Although Percy Jackson is an entertaining yarn, it’s far from the juggernaut 20th Century Fox had hoped. It’s decent, but not spectacular $31 million opening has so far led to only $88 million in receipts. Foreign box office returns were stronger, but the overall result is not one that may lend itself well to future installments, which is one of the reasons the second film in the His Dark Materials trilogy has been indefinitely held. These films have high production costs and a weak return does not give them confidence. It’s all rather unfortunate considering I would rather see a sequel to something like The Golden Compass or even Percy Jackson than another desecration of source material like A Series of Unfortunate Events or the latest Fantastic Four tedium.
The film is, however, ultimately successful, even if it isn’t a box office dynamo. This is all thanks to the clever plotting that takes many of the Greek mythological stories and transforms them into modern fables and moral building blocks. It’s the kind of film that makes you want to relive the stories of classical mythology to see how favorably they compare. It’s not often that a film encourages anyone to seek out not only the source material (if they weren’t already familiar), but older written works, but Percy Jackson does so successfully, which is what helps guide the film towards success.
And while I will be mildly disappointed not to sit down to the next film of the series some time in the near future, at least what we got in The Lightning Thief was an entertaining diversion. Anyone who’s a fan of Greek mythology and doesn’t mind a modern twist, may well enjoy what The Lightning Thief has to offer. If you’re expecting to find the next Harry Potter phenomenon, you probably won’t find it here.
May 12, 2010
Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief