Monday, February 15, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

Whenever I see a movie based on a book/graphic novel/TV show/Facebook status update/whatever, I generally have no problem judging the film by what it is and try to avoid comparing it to its source material. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief has proven to be the exception to that rule. I've never read the book but, after watching the movie, the movie's plot just seemed off to me and I was wondering how it compared to that of the book so I found a plot synopsis and WOW! One of the biggest differences is that the three main characters Percy, Annabeth and Grover are all 12 years old. Naturally the filmmakers thought this meant they should cast 18 year old Logan Lerman as Percy, 23 year old Alexandra Daddario as Annabeth and 26 year old Brandon Jackson as Grover. There are loads of other changes I don't really want to deal with for spoiler reasons including a far more logical motivation for the actions of the person who is ultimately revealed to be the story's villain.

For now, let's concentrate on the movie for what it is and what it is is a mildly entertaining though banal and predictable movie. It turns out that Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists etc are way the hell off and that the one true religion is worship of the Greek pantheon. We see the ocean god Poseidon coming out of the Atlantic and entering modern New York City to meet up with his brother Zeus who is cranky because someone stole his ultimate weapon, the Lightning Bolt. Zeus jumps to the conclusion that the thief is Poseidon's son. Why? Honestly, I have no idea. I kept waiting for someone to say why Poseidon's son, the titular character Percy Jackson, is assumed by, of all things, the King of the Gods to be the Lightning Thief. The book apparently does have an explanation which means the filmmakers wanted to stay true to their pattern and not include it in this film.

When we meet Percy Jackson, he has no idea he's the son of a god. Following the Harry Potter model, he lives a miserable, unremarkable life made more miserable by his smelly and abusive step-father played by Joe Pantoliano. Personally, if Joey Pants was my step-father I'd think that was the coolest thing ever but I'm not Percy. One day Percy gets attacked by a substitute teacher who turns out to be one of the Furies from Greek mythology. He's saved by his best friend who turns out to be a satyr and his Latin teacher (Pierce Brosnan) who turns out to be Chiron, the legendary centaur who trained Hercules (should have been Heracles since these guys are the earlier Greek versions of these legends but we'll let that go). This leads Percy to a camp for demigods where he meets, among others, Annabeth, the very cute daughter of Athena. (The previous statement refers to the fully grown young woman in the movie, not the 12 year old in the book.) Percy and his two friends then go off on an epic journey to find Zeus' lightning bolt where they fight lots of monsters and finger each other (I'm pretty sure that's what happened when I went to the bathroom, it's rated PG so I could be wrong).

The Lightning Thief is an OK movie. It's nothing special and I can't see anyone impatiently waiting for the sequel. It's very hard to tell whose fault this is but I'm tempted to lay most of the blame at the feet of director Chris Columbus. The reason for this is that Columbus is, for the most part, a very mediocre filmmaker. You may be thinking, "Gosh, I liked Home Alone and the two Harry Potter movies he directed." True, give him a script by John Hughes or a novel by J.K. Rowling as source material and his unremarkable skills as a director can produce a decent movie. In this case, he was given what, by all accounts I've seen, is a pretty good book. The problem was that he wasn't forced to stick to it. I remember reading an interview where he tried to hide how annoyed he was that J.K. Rowling had so much creative control over the first Harry Potter movie and wouldn't let him change even small details. He didn't have that problem in this movie. He got to take 12 year old characters and replace them with sexy young adults and was able to gut the story of so much that made it interesting and replace all that with special effects. I will say this is a worthy addition to the oeuvre of a man who directed Bicentennial Man and I Love You Beth Cooper, two other movies that had the best parts of their original source material ripped out. At least he's consistent.


Anonymous said...

YOU SON OF A BITCH. I had forgotten Bicentennial Man existed. "See you soon." NOT SOON ENOUGH!!!

Dan Coyle said...

OOops, that was me in the above comment. ;-)