Tuesday, May 21, 2013

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

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: A fun adventure story with Greek mythology
Cons: Missing the richness of the book
The Bottom Line:
Adventure, Greek myths
Combine for a fun movie
The book is richer

Some Big Changes, But Still Mostly Fun

I've got to admit I didn't read Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief until January.  Yes, the fact that a movie was coming out got finally got me to read it.  When I did, I discovered a very fun book.  That got me hyped to see the movie version, which I finally did today.  While they took some major liberties with the story, I still enjoyed it.

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is a high school student attempting to deal with his dyslexia and ADHD while just surviving the day.  And at night, he has to deal with a horrid stepdad (Joe Pantoliano).  At least he has a good relationship with his mother (Catherine Keener) and a best friend in Grover (Brandon T. Jackson).

His life changes one day when a substitute teacher turns into a horrid beast and tries to kill him.  That's when he learns the truth, the ancient Greek gods are real, and one of them is his father.

Unfortunately, things aren't going well on Mount Olympus right now.  Seems that Zeus' lightning bolt is gone, and Zeus (Sean Bean) thinks that Percy stole it.  Now Percy must team up with Grover (who turns out to be a satyr) and his new friend Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) to find and return the stolen item before the gods go to war.  Can he do it?

This movie was produced and directed by Chris Columbus, the man behind the first two Harry Potter movies.  Considering how faithful those movies were, I am surprised at just how much the book was changed.  There are superficial changes (main character's ages, Annabeth's hair color) and some rather major changes, including added parts to the quest and some cut sub-plots.  Frankly, this robs the story and characters of the richness the book had.  So if you are going into this as a fan of the books, be prepared to see something different.

If you can do that, or are going in blind, you'll find a pleasant adventure movie.  Percy and his friends wind up making a journey across the US, making several stops along the way.  It feels like an epic journey, yet they still mange to set stuff up and bring it all in under two hours.  That's pretty impressive.  Each stop in the journey finds the gang up against a monster from Greek mythology.  I'm not completely up on my myths, but I knew enough to appreciate everything I saw.

And let me tell you, this movie is visually stunning.  There are tons of special effects, and all of them work.  One scene near the end is a little iffy, but that's the only one.  I loved getting lost in this world.

The acting is great as well.  The better known names are reduced to the small parts, but that wasn't a problem for me.  The main characters were all perfectly believable.  Pierce Brosnan has a small role as one of Percy's teachers.  But the scene stealer as far as the adults were concerned was Uma Thurman as Medusa.  She was perfectly creepy.

Speaking of creepy, obviously in Medusa's scene, we get some snakes.  Frankly, all the monsters that Percy and crew face could frighten young kids.  I think 9 or 10 and older should have no problem with anything seen here, however.

I just can't quite get past the details left out of the book.  I haven't read beyond book one (yet), so I don't know if any details were brought into the movie from later books.  But my favorite scene and the entrance to Hades were both changed here.  I kept filling in some of the character details in my head that seem rather important.  And I'm sure there is a plot hole concerning how Percy knew he had a deadline for his quest (but I'd have to rewatch to be sure).  One sub-plot is introduced and then dropped, so why even bring it up?

Those complaints aside, I definitely enjoyed The Lightning Thief.  If this is your introduction to the characters, I highly recommend your next stop is a bookstore to fill in some gaps.  If you already love the characters, do your best to lower your expectations, and you'll wind up enjoying the movie.

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