Anyone who knows me fairly well knows that I am a huge fan of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. I’ve often proclaimed that my love for this series is up there with my love for Harry Potter. So needless to say, I was pretty excited to see the movie adaptation of The Lightning Thief, especially since it was directed by the man behind the first two Harry Potter movies, Chris Columbus. I was also nervous---movies adapted from books rarely live up to their source material and barring most (but not all) of the Harry Potter movies, a few Neil Gaiman movies and Spiderwick, I’ve felt let down by recent book-movies. So I went in with a cautious but open heart and found myself completely let down. Here’s a list of reasons why (Caution: this list contains SPOILERS for both the movie and the book series):
*No Ares (the Cabin or the God) – one of the fun parts of the Percy books is that he encounters each and every Olympian god throughout the series and they’re “modernized.” The scenes with Percy and Ares were intense and exciting and it’s one of the first times Percy encounters one of the gods (aside from Mr. D). His absence was greatly noted and replacing him with Persephone (more to come on her) did nothing to improve the story. I was also annoyed that there was no Clarisse or Ares Cabin. While I get that the producers probably thought they were too reminiscent of Draco/Slytherin and wanted to steer clear of HP similarities, if they had thought ahead to the rest of the series, Clarisse and Ares Cabin play an important role later on, and Clarisse’s pride and stubbornness set up one of the most emotional moments (for me) in the final book. I was also annoyed that Annabeth became the stand-in for Clarisse (see my next point).
*Annabeth was all wrong - I know this is a superficial detail, but my first complaint is that Annabeth is BLONDE. It bothers me that (Buffy aside) we rarely get to see the blonde girl kicking ass and taking names. They’re always the pretty ones while the brunettes are the tough ones. That aside, I also didn’t like the changes her character was given. Book-Annabeth would NOT attack Percy that violently (in the name of training) and almost kill him. Setting her up as the violent warrior woman and then having her flip-flop to become his ally for her own selfish purposes did not make me like her as either a romantic foil OR a Hermione-esque “smart, female friend” for Percy. Again, they may have been trying to avoid HP similarities but they went a bit too far. Part of the fun of The Lightning Thief is that it has the HP skeleton (which JK Rowling didn’t invent, by the way) with its own unique and interesting story, mythology, and character development.
*The way race was handled – I had a BIG problem with Rosario Dawson playing Persephone. Not only was I annoyed that her character (a MAJOR deus ex machine) had replaced Ares, but she was clearly supposed to be the exotic, spicy goddess/wife and they didn’t even try to make her seem Greek. At one point my friend Zoraida, a Latina woman, leans over to me and says, “Why is Persephone Puerto Rican?” I have no idea. She’s supposed to be a GREEK goddess. If they wanted to have diversity in the cast, they had a great opportunity with the demi-god camp-dwellers (since they’re half Greek god and half-any race known to the human species). But they missed that opportunity by only focusing on the main demi-gods (another thing that took away from the greatness of the books – I loved all of the briefly mentioned side characters, just as I did in HP). I was actually really glad they cast a black actor to play Grover, since, ya know, he’s a satyr and they’re nature spirits. He could be any race. But I was extremely disappointed that they then went and changed Grover’s character to make him a stereotype of a black teen. Grover is a nervous, awkward, odd little goat-man and instead they turned him into a “playa” who was often distracted by hotties and speaks like he grew up in “the hood.” There was even one scene where the camera watches Percy and Grover walk up some stairs and you can clearly see Percy’s pants at a normal level and Grover’s are sagging, which doesn’t even make sense since Grover’s pants are supposed to conceal his GOAT LEGS! It just made me sad that they felt they had to completely change the character into a black stereotype rather than keeping the integrity of the character and casting him black. I found it insulting to people of all ethnicities.
(Edited to add this one bullet) *The way they handled the female characters - Annabeth was reduced to the cliche love interest who starts off hating (in this case, almost-killing) the main dude, and slowly learns to love him because he's just so awesome. I was also annoyed that she was a brunette, as if blondes can't be strong fighters and are stuck being the pretty/slutty/dainty girls. And don't even get me started on Medusa and ESPECIALLY Persephone (can you tell I hated this character) who both acted like gross pervs around the teenage leads. I half expected Persephone to start humping Grover's leg. It was really gross and didn't add to the story one bit. Meanwhile, if anyone's going to be acting like a horny teenager (aside from the horny teenagers) why isn't it the GODS. They could never keep it in their pants in the legends!
*No Mist or Oracle – The Mist and The Oracle play a big part in the overarching plot of the series. The Mist is a big part in explaining why normal humans (a) don’t know about the gods, demi-gods and mythological creatures prancing around, and (b) how Percy and company can get away with questing and battling all across America and not cause mass chaos. Also, The Oracle is the big motivation behind the quests Percy and his friends go on and is the reason why there aren’t supposed to be any children by the Big Three. It’s also the main motivation behind Luke’s betrayal (since his mother went crazy trying to take on the mantle of The Oracle) and the lack of an Oracle also doesn’t give me much hope for one of my favorite characters, Rachel Elizabeth Dare (the girl who can see through the Mist and who eventually becomes the new Oracle).
*Hades (the place) was WAY too Christian – I’m sorry but fire, brimstone and suffering is the Christian version of Hell. That’s NOT what Hades is supposed to be. Hades is the underworld and the land of the dead, but it is supposed to be dark and chilling not fiery and frightful. And where the heck is Elysium (the paradise where heroes go after death) amidst this inferno? Also, Charon is supposed to ferry people across the river Styx into the underworld, not through the air right to the palace of Hades. And where the heck was Cerberus (a HUGE part of the Hades myth)? Oh, right, of course. Their horrible depiction of Persephone, played by the highly-paid Rosario Dawson, makes the Cerberus storyline moot. So basically Persephone replaced Ares AND Cerberus all for the sake of…what? They show Hades acting very Lucifer-like and then Persephone just steps in and fixes it? What a total dumbing down (and de-funning) of what really happens in the books.
*The gods are really good, caring parents – A big part of the books is that the gods are just as they’ve always been depicted; selfish, careless, and neglectful. They come to earth, have children with mortal men and woman and then abandon their children because they can’t be bothered. Every so often, when they’re proud or forced to, they’ll claim their children. They may love them but they aren’t very good to them. But in the movie, Poseidon is depicted as this compassionate, caring dad who only left Percy and his mother (after 7 months of raising him) because he was becoming human and Zeus made a law to prevent that from happening. Wait WHAT?! How can a god become a human? And are we supposed to believe ALL the gods are raising ALL of their children when they are born? Because there’s an awful lot of children at Camp Half Blood and only 12 Olympian gods (2 of whom don’t have any demi-god children) plus Hades.
*The Greek gods are…British? - Who on EARTH decided that the Greek gods should all have British accents? And why in creation is Melina Kanakaredes, a GREEK-AMERICAN, portraying Athena with such a HORRENDOUS British accent? The one Greek actor they cast as a Greek god and they couldn’t even let her use her normal voice?
*Percy’s powers – I was annoyed at how they handled Percy’s abilities. I was OK with his showy waterbending the few times he did it. That was fine and I can understand how they needed something theatrical and showy for the movie. But I was annoyed when Percy created the water trident (he shouldn’t have that much control – he has barely had any time to master his abilities) and SUPER annoyed when he healed Annabeth with the pool water (Percy doesn’t have healing powers – he is healed by water because he is THE SON OF POSEIDON!).
*Stripping a lot of the magic from the world – Aside from the lack of Mist, they also left out Luke and Annabeth’s backstory, which may mean no Thalia, Daughter of Zeus. They had the kids communicating with the camp via computer whihc eliminated the Iris messages (which would've looked cool and added to the mythology). They didn’t show or even mention any of the other cabins aside from Hermes, which was far too empty for the cabin that claims unclaimed campers. There was no Mr. D (Dionysus) at all. And the camp was something out of Xena, Warrior Princess. One of the great things about Riordan’s books was that it combined the old-timey Greek myths with the modern day. Camp Half Blood didn’t even look like a modern day camp (barring Luke’s out of control video game system) with an outdoorsy feel. And no big brazier? And then making Grover a Protector (with no “protective powers” whatsoever) instead of a Seeker, thus negting the whole Pan storyline. I’m not seeing much of a set-up for Book 2 AT ALL, with the absence of Clarisse and the Pan storyline, and no set-up of Kronos whatsoever).
*A lot of little stuff – There were also a lot of glaring annoyances that stood out for me. Trying to pass off the daughters of Aphrodite as nymphs and only mentioning them as slutty temptations for Grover (nymphs and children of Aphrodite are two different groups, movie-dudes!). And a Lady Gaga montage in the middle of the Lotus Casino? C’mon! And I love the Gaga. Also, why did they age everyone up? That is another thing that doesn’t bode well for sequels. Hell, the girl who plays Annabeth is in her mid-20’s and is also playing the girlfriend of the 32-year old main character in White Collar. The guy who plays Grover is mid-20’s as well.
Ok, so as much as it sounds like I hated it, I didn’t HATE it…but I didn’t like it all that much either. I felt like the film was stripped of everything that gave it flavor in book form and instead of avoiding the Harry Potter similarities, they ended up creating something that was neither unique nor distinctive enough. There were parts I actually liked. It helped that the guy who plays Percy, 18-year old (yes I checked) Logan Lerman, is very easy on the eyes. But here they are, just to show I didn’t leave the theater entirely miserable:
*Grover’s line to Charon about burning money when we’re in a recession. I burst out laughing.
*The casting - Catherine Keener as Percy’s mom – love her! The actor who played Annabeth was pretty awesome, even if I don’t like what they did with her character. I also enjoyed Jake Abel (the third Winchester brother) as Luke and the aforementioned hotness that is Logan Lerman. Uma Thurman as Medusa was amazing as well, as was her snake-hair.
*Turning Smelly Gabe into stone at the end (I’m glad they kept that little tidbit – I was waiting for it the whole movie).
*The animal-hindquarters looked good on both Grover and Chiron. At least there’s that.
*Just being able to see a visual representation of one of my favorite book series made it worth the ridiculously high price of the ticket.
This isn’t something I’ll be excited to see again or own on DVD; though I’ll probably buy it just to support the series and the author (does he get royalties from DVD sales?). Meanwhile, if ticket sales are high enough to warrant a sequel, I’m going to hope they fix some of the errors and omissions that made it hard for me to enjoy this movie entirely. There’s still hope for them to introduce Clarisse, Grover’s mission to find Pan and even The Mist and The Oracle at the beginning of The Sea of Monsters, so let’s hope they’ll go there if there is a Book 2. And if they don’t plan on doing so, I hope this movie series stays dead in the water and doesn’t ruin any chances of someone picking this up again in a few years and doing a much better reboot.