Friday, June 22, 2012

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief Movie Review

Harry Potter made some significant contributions to young adult and children’s literature, as well as produced some fantastic movies. Each one has high percentile ratings on Naturally, someone is going to try to capitalize on the success of these books and movies. Rick Riordan wrote a five-book series entitled Percy Jackson and the Olympians which has many similarities to the Harry Potter books. When a film version of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief  (2010) was made, Chris Columbus, the same director who did the first two Harry Potter movies, was used. It does seem like a Harry Potter knockoff, but it has a strong supporting cast and has lots of fun with Greek Mythology.
When his lightning bolt is stolen, Zeus (Sean Bean) accuses Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), of stealing it. If the lightning bolt is not returned in fourteen days, Zeus will initiate war among the gods which will devastate the world. Meanwhile, teenage Percy visits The Museum of Metropolitan of Art with his school. There he is attacked by a Fury disguised as a teacher. After this, his best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) reveals that Percy is a demigod, that Grover is his Satyr protector, and his teacher Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan) is a centaur. Brunner gives Percy a pen that transforms into a powerful sword with which to protect himself. Grover and Percy go to Percy’s house to collect his mother, Sally (Catherine Keener), and set off for Camp Half-Blood to be safe from other monsters. However they are attacked by a minotaur who causes Sally to vanish before Percy can help her. In the camp, Percy befriends Annabeth (Alexandrea Daddario), warrior daughter of Athena.  Hades (Steve Coogan) appears in camp, demanding that Percy give him the lightning bolt in exchange for his mother whom Hades has in the Underworld. Percy, Annabeth and Grover set out on a dangerous quest to find the lightning bolt, make peace with the gods, and save Percy’s mother.
There are so many similarities between Percy Jackson and Harry Potter; a boy discovering he is more than just another ordinary person, a clumsy but lovable sidekick friend, a competent female companion, a place for them all to gather and be themselves, a secret world that normal people don’t see, and magical mayhem around every corner. It even mimics the title structure: “Main Character and the Plot Device.” Never the less, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief has a few things to offer that Harry Potter didn’t; a United States setting, Greek gods and demigods with incredible powers, and Greek mythological monsters appearing in highly creative but familiar places, rather than in a far removed castle. Even young viewers will probably recognize the obvious parallels between Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. It’s difficult to disassociate the two. But Percy Jackson is still unique enough in its own right to be a decent movie.
Kids and teens can relate to the titular character; he’s awkward, has ADHD and dyslexia, lives with his mother who in turn lives with an abusive man. But all these things are indicators of something greater within Percy. As a demigod, he’s brain is hardwired for Greek. It’s difficult for him to read English. He has natural fast thinking and combat skills. Modern diagnosis for these conditions are ADHD and dyslexia. It’s a great premise for Percy’s character to have normal problems which are actually indicators of his own abilities and strength. It’s fantastic seeing Percy understand more of himself and grow in confidence and ability as he goes. What kid who has been diagnosed with such conditions hasn’t dreamed of having these labels turned around into strengths?
The cast for this movie was excellent. Even the static characters are believable. Greek mythological characters were defined by their attributes, not personality. Hurling lightning bolts is what Zeus does, so when his lightning bolt is stolen, where does that leave him? Zeus was a simple, non-developing character but was still good in the context of the movie.
Props must be given to Uma Thurman as Medusa; she really looked the part and was a great villain to overcome. They encounter her in a shop that sells lawn statues (Medusa’s victims). Not having mirrors to approach her with, Percy uses the reflective surface on his iPhone to see to combat her. This is just one creative way that Greek myths collide with the modern world in this movie.
The soundtrack was creatively implemented in Percy Jackson. Percy, Annabeth and Grover set out on the highway to find Hades and the entrance to the Underworld (located in Hollywood, of course). As they set off, we hear “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC. The threesome make a stop in Las Vegas at The Lotus Casino which is owned by the Lotus-Eaters of Greek myth who eat narcotic lotus flowers. When served these flowers, Percy and friends are lulled into peaceful apathy and become trapped at the casino. As the narcotics take effect, we hear “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga. It’s a bit silly, but still fun.
I loved seeing Greek myth and the modern world collide in this fun family movie. Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief  is a better alternative to Clash of the Titans (2010) in terms of  setting, plot, and characters. The only thing I could see that may be off-putting to some viewers is seeing some non-descript fiery figures being tormented in the Underworld, the Grecian version of hell. All in all, it’s a clean movie, fast paced, exciting, and silly. The setting isn’t quite as well developed as it was in the book, but the movie still stands on its own well enough. It’s worth renting for a “light viewing” movie night, but I’m certain kids between 8 and 13 will enjoy it enough to want their own copy.

Do you think that it’s fair to compare Percy Jackson and Harry Potter? They are similar, but still fun for their own reasons. Do you think Percy Jackson is just another Harry Potter knockoff? Comment below and tell me why!

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