Lightning Thief Movie Poster

Let me start this review with a few disclaimers.

1) I am usually a very forgiving movie-goer. Especially about movies made from books. I know that things have to change, and for the most part, I have no trouble accepting those changes.

2) This forgiveness of sins doesn’t make me a very critical reviewer. But occasionally, I see a movie which raises my ire, and for which I can also tell you EXACTLY what I thought was wrong.

3) Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is one of these movies.

The Quick Version: If you never read the books, you might not dislike this movie– but if you have read them, you’ll hate it.

 

I’ll be honest with you, I read a lot of YA and middle grade fiction. I’m not afraid of it. One of Lightning Thief Bookmy favorite series was ANIMORPHS (why haven’t they turned THAT into a movie yet?), and I got totally sucked into Twilight (which I don’t recommend, in spite of the fact that I read it compulsively). I was a little bit late to the Percy Jackson parade, but once I started reading the books, I was hooked. Why? Because as a Classicist and a writer who works a lot with myth, I thought Rick Riordan did an amazing job of updating these myths and heroes and making them accessible within a modern world. He made me believe that Poseidon was hanging around dressed up like one of the captains from Deadliest Catch, and Hermes had embraced modern technology to make sending messages back and forth more efficient. He made me believe the gods were alive on Olympus watching reality tv.

I was excited to see the movie, even when the previews showed that Percy had been cast as someone much older than 12, and the plot was a little bit messed up from the book. I could overlook it, because man, it would be awesome to see how they dressed these gods up in modern clothing and characterized them in updated ways!

I was, unfortunately, to be disappointed.

 

First of all, they hadn’t just aged Percy–they had completely and utterly rearranged and altered the plot. It was basically a nod to the books, not a true adaptation. This is something I can usually overlook without too much trouble. Provided the movie keeps the most important elements. For me, they could have done anything except alter these:

1) the relationships of the gods to their demi-god children
2) the relationships of the main characters who were included to one another (think Sherlock Holmes. Amazingly well done.)
3) the updated and modernized aspects of the myths and Camp Half-blood.
4) the general set up to allow for a future installment, and the Premise of the entire series. (They mastered this with Harry Potter.)

This movie pretty much threw out every single one of these elements along with the plot. And maybe I could have overlooked items 2 and 4, if they had just, for the love of all that is holy, left 3!

But no. Though they began with the false promise of keeping this modernization intact (the opening scene of this movie was GREAT), they abandoned it almost immediately. Camp Half-blood looked as though it had been thrown back in time to the world without running water, the cabins turned into tents at best. (C’mon! Ancient Greece had architecture!) And the gods? Instead of costuming them according to their powers and strengths, they were given the typical Hollywood-Greco-Roman armor treatment. Why, I ask you, would gods be hanging about their own home dressed in outdated armor? Hermes isn’t a warrior, and Aphrodite certainly wouldn’t get involved in combat personally except to whisk her favorite hero out of harms way. Athena, I could maybe understand. Ares, sure. Even Zeus! But all of them, dressed in virtually identical leather skirts and muscled chestplates?

Instead of making the gods more identifiable to a modern audience, the movie made them more impossible to tell apart. All the modern tweaks which showed us that the gods were still part of the world and what they had been doing with themselves were stripped out, making the gods and everything demi-god outdated and out of touch.

On top of all this, the alteration of the plot eliminated all the important things we needed to know to allow for the second book to be made into a movie. Annabeth’s internal conflict was reduced to not being sure if she loved or hated Percy, and Grover’s character growth stunted totally. Now, after seeing the film, I just assumed this meant they had no intention of making another. That this was supposed to be a stand alone. So imagine my surprise when I read that they had chosen the actors with the idea of continuing with future films!

My friends, I have no idea how they’re going to accomplish a sequel. And I am torn. On the one hand, I thought the movie was awful. Really, the writing was mediocre, the acting was not great, and the effects were a little bit off. On the other hand, I want to see reinterpretation of Myth trend across the industry because I love it maybe even more than good comic book movies. But this is not a promising beginning.

My advice? Skip the Percy Jackson movie, and read the book instead. I promise you’ll get better value for your money.

 

Maybe we’ll have better luck with Clash of the Titans.