Saturday, February 13, 2010


PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTING THIEF is book one of a very popular  series among tweens and teens. It's been on the NY Times Best Seller list for 130 weeks. Last summer I read it to my daughter and we both enjoyed it thoroughly. 

Percy, a 12-year-old discovers he is a demi-god, a child produced from the union between human and Greek god. Percy spends his time in trouble, battling dyslexia and ADHD, until he finds himself in a camp for demi-god kids. Eventually, he discovers he is the son of one of the big three, Poseidon. As the story unfolds, we discover Zeus' power – his lightning bolt – has been stolen and he believes Percy is responsible. The young protagonist, with two friends in tow, must find the bolt and return it to Zeus before the summer solstice. 

Percy runs into many mythological Greek creatures – Medusa, Ares (god of war), Hades, Persephone, the furies, and others. The connections to the 3,000 year old myths are exciting and adventurous, increasing a kid's interest in mythology and the heroes journey. 
Now the book has been dubbed a Harry Potter knock-off and the fact the movie was made by Chris Columbus only proliferates that stereotype. The characters have similarities:

  • Both young boys
  • Both go on an adventure with another boy and girl
  • Both go to a place to be trained with others like them
  • Both battle creatures
  • Both go on heroic journeys

The truth is, our heroic journey stories, called the monomyth, is grounded in Greek literature. In fact our modern super hero stories are rooted in those 3,000 year old myths. What author Rick Riordan does is revamp the Greek myth for a contemporary audience, giving kids a reason to read and study the cradle of Western literature.

Choosing Columbus to direct the PERCY movie was a ghastly decision. It did nothing but draw more connections between HARRY and PERCY. On top of that, he took a solid story and hacked the character development out of it, aged the characters by 5 years, melted away the mystery of the narrative by revealing all the secrets in the first few minutes, and changed significant plot elements for no significant reason.

He left us with a movie that cared about nothing but action sequences, utilized shabbily-designed CGI, and washackneyed. It won't please the audience much (unless they are nothing but shallow trolls, or young and forgiving tweens) and it will anger fans. What's the point?

The theft was not of Zeus' bolt, but of Columbus' treachery of dissolving all the interesting and important details from the story. Do yourself a favor: read the books and skip the movie. If you must see the movie, accept what it is before going in. Just enjoy the action and leave it at that. It doesn't completely suck. It's just that ... it could have been great with a little bit of planning and love of the source material. It's obvious Columbus doesn't care a thing about PERCY. 


Sky Girl said...

Been thinking about whether or not this movie would be appropriate for my 7-year-old. Sounds like it doesn't really matter.

Jack said...

Keep in mind, Sky Girl, that my opinion is that of an adult. The kids I was with (ages 9-11) loved it a lot.

A lot.

I think older teens and fans will be disappointed as I was from the changes.

Sky Girl said...

He is still reading Harry Potter and hasn't seen all the movies. I won't let him get too far ahead of the books...and he has read none of these books...maybe if he reads the book I'll let him see the movie when it comes out on DVD.