Tuesday, February 16, 2010

lightning with a few sparks

We just caught Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief this weekend. It's been getting pretty so-so reviews, so I wasn't expecting much, and it was . . . O.K. Not bad at all, entertaining, but I'm not sure how avid young fans of the books will feel about it. The kids are cute and the effects were just scary enough without being too scary. I have no problem with the movie being Harry Potter lite, as that is also how the book seemed to me. The mystery was about at a Scooby Doo level of complexity, but again, not too different from the book. I have since read the second book, and although I still have some quibbles with the forced wise-assedness of its hero's dialogue, it is a much better read, and has spurred me on to check out the rest of the series.

I have never had a problem with movies differing from books—two different mediums. And I frankly was relieved at all the cuts and slashes the Potter series received in its cinematic translations, as J.K. Rowling does go on and on and on—that series of books could have benefited from a brave editor, but c'est la vie.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief changes a few things around, makes the kids a tad older, cuts out some exposition, and thankfully doesn't beat you over the head with the ADHD references—it's explained once and then it's gone—if only author Rick Riordan could have been as economical. What it does do that isn't as cool is downplay some of the Gods-in-the-contemporary-world parallels that Riordan works so hard to include in the books. For a student of Greek myth like myself, these clues can be seen a long way coming, but they're still a great way to introduce Greek mythology to kids and to show them how myth is alive in their own world. Two scenes hint that this may have originally been in the script at some point: Uma Thurman having fun as snake-haired Medusa and Rosario Dawson & Steve Coogan as Mr. & Mrs. Hades, the ultimate Rock & Roll couple. In fact, Rosario Dawson's take on Persephone gives that mythological character a new twist. It is a huge disappointment at the end of the movie to see the gods decked out in togas—what the Hades happened?

So like the books, I would give it an O.K.—check it out. It's never bad to expose kids to mythology. But the whole thing is just a little . . . flat. If you want to have some over-the-top emotional roller-coaster fun in a movie, re-watch the latest Harry Potter.

If you want classic Greek mythology on film, Jason and the Argonauts, with creatures by Ray Harryhausen is still fun, and Ulysses with Kirk Douglas kicks serious ass. For fanciful mythic interpretations as kids get older (and for adults right now), the classic Orphée and Black Orpheus should not be missed. Clash of the Titans was always corny fun, and has been remade and will be released next month with an interesting cast.

And who knows, maybe with the next Percy Jackson film—because there probably will be one—they'll do a better job. Riordan did with the books.


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