REVIEW: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

16 08 2010

“Never judge a book by its movie,” says J.W. Eagan.  But if you were to go against the wise sage’s advice and judge, you might think that Rick Riordan’s novel “The Lightning Thief” is some campy piece of kid-lit just a few rungs above Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series,” on the class ladder.  It’s like “Harry Potter,” only written by that awesome history teacher you had in middle school.  I have had the pleasure of meeting Riordan and talking with him about his book, and it is so creative, weaving together all sorts of Greek mythology to create the narrative of modern day demigod Percy Jackson.

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” bears a title that suggests a whole Hollywood franchise in the works, and it’s precisely that influence that tarnishes a perfectly good book.  If anything you have seen about the movie seems interesting, I implore you to read the book – or if you don’t have that much time, stop watching the movie when Ke$hA’s “TiK ToK” plays in a casino and start reading from there.

The beginning of the movie is pretty good, managing to capture some of the spirit of its source.  Logan Lerman takes on the titular character, a frustrated dyslexic adolescent who finds out unexpectedly that he is the child of a Greek god.  Hunted by the forces of evil, his best friend (Brandon T. Jackson, best known as the Lance-loving Alpa Chino from “Tropic Thunder”), who turns out to be a satyr hiding his goat legs behind a wheelchair, transports him to Camp Half-Blood, a save haven for demigods.  There he meets other kids like him, the offspring of god-human relations.  Before long, Percy must embark on a quest to clear his name after being accused of stealing Zeus’ lightning.

The adventure is fairly amusing, littered with plenty of celebrities to make you grin.  There’s Steve Coogan as Hades and Rosari Dawson as his prisoner, Persephone.  Uma Thurman plays stone-cold killer Medusa in a very slow sequence.  The always reliable Catherine Keener plays Percy’s mom, and Joe Pantoliano plays her scumbag boyfirend.  Although he doesn’t appear in this phase of the movie, you definitely can’t discuss the movie’s acting without bringing up Pierce Brosnan, who apparently forgot how to act after a disastrous turn in “Mamma Mia.”  He’s still brutal to watch, and if you’re still complaining about Daniel Craig as 007, this movie will make you thankful for the blonde Bond.

But it’s the climax that Columbus and the Hollywood goons absolutely destroy.  It’s an incomprehensible disaster, a cinematic trainwreck in every sense of the word.  Anyone who hasn’t read the book will scratch their heads in confusion at the muddled mess unfolding in front of them.  And those like me, who have read, will marvel at how effortlessly a thrilling literary ending is derailed by the desire to provide cheap blockbuster excitement.  The book’s final twist is revealed in the last handful of pages, leaving the reader gasping in surprise.  The movie, however, jumps the gun and lets the cat out of the bag way too early, robbing the moment of any suspense.

So while it will pass for entertainment, there’s still much to be desired.  A whole lot more can be pulled from Riordan’s rich novels, and a whole lot more of Chris Columbus’ moviemaking magic can be utilized.  B- /



One response

17 08 2010

Have to confess, the trailers didn’t do anything to win me over, particularly with Clash of the Titans mining the “Greek quota” for March. Still, Pierce Brosnan with a beard has to be worth something.

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