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- /

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What To Look Forward To in … February 2010

7 01 2010

We’re still in some hazy territory in the month of February, but the new decade looks to give this month some much needed energy.  Fueled by two movies originally scheduled for release in 2009, I might actually drop a good amount of change at the movies in February (not just on repeat viewings of Oscar nominees).

February 5

Put “The Notebook” in front of anything and you are guaranteed a flock of screaming girls coming with boyfriends in tow.  Put wildly popular model/actor Channing Tatum in the poster and you can add some more girls aside from the hopeless romantics.  “Dear John” has just that: a super sweet story from author Nicholas Sparks and girl eye candy Tatum.  Thankfully for the guys, the filmmakers cast Amanda Seyfried (“Jennifer’s Body”), who isn’t so bad on the eyes either.

I’m a little weary to endorse “From Paris with Love,” another John Travolta villain movie.  He’s only good at playing subtle ones (“Pulp Fiction”) with the exception of “Face/Off.”  2009’s “The Taking of Pelham 123” was a disaster mainly because of Travolta and his villainy established only by constantly dropping the F-bomb.  Potential redemption here?  I’ll need positive word of mouth before I watch Travolta go evil again.

February 12

“Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” is the name given to the film adaptation of Rick Riordan’s kids novel “The Lightning Thief.” Clearly Fox is setting up a franchise with the title, and they picked the right place to stake the claim. I read the book in seventh grade, and it is the real deal. I even got a chance to have lunch with the author, Riordan, who is one of the neatest people I have ever met. Whether they ruin it or not is yet to be known, but the movie is being helmed by Chris Columbus, the man who got the “Harry Potter” series flying. That has to count for something.

If Pierce Brosnan isn’t a big enough star to draw you to the aforementioned movie, you should find solace in “Valentine’s Day,” which features just about every romantic comedy actor ever. Literally, I can’t even list all of the stars of the movie here. The post would just be too darn big. Garry Marshall, director of “Pretty Woman” and “The Princess Diaries,” is in charge here, so I find some comfort in that. But if the movie flops, this will be a high-profile disappointment.

Sorry girls, the werewolf in “The Wolfman” is not played by Taylor Lautner. Academy Award-winning actor Benicio del Toro metamorphasizes in Victorian England into the hairy beast when the moon is ripe.  This werewolf is not based on cheeky teen lit but on the 1941 horror classic.  And this adaptation is rated R for “bloody horror violence and gore.”  Get ready for some intense clawing.

A big winner at Cannes and a contender for the Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards, “A Prophet” is a foreign film that may be worth a look.

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