Sunday, March 14, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians - The Literature Thief

I finally saw the movie Percy Jackson and the Olympians - The Lightning Thief this afternoon. I must say that I found the movie fun, entertaining, exciting, amusing, and, unfortunately, entirely forgettable. Shame about that, especially since I have become a big fan of the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan.

My oldest son (who, like Percy in the first book, is 12) is also a big fan, and he complained bitterly that the filmmakers ruined the movie. Well, I'm not sure I'd go that far. However, I will say that if you have seen the movie and you have not read the books, go read the books. They are COMPLETELY separate entities.

The books feel like an American response to the Harry Potter series (full disclosure: I'm also a big fan of that as well). To fully appreciate the books, it helps to have an understanding of U.S. culture, similar to how having a knowledge of the British school system creates a certain background understanding of Hogwarts. For example, if you have never been to a U.S. summer camp, you won't fully appreciate demigods playing capture the flag with real swords and shields. If you haven't lived through the all the news stories, pharmacological treatments, champions, and skeptics of ADHD, you won't full appreciate the idea that ADHD is an unfortunate side effect of a demigod's battle-ready senses. And if you haven't read The Catcher in the Rye or seen the movie Rebel Without a Cause, you might not appreciate the culture of teen angst that, although integral to ALL teen literature, has its own particular personality and flavor in the U.S.

But I digress. My son thinks they ruined the movie by completely diverging from the book. I have to admit that it's difficult for me, a jaded 41-year old who has seen his favorite literature mangled and twisted in the movie theatre over and over and over again, to disagree with him. Obviously, Rick Riordan did not have the creative control over this movie that J.K. Rowling maintained over hers. Much of what pushed the books beyond remaining forgettable page-turner literature was lost in the movie. The movie lacks the books ironic twists. I was mildly amused to find out that Mount Olympus is in the top of the Empire State Building, but I laughed out loud to find out (in the book) that the door to Hades was a recording studio in L.A. And the scene with Charon in the book was much, much, much funnier than the scene in the movie.

Not only that, but Riordan's understanding of adolescent awkwardness is pretty much spot on. Somethings never change from generation to generation.

So, sure. Go see the movie as a matinee. The special effects are decent, albeit not exemplary. The banter between Percy, Annabeth, and Grover is moderately clever (although I felt the movie spent too much time recreating Grover as the movie-standard "black" best friend side-kick instead of the "satyr" best friend side-kick). The romantic chemistry between Logan Lerman and Alexandra Daddario is reasonably satisfying. And I'll watch Catherine Keener in pretty much ANYTHING.

But then go back and read the book. And then read the next one. And then the next. What? Like you have anything really important going on at work this week?


  1. Okay, what's the name of the first book. And the second, please. Mom

  2. Forgive me. I should have given you all the names of the books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. They are:
    1) The Lightning Thief
    2) The Sea of Monsters
    3) The Titan's Curse
    4) The Battle of the Labyrinth
    5) The Last Olympian