10 May 2011

Movies: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0814255/

Child-friendly adventure film.
In a modern-day world we find the Greek gods still exist.  Zeus discovers his lightning was stolen. He meets up with Poseidon on the Empire State Building and gripes about it. Poseidon is all, "no way. you know we can't steal each other's powers." And Zeus is all, "yeah, but your kid can. That's right- I think your son stole my lightning and I want it back in two weeks or there's gonna be war." Poseidon is all, "..."
Then we meet teen-aged Percy, Poseidon's kid. Except Percy has no clue he's Poseidon's son, and obviously he hadn't stolen Zeus's lightning. He's a dyslexic ADHD struggling his way through multiple schools while his mom lives with a stinky step-father that Percy can't stand.  But after the substitute English teacher turns into a fury and almost kicks his ass Percy finds out who his father is, finds out that his best friend and that one of his teachers are guardians assigned to keep him safe, Percy is plunged feet-first into the fires of destiny.

From the moment I saw the trailer I hadn't planned on watching this movie. First reason: the title is too long. Second: The title font looks all Harry Potter-ish. Third: the remake of the Clash of the Titans and The Sorcerer's Apprentice both came out around the same time. My initial impression by 'judging the film by the poster' response: it just seems a piggy-backy and a desperate studio attempt to cash-in after hearing Clash was being remade and Harry Potter had already been snapped up.
Then I found out that yes, it is based on a series of post-Harry Potter books, books for that same demographic, a series of books I never heard of. Not that it made any difference to me at the time.

Then I noticed the film was making a run on Cinemax. I figured what the heck, I'll give it a look-see.  Mostly because I'm a sucker for Greek/Roman mythology and get curious about fiction set with that as a back drop. That was my downfall with Clash of the Titans - the curiosity overrode my instincts.

That opening sequence with Poseidon and Zeus? Yeah - that was pretty cool, even though I poked fun at it in my description above. And it has Kevin McKidd (Vorenus in Rome) as Poseidon. And Sean Bean as Zeus. That's kinda neat casting. Then there's Catherine Keener as Percy's mom, Joe Pantoliano as his stinky step-dad, Pierce Brosnan as a centaur? Uma Thurman as Medusa? Rosario Dawson as Persephone? Wow. Talk about biggish names in the cast, even if some are rather tiny parts. And there's more - but this paragraph is getting too long.

So I have to admit my first impressions were partly off.  This movie was a lot more entertaining than I thought it would be.

The film almost felt more respectful to the old mythology even while weaving their modern addendum than Clash of the Titans was. CotT pretty much ignored it and wrote their own.  But there were a few irksome licenses taken with some of the mythological figures. For instance, I would think Medusa shouldn't be making an appearance after having already been killed by Perseus. And the hydra was already killed by Hercules, although I suppose it's possible another hydra existed. That the Olympian pantheon of gods had hundreds of existing demigod children. They must've been partying on Earth somethin fierce.  And all these Olympian shenanigans, the hundreds of demigods-in-training, the entrance to Hades and Olympus all taking place in the U.S.A - I guess the Olympians abandoned Greece? Weird.
Despite straying a some from classical mythology, I figured I'd roll with it. And the film actually did well despite the detours.

Production-wise the film is good. Most of the CGI integrated well. Medusa's head was particularly well done.

The younger cast members that I didn't immediately recognize did fine, considering the bulk of the film revolved around them instead of the more seasoned bigger-name actors.  The director, Chris Columbus, has made many a favorite film, including a couple of Harry Potters, so this film was right in his sandbox.

I didn't really pay attention to the quality of the dialog, the film was entertaining enough that I just sat back and watched everything happen. Nothing stood out as terrible. I do recall that the kid playing Grover the satyr had a couple of amusing one-liners. There were some instances of spontaneous knowledge that go unexplained, especially involving Percy's sudden tapping of Poseidony-inherited powers.  I just made this face :/ and let 'em slide.  I never did understand why Zeus decided that, out of all the demigods in existence at the time, Poseidon's kid was the one that stole his lightning. Nobody even knew where the kid was, except for Poseidon and the guardians.  Perhaps it was explained and I missed it?  All I can surmise is Zeus is paranoid about being overthrown by one of his brothers (Poseidon or Hades) and just jumped to the conclusion that it was Poseidon's kid due to the rules between gods and demigod contact and the history behind the rules. Still it's a huge leap of logic.

Over all the film is entertaining. I enjoyed it, I'm glad I gave it a shot. Young'uns might enjoy the film too. I'm not aware of how much Greek/Roman mythology is taught to them in schools, so if they aren't getting much of that sort of background some things in the story might escape their notice.  I doubt this film (and its upcoming sequel) will be as loved as the Potter series, but it stands good enough and entertaining enough to be worth the watch. Not an instant classic, but not terrible either, sortof middling. I liked it more than the Clash of the Titans remake, but then I was sortof biased against CotT from the get-go anyhow.

I just remembered one thing I thought was particularly unwarranted. The scene that shows mid-credits. It just seemed a harsh fate for Percy's stinky step-dad, considering all they established was that he was stinky and orders Percy's mom to get him beer in a gruff voice. He didn't deserve his fate.  If he were a wife-beater or something then I'd understand it.

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