Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Lightning Thief: My Review

I have read some online reviews from fans of the book who are savaging the movie makers by deviating from any aspect of the book. I do not share that criticism, although I do think there were some alterations that I would not have made.

Yes, the movie is different from the book. Duh. All movies that are adapted from novels have to change to meet the needs of the medium.

The storyline was streamlined from the book, and there were some changes, but overall it stayed pretty faithful to the story.

Yes the actors are older than the characters in the stories, but I always thought that a twelve year old battling the Minotaur was more than should be expected of a child. Demigod or not. Having Percy and Annabeth being older seems more believable.

My son thought Annabeth should have been blonde and with a ponytail as she is described in the book. :shrugs: Not a big problem for me.

I am going to try and be light on spoilers that would reveal plot twists for those who are interested in seeing the movies or reading the books.

To me, it appears that the filmmakers are unsure as to whether or not they want to make any further movies in this series. The box office haul will probably determine whether or not any sequels will get the green light. Therefore certain plot elements were eliminated which I think should have been included because it minimized the overall meaning of the Most Evil Plot of stealing Zeus' master lightning bolt.

Bummer. The implications of that theft and what it Could Have Meant to Western Civilization and to the Fate of the World as We Know It is what drives the rest of the series. Until the end of Book 5 (The Last Olympian) when that Most Eeeevil threat is finally defeated for once and for all.

It also means that it would be the fulfillment of a vague but ominous sounding Great Prophecy that was given probably about fifty years earlier by the Oracle of Delphi.

That Great Prophecy was not mentioned, nor even alluded to in the movie. Instead there was a different explanation as to why the Greek gods and goddesses did not have contact with their demigod children. Personally, I found that explanation given at the end of the movie by Poseidon to be lame.

Because it also contradicted a few of the underlying aspects of the story as established in the books, such as the demigods going to Mount Olympus at the Winter Solstice which is when the theft occurred.

So no explanation of how the theft occurred is provided in the movie. Just the revelation of who the culprit really was and a paler reason as to the motive was behind the theft than what was in the book.

The moviemakers also did not include the Oracle of Delphi being a strange resident in Camp Half-Blood. If any sequels are made, then the Oracle will have to be included and the omission of it in the first movie will not be really seen as a gaping plot hole.

Without the Oracle, there was no prophecy given for the quest that Percy went on. Instead, he set out on his own with two friends who insisted on going with him. They sought help from another camper who gave them a map, a shield, flying shoes, and a plan to find magical pearls to use in the Underworld. Magical pearls which in the book were given to Percy in another scene by other immortal beings.

I was not bothered by that difference, but I did not like the stage design for the cabins at Camp Half-Blood. Especially the cabin for the children of Hermes. In the book, that cabin is described as being overstuffed with campers to the point there aren't enough bunks for everyone, so sleeping bags are strewn around the floor.

In the movie we only see Luke in that cabin and he's playing high tech video games. I did not understand why they chose to make that difference other than there were fewer extras used in that scene.

I liked that they changed one action/adventure sequence from the Arch in Saint Louis to being at the Pantheon in Nashville. That was pretty cool having a Greek temple in the movie rather than an arch.

I thought showing letters moving around was a good visual for audiences to understand how dyslexics have difficulty decoding the written word. That was easier for filmmakers than the author to get across in his books.

I also liked Hades having an Alice Cooper look about him. He was compared onscreen to Mick Jagger, but I think Alice Cooper was more appropriate. Hades was still funny as he was in the book, but for different reasons.

There was also no showing of the Isles of the Blessed or Elysium Fields. This made the Underworld look like unrelenting hell. They also missed out on showing the EZ Death lines. I preferred the updated today version of Charon in the book to the more classic version of Charon which appeared in the movie.

There was something that did bug me. A continuity error.

Persephone should not have been in the Underworld when Percy arrived. She wasn't there in the books because it was the Summer Solstice and she would be above ground.

So the screenwriter changing some aspects of how Percy escaped should have seen the fact of why she was not there.

Because her presence there at that time of the year is not compatible with Greek myths.

However, if they really wanted her there, they needed to give a justification as to why she was there. They could have had a line inserted with Persephone giving some kind of explanation of why she was there, but there wasn't.

And I don't recall Annabeth calling Percy "Seaweed Brain." Not once. Bummer. I like that term of endearment/derision said to our hero.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie and the humor. I hope it does well, and we will purchase the DVD as soon as it is available. I will also look forward to going to see The Sea of Monsters should it be filmed.

Oh, and for those going to see the movie, please do not leave as soon as the credits start to roll. There is another scene which is worthwhile staying for about a minute into the credits. It does vary from what happened in the movie, is GREAT.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Love for Percy Jackson and the Olympians

I love Greek Mythology.

I have loved it since I read my first book on the subject when I was about nine years old.

The stories were larger than life. I enjoyed the drama and the tragedy.

I read as many books on Greek mythology that I could find. After awhile, I recognized that even though different authors told the same stories that they weren't identical. There were variations in the details.

It was then that I started cultivating my own preferences in regard to the legends. I tried reading Edith Hamilton's books, but I found them dull. She bored me, even if she is thought to be a great authority on the subject.

I much preferred D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths. It was the first book that made me stay up late into the night reading. I was in sixth grade and read until four in the morning. I have since bought that book several times over. I have given it as gifts, and have bought replacement copies when my loaned copy never came back.

The aspect that I liked best in their telling was introducing each god, goddess and hero separately with their own story. Then as you finished with one god, the narrative thread pulled you to the next story. I still love that book, and used it to introduce my own son to Greek mythology.

I find the stories in Greek myths to be rich with honor, drama, hubris and pathos. Unfortunately, I have been greatly disappointed with movies trying to tackle this wealth of dramatic potential. It is as if the screenwriters and filmmakers do not know how to utilize the power of these stories and find themselves adding extraneous subplots that ruin the stories.

I hated the Harry Hamlin/Ursula Andress version of Clash of the Titans. I can't remember much of the plot, but I remember shaking my head repeatedly going, "No, that's not how it went." I also remember that the special effects were clunky and only slightly better than Godzilla versus the Smog Monster.

Then there was Disney's Hercules. I couldn't force myself to watch the whole thing. Hercules was somehow or another involved with Pegasus. Pegasus!

Ahem. Hercules had nothing to do with Pegasus. It was Bellerophon who rode on the back of Pegasus.

And then Disney had Hades shown as a comical character with minions of Pain and Panic.


Are you kidding me? Give me Deimos and Phobos any day. And make them fearful characters, not comic relief.

I found the story so painful I had to shut it off.

Given those bad experiences of attempts to translate Greek mythology into movies, I was reluctant to wade into those waters again. I knew what I liked, and pretty much left it alone for years.

Then came Percy Jackson.

The first time I became aware of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series was in a bookstore and saw the cover of The Battle of the Labyrinth.

It was the word labyrinth which caught my attention. My friend Cindy Pavlinac loves labyrinths. Thinking of Cindy, I picked up the book and read the back cover. It is the fourth installment of the Percy Jackson series, which meant to understand what was going on in it I'd have to read three other books first.

And, well, reading the summation that the series dealt with Greek mythology was actually a turn off for me. Because of my previous bad experiences with movie adaptations of Greek myths. I was afraid it would be handled just as poorly.

I saw that book on several different occasions and I resisted buying it.

It was only when I saw a listing of the awards given to the first book in the series that I decided to give it a try.

I started reading the book with my son, and after about a week or so, I began reading ahead.

I read all five books in quick succession.

I will admit that the beginning of the first book seems a bit rushed and clunky, but once Percy Jackson is given the iconic Call to Adventure the story really takes off.

Rick Riordan chose to set this series in modern day with the premise that the Greek gods are real and that they follow Western civilization.

Greece is no longer the focal point of Western civilization, so Mount Olympus has moved.

The home of the gods is now atop of the Empire State Building in New York City. The 600th floor to be exact.

Likewise, the entrance to the Underworld has changed as well. It is under Los Angeles.

After having lived in Los Angeles for a few years, I have to say that was an inspired choice.

Riordan set up the idea the monsters from Greek myths were without souls, so they cannot really ever die. Instead they are archetypes that when given enough time can re-form. That allows Riordan the freedom to recycle the Biggest, Baddest Meanies of Greek myths in his stories. He uses the Minotaur, Medusa, Polyphemus and more.

Riordan weaves different stories from Greek mythology together in a manner that should inspire children to want to learn more about his source material. He obviously read up on the subject and even used some lesser known figures and stories.

My favorite part of his series was trying to puzzle out who different gods, goddesses, monsters and characters from the legends before they were positively identified in the text. There was once when I was reading to my son that I shouted out "Echidna!" two whole pages before she was named in the story.

It made me feel like a Greek myth trivia whiz.

Another aspect of enjoyment for me was how Rick Riordan saw the various gods and goddesses. Riordan and I seem to have similar affinities for the deities. I have always been drawn to Athena and her character is treated with respect and deference. Aphrodite? Not so much. Neither is Hera.

Ares the God of War is shown as a punk. Apollo is cool and wears sun glasses.

Poseidon dresses a lot like Jimmy Buffett.

The god who surprised me the most was Riordan's treatment of Hades. I never expected him to be that funny. And, Hades was being unintentionally funny. A difficult trick to pull off.

And now a movie has been made of The Lightning Thief. The previews look fabulous, even though the actors are much older than the characters from Riordan's stories. Riordan had Percy as being twelve in the first book and turning sixteen in the last volume.

Logan Lerman who plays Percy Jackson was seventeen, not twelve.

As a mother, I find it easier to believe that a seventeen year old could battle the Minotaur rather than a child around my son's age.

So that difference does not bother me. I also know that the filmmakers might want to appeal to teenaged audiences as well, so have an older teen will probably sell more tickets. Whatever works. Just be sure to keep the humor intact as well as the action in these stories.

Right now, I am looking forward to seeing the movie next weekend with my son who will be proudly wearing the handmade Camp Half-Blood t-shirt I made for him.