Monday, 22 March 2010

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (dir. Chris Columbus, 2010)

I finally managed to see Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief! I think a short summary is the best way to start this one. I haven't read the book, so this applies only to the movie.

The first scene gives us Boring Soldier emerging from the waters, and he's HUGE! It's quite alarming. He and 006 (also known as Boromir, Sharpe or Odysseus, but that's way too confusing) set up the plot - 006's lightning bolt has been stolen and he is Not Happy.

Percy Jackson lives with his mother, Harper Lee, and Cypher (I've met him! He's very nice in real life) who, in this movie, is even nastier than he was in The Matrix. On a school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (I've been there! I got very excited at this point, the movie was starting to look like my most recent holiday album), Percy is attacked by a Fury and 007 tells his he has to get the heck out of dodge ASAP.

Percy's mother is killed in a minotaur attack and no one seems sufficiently upset about this; his best friend turns out to be a satyr and 007 is really a centaur (where he was hiding the giant horse body when he was sitting in his electric wheelchair is anyone's guess). There's some battle training and then Hades turns up, played by the Balrog, and promises to give Percy's mum back if Percy brings him the lightning bolt. For some reason, instead of trying to find out who really stole the lightning bolt so he can clear up this mess, Percy instead decides to go to the underword and just... ask Hades for his mum. Hmm. Then he accepts a whole bunch of help from Luke, a son of Hermes with a chip on his shoulder without wondering what's going on there either.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Watch out for Furies.

Our three heroes, Percy, the satyr and the daughter of Athena (how? Has someone else been masturbating all over Athena in an attempt to rape her?) have to collect three MacGuffins that will get them out of the underworld before they actually attempt to get in. It does not occur to anyone that if they get there and pick up Percy's mum, there will be four of them. They pick up all the MacGuffins, battling Medusa and the Hydra and getting side-tracked by the Lotus Eaters on the way, and discovering the gateway to 'Hell' underneath the Hollywood sign.

Once in the underworld they run up against all the problems they failed to foresee, but manage to get out, though they have to leave the satyr behind. The go to the gateway to Olympus, which, it turns out, is on top of the Empire State Building (I wonder how the Greeks got there before the 1930s?). If only we had shelled out the extra money to go to the 102nd floor while we were there, we could have gone to Olympus! Percy fights Luke who is, of course, actually the lightning thief and they get the lightning bolt back to 006 just in time (and get him to let the satyr out of the underworld too - how 006 has any control over that is not explained). There's a touching scene of Boring Soldier and Percy connecting and then Percy moves in full time to 'Half-Blood' camp, a strangely racist place mortals cannot access.

If only we'd realised we could have got to Olympus from here

I actually quite enjoyed this movie, and there was some good stuff in there. The reinterpretation of the Island of the Lotus Eaters as a casino where people become trapped for decades is rather good, though I'm not sure about the ethics of showing our heroes on an all-out journey to Trip City - but I guess since the drugs are shown to be A Bad Thing it's OK. I quite liked the way words in ancient Greek swam around in front of Percy's eyes and rearranged themselves into English (usually too quickly to check for accuracy, but it looked OK) but I was less keen on the explanation - apparently his brain is naturally hard-wired for Ancient Greek. Er, what?! That's not how language works!

The depiction of the underworld was quite interesting - I rather liked it, but it was a bit too Christian-hell-like for my taste (and they kept calling it 'hell' too). The ancient underworld is most emphatically not a nice place, but it's more empty and shadow-y than fire-y. Hades himself is even less successful - I'm not sure how I pictures Hades, but neither Steve Coogan nor the Balrog is it. And the movie skimmed over the uncomfortable fact that Percy's mum, as a mortal, will eventually end up there anyway.

Talking of uncomfortable, the Persephone scenes were also rather awkward, as the dark nature of the myth is kept, and further darkened (Hades is 'abusive') but her scenes played lightly, sometimes for laughs. And the depth of sacrifice Sally makes for her son is also extreme to the point of disturbing and seems to belong in a much darker and more adult story, like Dr Zhivago or something.

I did enjoy the film, and it was strongest when it was being funny in an appropriate way - 'you guys take camp way too seriously' made me laugh, and I like Luke's devotion to modern technology in the face of a life of swords and arrows. One joke did take me right out of the movie though. Gathering the children together, 007 tells Paris and Helen to stop lollygagging at the back - amusing, but since all the other semi-divine heroes are not around and presumably died a long time ago, the reference to these two jarred and took me out of the story. The movie also made nice use of the reconstruction of the Parthenon in Nashville and the leads were genuinely engaging - I could watch them again in a sequel, if the movie had done well enough to warrent one!

Yours truly at the gateway to Olympus!


  1. the books are really much better-- the movie stripped most of the best stuff out of the story, in my opinion! This was a great review, though. I had the same problems with Hades and Persephone--made even more irritating because that wasn't at all how any of it was presented in the book. sigh. Oh, Hollywood, you're so silly...

  2. what? no mention of Percy being the son of Poseidon?! damn! I've heard they left out A LOT and it doesn't make as much sense anymore... kind of like what they did with The Dark Is Rising. :s

    As for Annabeth's birth... Percy asks her that in one book... and she kind of reference's Athena's own birth... and says her children are born in a similar way from their dads. Kind of scary and she didn't go into much detail.

    And yeah, the books are sooo much better!

  3. Yeah, I was wondering how come the son of Lucius Vorenus had superpowers... ;)

  4. As a couple of people have said, the books are far, far better, and they explain most of the things you mentioned. Read them!

    (BTW - Chiron's wheelchair is magic, kinda like the TARDIS - it's bigger on the inside!)

    The explanation of the Empire State Building/Olympus is less good. Apparently the gods follow the centre of human civilisation. Which, for some completely unexplained reason (probably the fact that Rick Riordan is American) is now the USA.

  5. Hmm. I see the logic, but personally I think I'd go far a less arrogant, politically volatile explanation!

  6. Actually the Gods follow the centre of western civilisation which they nurtured in greece... and I think it states that at some point Olympus was located somewhere over the UK ;o)

  7. The Gods go to where the power of the west was the strongest which right now is America.


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