Wednesday, February 17, 2010

[Movie Review] Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

How I spent my Tuesday afternoon

Percy Jackson is, in many ways, the successor to Harry Potter. Both brands consist of a series of young adult fantasy books turned into major motion pictures. Both are coming-of-age stories about a young boy who finds that he was born with extraordinary powers - and extraordinary enemies. Both even have the buddy, the girl-buddy, and the school where heroes are trained in the use of their wondrous powers. Heck, both even have the crummy, borderline abusive father-figure with whom they live (in lieu of the really terrific dad they should have had if life sucked less). At least one other point in common - Chris Columbus, (seriously, who names their kid that??) who directs the first Percy Jackson film, also directed the first two Harry Potter films (along with Mrs. Doubtfire and some other well-known movies).

Unlike Harry Potter, I haven't read any of the Percy Jackson novels. But I plan to - if they're as well-written as the movie was well-made, they ought to be very entertaining. My kids are asking to read them also.

And the inaugural Percy Jackson movie was extremely entertaining. My youngest son, who sometimes loses interest midway through some really fantastic movies (most notably each of the three Lord of the Rings Extended Edition films. Which, admittedly, were pretty damn long for a little kid), declared, "That was the best movie ever." How's that for a ringing endorsement?

It wasn't really the best movie ever unless you have a fairly narrow basis for judgment. Some of the negatives include the fact that I guessed about half of the "reveals" before they were actually revealed. Granted, I'm somewhat more mature than the target audience, so I wouldn't call that a deal-breaker. Also, the rationale for the main "quest" of the film is rather thin and a bit contrived - the surprise "twist" villain being no more complex in his machinations than would be typical of a Scooby Doo episode.

But I can live with that stuff if the acting and effects are first-rate and the overall story is packed with solid fun. And Percy delivered on both counts. It's a star-studded show, including the likes of Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Joe Pantoliano and a nifty performance by Uma Thurman.

What I also liked about the movie was that it seamlessly brought together so much Greek mythology in a very accessible way. You got the Olympian pantheon (Zeus, Poseidon, Hades and their kin), the Titans (specifically Chronos, father of the gods), the demigods (Hercules, Perseus, and Achilles), and the monsters (Medusa, the Hydra, the Minotaur, etc.). There were references to the Parthenon, Mount Olympus, and the Lotus Eaters of the Odyssey. And all of that was packed into a 2-hour movie where the primary storyline was based on action, rather than a study of classical mythology. There was nothing horrifically inaccurate (though the depiction of Hades as a more Christian-style pit of hellfire and suffering wasn't consistent with the Greek afterlife), so the film actually serves as a good, accessible introduction to the myths and legends of the Greeks. Heck, the more I think on it, the more references I come up with - Charon (the boatman on the river Styx), the myth of Demeter and Persephone, the tale of Orpheus and Euridice, the labors of Hercules. Virtually every major Greek myth was touched on at least lightly, and this is only the first in a multi-part series.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief probably won't win many Oscars next year (which is good, in a way. Remember how annoying it was when they kept having to repeat "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" all night long? This would be just as bad.), but a film doesn't need to be deep and artsy to be excellent entertainment, especially for the young adult crowd that this film was clearly targeting. I look forward to the next installment and I rate Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief an A-.

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