Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"The Lightning Thief" is no "Harry Potter"

This weekend I dragged my sick butt (I had an upper respiratory infection, hence my lack of posting) to the movie theatre. My friend and I had both agreed to read Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and then go to see the movie together. So that's exactly what we did.

I hadn't heard great things about the film so my expectations weren't very high. I also didn't love the book as much as many people I know did, so I wasn't as invested in the film as I would've been if it were a Harry Potter flick. I liked the book quite a bit, don't get me wrong. It was a fun, quick read with a great premise and a lot of fun characters. I just didn't feel that the writing or character development was up to snuff with the Harry Potter series, which anyone whose read them both will inevitably compare to Percy Jackson.

The film, however, was amusing at best. I was laughing out loud at moments that were not intended to be funny (though there were some genuinely humorous parts!), the graphics were a little ridiculous, and the characters were flat.

The plot was also massively altered. I'm not usually super bothered by that kind of thing when a movie is intended as a standalone rather than a serie. I'm a firm believer in an adaptation being just that, a person's vision of someone else's original idea. Besides, it's not as important to maintain all the elements that come into play later in the series if you aren't planning to make a movie out of those later books. This seemed to be the case to me with Percy Jackson's film debut. While I'm sure the producers of "The Lightning Thief" would love to have a hit on their hands, I think deep down they knew that this wasn't going to be the Harry Potter of the new decade.

They did, however, make some interesting plot changes, though I'll admit it was much more interesting as Riordan wrote it. I still love the premise though--Greek mythology come to life in a modern world. Mythology has always intrigued me, so I just adore the idea. For that reason, I was able to somewhat enjoy the movie, though on a very pure entertainment level. I think I would've liked it better had I not read the book, though.
While my feelings for the film were lukewarm, my friend T.S. over at Must Love Books had a much stronger reaction. He's written a very interesting piece (that does contain spoilers, so be forewarned!) about why he didn't like the adaptation:

Anyone who knows me fairly well knows that I am a huge fan of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. I’ve often proclaimed that my love for this series is up there with my love for Harry Potter. So needless to say, I was pretty excited to see the movie adaptation of The Lightning Thief, especially since it was directed by the man behind the first two Harry Potter movies, Chris Columbus. I was also nervous---movies adapted from books rarely live up to their source material and barring most (but not all) of the Harry Potter movies, a few Neil Gaiman movies and Spiderwick, I’ve felt let down by recent book-movies. So I went in with a cautious but open heart and found myself completely let down. Here’s a list of reasons why (Caution: this list contains SPOILERS for both the movie and the book series):

*No Ares (the Cabin or the God) – one of the fun parts of the Percy books is that he encounters each and every Olympian god throughout the series and they’re “modernized.” The scenes with Percy and Ares were intense and exciting and it’s one of the first times Percy encounters one of the gods (aside from Mr. D). His absence was greatly noted and replacing him with Persephone (more to come on her) did nothing to improve the story. I was also annoyed that there was no Clarisse or Ares Cabin. While I get that the producers probably thought they were too reminiscent of Draco/Slytherin and wanted to steer clear of HP similarities, if they had thought ahead to the rest of the series, Clarisse and Ares Cabin play an important role later on, and Clarisse’s pride and stubbornness set up one of the most emotional moments (for me) in the final book. I was also annoyed that Annabeth became the stand-in for Clarisse (see my next point).

*Annabeth was all wrong - I know this is a superficial detail, but my first complaint is that Annabeth is BLONDE. It bothers me that (Buffy aside) we rarely get to see the blonde girl kicking ass and taking names. They’re always the pretty ones while the brunettes are the tough ones. That aside, I also didn’t like the changes her character was given. Book-Annabeth would NOT attack Percy that violently (in the name of training) and almost kill him. Setting her up as the violent warrior woman and then having her flip-flop to become his ally for her own selfish purposes did not make me like her as either a romantic foil OR a Hermione-esque “smart, female friend” for Percy. Again, they may have been trying to avoid HP similarities but they went a bit too far. Part of the fun of The Lightning Thief is that it has the HP skeleton (which JK Rowling didn’t invent, by the way) with its own unique and interesting story, mythology, and character development.

*The way race was handled – I had a BIG problem with Rosario Dawson playing Persephone. Not only was I annoyed that her character (a MAJOR deus ex machine) had replaced Ares, but she was clearly supposed to be the exotic, spicy goddess/wife and they didn’t even try to make her seem Greek. At one point my friend Zoraida, a Latina woman, leans over to me and says, “Why is Persephone Puerto Rican?” I have no idea. She’s supposed to be a GREEK goddess. If they wanted to have diversity in the cast, they had a great opportunity with the demi-god camp-dwellers (since they’re half Greek god and half-any race known to the human species). But they missed that opportunity by only focusing on the main demi-gods (another thing that took away from the greatness of the books – I loved all of the briefly mentioned side characters, just as I did in HP). I was actually really glad they cast a black actor to play Grover, since, ya know, he’s a satyr and they’re nature spirits. He could be any race. But I was extremely disappointed that they then went and changed Grover’s character to make him a stereotype of a black teen. Grover is a nervous, awkward, odd little goat-man and instead they turned him into a “playa” who was often distracted by hotties and speaks like he grew up in “the hood.” There was even one scene where the camera watches Percy and Grover walk up some stairs and you can clearly see Percy’s pants at a normal level and Grover’s are sagging, which doesn’t even make sense since Grover’s pants are supposed to conceal his GOAT LEGS! It just made me sad that they felt they had to completely change the character into a black stereotype rather than keeping the integrity of the character and casting him black. I found it insulting to people of all ethnicities.

Read the rest of T.S.'s fantastic and thorough review HERE

1 comment:

  1. THIS is a great post. I am not a purist by any means... you know, one of those people that insists a movie be just like the book. But, the thing that really bothered me with this movie was that it took away the FEEL of the books we fell in love with.

    Dare I say the "campy"ness? I mean, wasn't that the point, goofy orange t-shirts, greek gods that sat on fishing chair thrones, and world building that was freakin' greatness.

    Instead it was the same 'ol old school greek/roman world that we've seen in 300, Gladiator, whatever...

    The point was that this series was a fresh spin on the old myths, and they really ruined it.