Saturday, February 13, 2010

Percy Jackson & The Cumbersomely-Lengthy Title

Evidently, Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson" young-adult books haven't "broken through" with adults and older teens to the same degree that "Harry Potter" or even "Eragon" did (full-disclosure: I've not read them, myself) - otherwise I imagine it's movie adaptation would've been a bigger deal in the realm of movie-geek web buzz: Handily summarized as a more action-oriented "Potter" with Greek Mythology in place of witchcraft and playing out like mashup of Jonny Quest and "The Mighty Thor," (come to think of it... anyone following Marvel's Amadeus Cho/"Incredible Hercules" story would, I'm thinking, LOVE this) it's the sort of movie I can fully see myself considering "the coolest thing EVER" as a gradeschooler - as it is, I was shocked at how enjoyable I found it now. It's really solid fantasy/actioner, absolutely worth checking out especially if you've any fancy for repurposed Greek mythos.

Broadly, it's an "ordinary troubled boy is actually special" superhero origin-story. The basic idea is that the Olympian Gods (Zeus etc.) are still around and still in the habit of fooling around with mortals, frequently - as before - resulting in the birth of super-powered "demigods." Said demigods go about incognito, while the rest of the Hellenistic bestiary (minotaurs, titans, hydras... damn, but I LIVE for this stuff) slinks around on the margins of the "modern" world. As one-stop foundations for a "world of super-beings" go, I've heard worse.

Main character Percy Jackson happens to be the son of Poseidon, which makes him a gifted swimmer and able to telekinetically-manipulate water. That second part, along with his lineage, he's largely unaware of - to say nothing of how many people in his circle of friends and relations are secretly-magical helpers keeping an eye on him. He gets clued in as the plot steps on the gas: Someone stole Zeus' (Sean Bean) lightning bolt, which is the sort of thing that Wars of The Gods get started over. For some reason, Percy is suspect #1, so he has to get schooled in his true nature sooner than expected - spirited away to a summer camp dedicated to molding demigods into modern-day Hercules.

The plot contrives to send Percy and a pair of sidekicks on a fetch-quest to Hades, necessitating a magic object scavenger hunt through the various modern-day hangouts of mythic bad-guys. Kids (or adults, speaking for myself) familiar with the mythology in question are going to love these bits, since they'll catch the references earlier: One detour lands them in one of those chauncy roadside landscaping shops where you can buy tacky statues for the garden... lots of statues, come to think of it... Guess who. The cleverest - and most obscure - bit involves a Vegas casino, and feels like something Terry Gilliam would've popped into a Baron Munchausen sequel.

A big part of the charm is how - despite doing the Thor/80s-Fantasy-in-general thing of staging mythic dustups in modern urbania - defiantly "traditional" it treats the mythic stuff in the visual sense: The monsters all look (and "work") like they're generally supposed to, and there's no attempt to update or rationalize the Olympian Gods themselves - they appear as you'd expect: Giant-scale humanoids stomping around marble temples in togas and sandals. Even Zeus' bolt appears, literally, as a sparking shaft of lightning you can hold like a staff.

It does have most of the same problems that similar "trying to start a franchise" movies have, along with it's maddeningly silly full title "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief." Most of the non-main characters are forced to introduced themselves, explain their entire backstory, motivation, arc and then promptly excuse themselves with a casual wave of "bye for now, I'll probably be important two or three movies from now." But I will say that it's much less clumsy about this than, say, the first two "Potter's" (with whom it shares director Chris Columbus) were.

I'm not going to call it a rush-out-and-see sort of thing, but I dug it - and I'd definately be curious to see where it's all supposed to be going. I do have to wonder, though, if the makers of "Clash of The Titans" and "Thor" are at all annoyed that a bunch of their likely setpiece scenes and "big ideas" are already being done here...

14 comments:

Leoja92 said...

How did you feel about Brando T Jackson(of tropic thunder fame) as the African American side kick? I've yet to see the movie but I heard some people had a problem with this character for whatever reason.

Drunken Lemur said...

This reminds me, Mr. Chipman, are you ever planning on doing one of those reviews of books like you did to Twilight that you had awhile back, or are you no longer working at that bookstore? I'm still curious about your thought on the Left Behind series.

Bob said...

I think Jackson was doing a good job in a fairly thankless part - he basically has to be the comic relief, the muscle AND the exposition guy to the lead for most of the movie, that can't be easy.

It DID strike a bit "huh?" that he's essentially the ONLY black guy I can recall from the movie, and slightly more than "huh?" that, thusly, the film's sole black hero is A.) half-animal, B.) bound in service to a white lead and C.) the "horndog" of the group - but then again I'm pretty sure one or two of the Gods was cast with a black actor so.. I dunno.

Rubbav1 said...

The film is interesting in how badly/lazily it's written (it assumes, as with most mainstream adaptations, that you've already read the book) yet how much I enjoyed it. It was weird, but when I saw that scene where Medusa's snakes were crawling on Percy's face (spoiler, maybe?) I sincerely was excited, and improved my outlook for the rest of the film.

Fun fact, I don't know if anyone mentioned this before but did you know that Logan Lerman (Percy in the film) is being considered as the new Spider-man. Having seen the film, I am truly worried. I already thought that the guy was probably too good-looking for the role but having seen his performance made me realize how unsympathetic he is. There are scenes early in the film where his attempts at an innocent awkward double take fail and just makes him look arrogance. Now that's fine for him as an actor but would be horrible as Spider-man. Don't you think?

Gray said...

I've always been picky when it comes to movies and games based on ancient Greek mythology. When I was young I used to be a huge mythology wiz, and even though I've lost most of the interest, my fascination for it still lingers.

Whenever a movie or game (books too I guess) comes out that borrows freely from Greek or Norse mythology it tends to strike me as something really cheap and superficial.

Bob said...

I seriously doubt he's actually being looked at for Spider-Man, especially since they've probably locked him and others down for more of THIS franchise.

The story was that his name was "on a list" of potential candidates. I've got news for you: EVERY white, vaugely teen-ish looking actor in the Western World is "on that list." No lie. Name a white male actor who could pass for a high-schooler and his agent has almost-definately already sent a headshot to Sony.

The timing and vaugeness of that story reaked of someone's agent "leaking" to the press to drum up name interest before the kid's movie opened.

Smashmatt202 said...

I was wondering whether or not to go see it. Since I have this week off from college, I figured I would go and see a movie with my parents. I'll definitely suggest going to see this one!

Jonathan said...

Hey Bob,

So I know you obviously have much bigger movies on your mind right now but I wanted to get your thoughts on something about this one.

I actually consider myself a big fan of these books. While they are hardly high literature they are fun and fast paced and I enjoy them as good light reading in the same way I enjoy the earlier Harry Potter books and all of what I would consider the “fairly-well written YA fiction” genre.

While I do understand that you haven't read the books and as such probably won't recognize specific changes between the book and movie, I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on what the studio or screenwriters may have been thinking in regards to this movie.

Firstly, I wanted to ask what your thoughts are on the way the adaptation was handled in regards to the Movie (singular) and the possible Movies (the series or franchise they are trying to build). Essentially, while they distilled the story of the first book relatively faithfully (in tone and theme if not in plot) they took out ALL references and foundations for things that will (or did in the books) happen later in the series. And I'm not just talking about foreshadowing—the rewrite completely removed the main villain of the series and replaced him w/ Luke (the lightning thief) as well as seemingly rewriting several of the characters to make them into antagonists..which, is weird only 'cause the plot of the series later kinda hinges on them coming to the rescue.

I'm not necessarily mentioning this to complain, I just can't understand the studios motivations in doing this. Surely if you are trying to build a franchise you don't deviate so far from your source material in the first installment that you are forced to go in a completely new direction from there on—it would lose you a lot of the existing fanbase you are trying to cement, no? I was wondering what your take on this was—if trying to streamline the story of the singular movie should be attempted at the expense of the series continuity as a whole in a situation where you are relying at least partially on the popularity of the books to get asses in seats.

Thanks for your thoughts, Jon

Bob said...

I imagine they're thinking "every single one of these that isn't called 'Harry Potter' has been a massive financial failure, so let's make sure the FIRST one is solid and cross the franchise bridge when we come to it."

As I said, having not read the series I can't speak on how drastically the motivations of various characters were shifted... but what I CAN offer is that in my experience, what makes Greek mythological figures so useful in popular fiction is that they can change their entire personality top-to-bottom for no good reason at any time and still be more-or-less "in character" ;)

Jill said...

Hey Bob!
This is my first foray into reading your blog, as I didn't know it existed until last week (apparently I am just totally out of the loop!). I am a long time viewer on the Escapist and was disappointed when you didn't review this movie the Friday it came out (mostly because I had no interest in the Wolfman, and am always curious on your opinions of movies that I am planning to see or have already seen). So I was very excited to read this review! I completely agree that this was an enjoyable movie to watch, but definitely spent a good chunk of time setting up for the inevitable sequel. But hey, I'm planning to see the sequel so I guess I can't complain! Thanks for the great review!

The Red Wizzard said...

Hm, Sean Bean as Zeus in... "PJATO:TLT", and Liam Neeson as Zeus in Clash of the Titans...

Two of my favorite actors as the main horn dog in Greek mythic tradition? Sweet, I may actually have to visit my local theater again.

Cory Morgan said...

Hey Bob,

Quick question. Were you planning on doing a review of the upcoming Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters?

Greg Byrne said...

I hope he does

Greg Byrne said...

Please review Sea of Monsters. It's being advertized all over the Escapist. Please consider it.