I took my older boys to see Percy Jackson and the Olympians yesterday (better known as The Lightning Thief in our house, for the first book by Rick Riordan) and I came away disappointed. Yeah, I know. Movies from books will do that to you. And director Chris Columbus has created a popcorn event here with Percy Jackson and the Olympians. It’s a good flick for the drive-in.
But what is most disappointing is that Columbus didn’t have to do what he did in creating the movie from the book. They could have stayed true to the book and had a killer movie on their hands that went deeper with characters, deeper with the story, and deeper with the Greek mythology that seeps through the pores of Riordan’s books.
Here are some things that stood out for me after the movie:
- The monsters are pretty incredible, except for Medusa. I don’t know. She didn’t seem fierce enough for my tastes, given who she is, but the other creatures were pretty scary and a good use of computer graphics. Uma Thurman as Medusa was a good choice, but I was disappointed. Hades in his full glory, in particular, was nasty as was the Fury who first attacks Percy. The kid sitting next to me almost jumped into his mom’s lap when the Fury made its appearance.
- One of the joys of the book is that Percy only slowly comes to understand who his father is (Poseidon) through actions and events that happen to him. The film dispenses with all that and hammers the viewer over the head with the fact that Poseidon is Percy’s father. Talk about taking the mystery out of a whole section of the story and not allowing the viewer to have to think. So much for foreshadowing.
- Ares, the God of War, and a central figure in the theft of the Lighting Bolt is nowhere to be found in the movie. Not a mention. In the book, when Percy battles Areas, and wins, it’s a moment of triumph and power for the young demigod. We see the potential of Percy in that moment (and also, we learn the truth about the theft of the bolt through Ares). That seems like a pretty significant omission, except …
- No mention of the Titans, Kronos or Tartarus either, and the whole concept of the book is that the lightning bolt has been stolen from Zeus to start a war between the gods that will allow Kronos and his kin to come back together (they were chopped to bits by the Olympians and tossed into Tartarus) and overthrow the Olympian gods. This is such an incredible omission of the story that I still can’t believe it. How could you leave out this central part of the story tht underlies, well, everything? And why would you? If they plan on making movies of the other books in the series, this emergence of the Titans lays the groundwork for future stories. My gosh.
- I liked the character of Annabeth a whole lot better in the book than in the movie. Sure, the actress is cute and all that, but in the book, she is a formidable foil for Percy, and their banter (easily transferred to the screen, I would think — what, not one “seaweed brain” comment?) is fun to read. I guess I am just glad that Annabeth and Percy don’t kiss, although they clearly have the hots for each other (did I mention that they bumped up the age level of the characters, too? Percy is no sixth grader in the movie.)
- I also can’t fathom the omission of the Oracle of Delphi in the movie. The prophesy is what drives Percy forward on his quest and what makes him think twice about everything he does. In the movie, he just decides he is going to head out and find his mom, and goes. In the book, the prophesy opens the doors to the quest and its echo is part of the narrative of action. It’s a personal journey in the movie as opposed to an Epic Quest.
- They moved a scene from the St. Louis Arch (a classic moment in the book) to Nashville. Huh? Was it too hard to construct a scene at the Arch?
- I really do love the character of Percy in the book. He is funny, full of spunk, recognizable to any sixth grader, and his hubris is a character trait that my students learn to track throughout the story. His snubbing of the gods in the book is what drives the story in different directions (such as, mailing off the head of Medusa to Zeus with a little note of love from Percy Jackson). None of that in the movie. While the actor playing Percy did a decent job, I missed the depth of the book character. I didn’t find myself cheering Percy on in the movie so much as I did in the book.
- Last thing. Mrs. Dodds is the Fury that first attacks Percy. In the book, she is Percy’s math teacher. In the movie, Mrs. Dodds is the English teacher. An English teacher? Whoever heard of a demon English teacher? (Kevin says from his perch as an English teacher)
Next week, we take our entire sixth grade class to the movie, as we read the novel as part of our curriculum (with emphasis on Greek Mythology). I’ll be interested to see what they think. I am sure that, like my own sons, they will enjoy the spectacle of the movie and get a head rush from the action. But will they see the holes in the story? Will they care?
The Oracle of Delphi tells me that they will.
Peace (in the prophesy),