‘Percy Jackson’: Awkward Title Belies Fun Film

(2010) dir. Chris Columbus

The latest teen novel franchise to become a movie franchise (as of this last week), bears the unwieldy, over-branded title ofPercy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.’ Adapted from the first book in a series of Percy Jackson stories from Rick Riordan and directed by Harry Potter directorial alum Chris Columbus, what looked to me to be a highly derivative and onerous concept turns out to be a pretty decent film, and probably series of films.

This wasn’t high on my list of coming children-targeted films, but the day looked gloomy and I’d read that kids of my son’s age (he’s eight) were eating it up.  And, finally, it was rated PG, not PG-13 (though it’s pretty intense, featuring some very scary monsters for those with young ones), which meant that taking my daughter would not be a no-no (she turns six in two days).  In fact, Felix reported that everyone at his school said that it was really cool.

This film takes the Harry Potter concept, a child born who has magical powers but who is stuck in a less-than-ideal world with some absent parentage (his mom is there), and reveals to him his legacy and a “school” (or in this case a training camp) where others like him are legion.  In this case, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is not a wizard, but the son of the Greek god Poseidon.  Turns out that the Greek gods never really went away; in fact, you can get to Mt. Olympus by going to the top of the Empire State Building (who knew?!)  What this means for theology is one thing, but what it means, apparently, for lots of present-day kids is the “cool” concept of the Greek gods existing in the modern world.

My son is pretty interested in Greek mythology.  He has picture books about the subject and we’ve read a book that covered the general breadth and major stories as well.  Apparently, this is a fairly common interest.

What is kind of weird is that this film beats a similar movie to the punch: the pending remake of Clash of the Titans (1981), which features stuff like Medusa (in this case played by Uma Thurman), the giant gods on Mt. Olympus, and armor-clad heroes on Earth.  The new Clash of the Titans will be in 3-D and I’m guessing that ‘Percy Jackson’ may actually help it to a better box office performance.

The film moves rapidly along, with a number of monsters — scary monsters — attacking Percy.  See, Percy is a demi-god (like Hercules and Theseus . . . and all of the other people at camp), but being the son of one of the powerful triumvirate (Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades), he’s more powerful and unusual than his peers.  He has to fight a fury, a minotaur, Medusa, a hydra, and enter the lair of the Lotus Eaters (among other adventures) in order to save his mother from the grasp of Hades, who has taken her to the underworld.

You see, someone has stolen Zeus’ lightning bolt, and everyone thinks it’s Percy.  And the gods are all going to go to war if it’s not found.  Percy aims to prove his innocence and stop the war.

The Lotus Eaters sequence is an odd one.  This is where the third pearl (one of their quest items) is located, and it is located in a Las Vegas casino.  Percy and his pals eat these lotus cookies and start basically tripping and laughing and having a grand old time and never want to leave, forgetting what they were there for and just keep eating lotus cookies and staying high.  Set in a casino, it’s kind of funny, since casinos are built to create a similar environment, a time and temperature that never changes, a sense of enjoyment, and that you never want to leave.  The other ramifications, for opiates, etc., well, I’ll leave that for you to read into it.

Really, the film is enjoyable.  The kids both liked it, Felix especially, and it really doesn’t waste time trying to be overly original nor worrying about any other issues of meaning or subtext (though Catherine Keener, the ubiquitous single mom, is the single mom here – subtext that). 

It’s better than I thought it would be, though the title really isn’t doing it any favors. It’s too damn long.

For the full archive of movie reviews by Ken, please see kennelco.com/film_diary

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