Looking Back at 2010s Films: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

24 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Oh boy…better call this one a “revised review.” Let’s get this over with.

I don’t know if it was YouTube film critic Chris Stuckmann who originally coined the phrase “Phantom Menacing,” but it stuck with me. It generally means when you’ve hyped yourself up for a film so much that you’re going to enjoy it no matter what, much like how the hype for a certain “Star Wars” movie (I think it was…”Attack of the Clones”) was built up so big that for years, fans were in total denial that it was a bad movie* until they couldn’t lie to themselves any longer.

*sigh*

I Phantom Menace’d myself…with “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.”

This was the 2010 film adaptation of the first novel in a young-adult book series called “Percy Jackson & the Olympians,” by Rick Riordan, about a kid (named Percy Jackson) who discovers he’s a demigod (in his case, the son of Poseidon) and goes on many different adventures as Greek mythology meets the modern world.

I LOVED the books! I read the first four all throughout my junior year of high school in my spare time, and the fifth (and final) one in the series was released just when school was ending. (What timing!) They were imaginative, witty, very funny, wildly creative, had great detail in its action, had great memorable characters–I could see a movie play in my head as I read all of these books!

So, when I heard that director Chris Columbus (who directed the first two “Harry Potter” movies) was directing an adaptation of “The Lightning Thief,” I was hyped…HYPED!!!

No way was I going to dislike this movie…not even when I realized the comedic dialogue in the novel were a hell of a lot more funnier than in the movie. (“That was great, GREAT demigod driving!” Who wrote this?)

I waited months to see it, and I was so excited. I finally saw it, and…I had to try and convince my friends that it was good, because I was in straight-up denial because even though I could see a lot of parts in the same spirit as the novel (even if it wasn’t entirely faithful)…and they knew that it was another bland, rushed, watered-down fantasy-adventure alongside “Eragon” and others (and more to come). They knew, and I didn’t see it that way…I didn’t want to, either.

It was still a fast-paced, fun adventure that happened to have the same names as the characters in the stories I loved. I had a feeling that once the sequels were released, people would think differently.

And three years later, in 2013, there was a sequel! An adaptation to the second novel, “The Sea of Monsters.” I went to see it and…it…just…wasn’t…anything special. Everything moved too fast. There wasn’t much room for emotion or background. There were some good, fun parts in it, but overall, it was kind of underwhelming.

And then I thought back to the first movie…

THAT was when I couldn’t lie to myself anymore–the “Percy Jackson” movies just didn’t have the same magic.

And it could have! That’s what frustrates me about it today, looking back.

But the main problem is Percy himself, who’s deeper and more complex (and also funnier) in the novel but is portrayed in the movie as a bland, half-witted teen who hardly does anything on his quest to appease the gods. Even when he decides to rescue his mother from the pits of Hades, his friends have to point out the obvious: that he has no idea what he’s doing. However, Logan Lerman, who can be a pretty good actor, does what he can.

There are some good things in the movie though–back then, they were enough for me to say, “Yeah, this is good.” Uma Thurman’s clearly having fun as Medusa, all the modern parallels to Greek legend are as interesting as in the novel (the Lotus Eater lair disguised as a casino is a great scene–see, that’s what I mean by saying much of the movie is in the same spirit of the books), Steve Coogan’s Hades is both zany and intimidating enough, and this may be a controversial opinion, but…I like this Grover (the satyr friend, played by Brandon T. Jackson) better than the Grover from the books.

But the big problem with the movie that I’m not glad it took me so long to notice–that the Hollywood studio, rather than rely on its source material to make something not only fun and engaging but also deep and compelling and REALLY imaginative…instead opted for a “Harry Potter” knockoff just to try and cash in on what’s popular. (Right down to having the director of the first two “Potter” movies!)

I Phantom Menace’d myself in February 2010, when the decade had just barely started.

I haven’t read the books in a long, long time. I wonder if the library has them…

*That’s really not fair–movies are subjective, and if you like “The Phantom Menace,” more power to you.

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