Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Posted on June 22, 2010 at 8:45 am

A teenager feels like he doesn’t fit in anywhere. It all comes together when he finds out that he has inherited some special powers from the father he last saw when he was seven months old. And he soon finds himself in a special school with other kids like him, where they can learn to make the most of their powers.Sound familiar? It does have something in common with Harry Potter, including a successful series of books now made into a movie. They even share a director; Chris Columbus did the first two Harry Potter films, and so he is an old hand at translating a beloved series of novels about kids with special powers on screen. Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) loves his mom (Catherine Keener) but his step-father is obnoxious and abusive. He has a loyal friend named Grover, but he is dyslexic and has ADHD so school is difficult. He is most happy and comfortable in the pool. On a field trip, the gray-haired substitute teacher turns out to be a fury. As in a shrieking flying monster. And the teacher in the wheelchair (Pierce Brosnan)? He turns out to be a centaur, half man, half horse. Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), who walks with crutches, is a satyr (goat-legs) assigned to protect him. And Percy is the son of Poseidon, the God of the Sea. He is to water like Popeye is to spinach, and then some. Water gives him strength and healing powers and he can also control it. Someone has stolen the lightning bolt from Zeus (Sean Bean). And he suspects his two brothers, the gods of the sea and the underworld. He thinks Percy is hiding the bolt — and so do a number of other creatures. Percy has to find the bolt and return it to Zeus before the summer solstice. He gets a bit of training at demigod boot camp and is soon off on his quest with a shield from the son of Hermes, and a pen from the centaur, accompanied by Grover and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), the swashbuckling daughter of Athena. Writer Rick Riordan is not in J.K. Rowling’s league when it comes to inventiveness, intricacy, imagination, or heart. But he has a good sense of the way a young teenager sees the world. I like the way that the things that bother Percy most in his old life turn out to be strengths in his new life. He is dyslexic with English because his brain is hard-wired to read classic Greek. He is ADHD because he has the reflexes of a warrior. And his mother stuck with the odious step-father because, well, I’ll just say because it was the best way to keep Percy hidden. I like the overlay of Greek mythology. But the attempts to bring a modern sensibility to the adventures sometimes feel forced and awkward. Lerman is a bit bland, leaving Grover to capture much of our attention and interest.But the main thing this movie seems to be missing is classically trained British actors. Brosnan is nicely majestic in a brief role and Steve Coogan brightens things up considerably as Hades. But we realize how much the Harry Potter movies benefited from top performers like Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon. Uma Thurman re-creates her all-time weakest performance by making Medusa into a snake-headed version of Poison Ivy and the usually-terrific Rosario Dawson seems lost as Persephone. We need a bit more “Clash of the Titans” and a bit less of “Circus of the Stars.” Parents should know that this film has good deal of fantasy violence with some graphic images, some characters injured and killed with one decapitated, characters turned to stone, severed head, Medusa character with a head full of snakes, scenes in the underworld with Hades and Persephone, teens eat “lotus blossom” snacks that influence them like drugs, reference to gods and humans “hooking up,” and some brief potty humor and mild language.Family discussion: How were Percy and his friends like modern kids and how were they different? How did being separated from their parents affect them? What powers would you like to have?If you like this, try: the series of Percy Jackson and the Olympiansbooks and the Harry Potter books and DVDs

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29 Replies to “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief”

  1. My 11-year-old daughter and I are reading these books together, just like we did with the Harry Potter series. I agree that these books are not quite as good as the HP series, but they are a lot of fun. We are looking forward to seeing the movie. I read that the author has a son with dyslexia and ADHD and the story started as a bedtime story.

  2. Hi, Nell. I probably will see this movie. While I can see Sean Bean doing very well in the role of Zeus, somehow Pierce Brosnan doesn’t strike me as the Greek God (or demi-god) type. He seems too modern, though it appears from the preview that he does a good job. Olivier played Zeus convincingly in “Clash of the Titans,” because he has such a classic head in addition to being a brilliant actor. On the other hand, Cary Grant was even better looking than your average Greek God, but could never have played one, IMO, because he was so definitively a man of the 20th Century.

  3. We’re a big fan of the books. The movie was pretty good I guess. I agree Logan Lerman was a bit bland. In general I think the movie makers erred by going with such an older cast. In the books Percy is supposed to be 12 I think. Lerman is what- 18? The Harry Potter series did it right by starting with kids the right age and making the movies in the series as they age. I guess maybe the movie makers were afraid to risk it- thought the first one might flop and then they’d never get to make the rest. As it stands now, Lerman will be like 26 by the time they get done with the movies.
    Agree with your comments Nell about the supporting cast. Brosnan and Coogan were great- the others just ok.
    One scene that disturbed me was the Lotus hotel and casino scene. The movie shows this as basically a drug scene. The kids eat the lotus flowers and all of a sudden they are tripping out. That is not in the book (they just wander into the place and get captivated and lose track of time). I thought it was disturbing for the movie makers to “play it that way” especially given the young age that the movie is pitched to- 4th graders etc.

  4. Thanks, grok, a very good point and I will amend my review to mention the lotus blossoms. They are directly taken from Greek mythology, so I suppose that is why the film-makers and the MPAA did not think of them as comparable to modern-day drugs.

  5. Agreed, Alicia! Cary Grant is my all-time favorite actor but even I don’t think he was persuasive as a colonial-era character in “The Howards of Virginia.”

  6. Thanks, Anne! That’s wonderful to know, about the author writing the book for his son. The handling of the learning disabilities was one of my favorite parts of the book and movie.

  7. Hi. My husband and I took our son to see the movie. We have read all the books with him. Our son was disappointed at the (updated) ages of the characters and the lotus flower scenes. The Hades scenes were borderline frightening because of their graphic nature. We liked how the movie makers left the ending so that the franchise can continue with another movie or two. We look forward to how they will introduce us to characters who were left out of this movie.

  8. Thanks, Christina — this is very helpful. I thought the movie was true to the spirit of the book but it had to be streamlined, giving up both characters and events to simplify and save time.

  9. We took our 10 and 8 year old thinking it would be along the Harry Potter type PG but were disappointed in that it seemed more Goonies PG. The language surprised us, but even more so was the sexual innuendos. Persephone, specifically. We understand that it followed the Satyr character type, but the book didn’t push it that far. I would have much rather them take liberties in the movie to keep Annabeth’s hat than add a bunch of girls in bikinis in hot tubs for Grover to chase.

  10. Be warned: if you loved the books, you might not like the movie as the screenplay takes enormous liberties in diverging from it! In addition to that huge disappointment, I left this movie with the same feeling I had after taking my (then 8 year old) son to the the first live action Scooby Doo movie; confused and angry about the unnecessary sexual innuendo and drug references. The first clue that this movie was going to disappoint was the fact that Percy is a virile 15-ish high school boy as opposed to the awkward and dejected 12 year old we meet in the book. I really missed the drama of learning the identify of his father. The character of Anabeth is a composite of the book’s Anabeth and Clarissa, gone are the subtleties of the book character’s ambivalence toward Percy (although the script tries in vain to capture it with a half hearted “I have strong feelings for you. I’m just not sure if they’re positive of negative”). The eating of the lotus blossoms is presented like kids eating dope laced brownies; their giggles and brain fog leads to partying in a disco rather than the book’s zoning out in an arcade. Gabe’s excessive beer drinking didn’t bother me because he is depicted as a total dolt; no redeeming or admirable qualities. And Persephone! Please! Rather than the captive goddess of spring (and, yes, fertility), she is a sultry seductress. The book’s pre-teen market is definitely NOT the market for the movie. I heard that Rick Riordan rejected the first two scripts. They must have been really awful!

  11. Well, we were also very disappointed. The screenwriter’s choice to advance the age of the characters and delete the book’s main villain completely changed the character of the story. We were also disappointed in the innuendo and drug references, particularly because the book gave the characters such interesting problems to solve (how are three 12-year-olds going to get across country being chased by monsters in time for the summer solstice. And, no, they couldn’t just drive a truck like in the movie). I understand having to summarize and consolidate when making a book into the move (HP has this down pat), but this movie seemed dumbed down and was a disappointment.

  12. While I thought this was a decent movie, I also think it was a horrible rendition of the book upon which it is based. My 11-year old son and I have read the entire series twice. We love the humor in the books along with the mythology. OK, I get that the book needed to be shortened, but removing the concept of the Prophecy – that’s what ties the series together! While I give the filmmakers credit for the best use EVER of an AC/DC song in a movie, I found the way the cross-country trek was changed – along with the elimination of the Ares/Clarisse storyline and the change in how/whether gods recognize their children – to be removing way too much. So much subtlety was lost along the way, and so many threads that occur in later books in the series were dropped. Did the movie makers not bother to read ahead? After the incredible renditions of the Harry Potter novels, I was certainly hoping for a whole lot more. I took a group of pre-teen boys, and the ones who hadn’t read the books enjoyed the movie far more than the ones who had.
    Brandon T. Jackson, Steve Coogan, and Pierce Brosnan were inspired casting. The rest – so so. I wish I could say I look forward to sequels, but instead I think I’ll just go read the series again.

  13. Please there is nothing negative for the children who will view this movie. Most of the “indecent” material isn’t even picked up by youths viewing it. Oh and also THIS IS A MOVIE, WITH ACTING. kids old enough to pick up on it are able to seperate real life from acting. Especially positive is the fact that the characters eventually recognize that their behavior is negative therefore NOT suggesting that their actions are “cool” and should be imitated. A young viewer may actually learn how to say NO to peer pressure. SO quit your Bi@*!ing and focus on the positive rather than the very little if any negative. Children will expand their cultural and intellectual imaginations and interests in a film that is great for many reasons no matter your personal liking. Oh yeah and the fact that film is a completely different medium of art than literature is an understandable reason for variation in the story. Its so annoying how deviations from books to big screen create people to whine so much. If you wanted the story to stay the exact same than i have a simple bit of advice that all can benefit from…STAY HOME AND READ THE BOOK AGAIN, SAVE THE CINEMA SEAT FOR AN OPEN MINDED VIEWER LOOKING TO ENJOY THEMSELVES, THE ARTWORK, AND KEEP YOUR IGNORANT VIEWS FOR THE ONLY PERSON WHO REALLY CARES…. NOONE.
    Not another “know it all” who for a few dollars each had a great day with the family leaving with a POSITIVE experience.

  14. Also…above Harry Potter series is compared the the Percy Jackson series as being a much better portrayal of the books… Obviously you didn’t actually read the Harry Potter books or just are putting down the Percy Jackson series as a NON OBJECTIVE view….Harry Potter was very different on the big screen . VERY VERY VERY different so if you say you still liked them so much then actually you don’t see a negative only quality of movies being different when in different mediums.

  15. Thanks, Kevin. I’m glad you and your family enjoyed the film. Just a reminder — the rules of this site prohibit bashing of other commenters. But I appreciate your thoughts on the film.

  16. Wow. Surprisingly negative comments on a site that tries to maintain a positive tone. As for the HP/PJ references, at least from my perspective, I was never saying that HP was an exact rendition of the books and PJ wasn’t. I just felt like (most of) the HP movies did a better job of preserving the best parts of the book. Obviously there are necessarily changes made when translating the written word into film – but if the point is that viewers shouldn’t care at all about whether the film rendition is true to the book, then why bother making films of books? Just do all original screenplays. Filmmakers are capitalizing on a ready-made audience of readers, and obviously no film is going to please all readers. One strength of the HP series was how it preserved the overall story arc. PJ left out the major arc of the multi-book story in the prophecy. As I said, it was an enjoyable movie – but more enjoyable if you didn’t have expectations based on the books.
    I don’t really see where implied swear words and personal attacks on the open or closed mindedness of reviewers provides any useful information for parents coming to the site to determine if a movie is appropriate and one they feel their family will enjoy.

  17. first off precy jackson and the olympians is nothing like harry potter i have read all those books and own them and i also own the percy jackson and have read them all. iam a big fan of both but i think percy jackson os a one of a kind and the movie was very very very good
    i hope they make the sea the of monsters

  18. the part i wished made it in to the movie was the fight with ares in the the chapter i battle my jerk relative
    that would have been great it was a good fight

  19. Nell, I agree with you here. The movie was enjoyable with a big tub of popcorn and a soda and my 11-y-o son, who “made” me read all the books in the series last summer. These books are amazing! I hope the movie will lead people to the books.

  20. I have to disagree with one point in your review-Riordan is no Rowlings, but his books do have a lot of heart which was the essential ingredient missing in the movie. I think this was an example a movie (and especially a plotline) that would have been so much better if it had “stuck to the book” so to speak. My middle school students hated the age and plot differences.

  21. Thanks teachermom — I heard from many people who missed elements of the book. That’s always a tough challenge when making an adaptation, especially from a book with such devoted fans. I appreciate the comment very much.

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