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The Lightning Thief Loses Its Charm When Adapted to Screen

February 13, 2010

I have been excited about seeing this movie with my son — he and I have thoroughly enjoyed these books, and we’ve read The Lightning Thief, the first in the series, several times.

Discovering The Lightning Thief for the first time, with DS, was a blast (pardon the pun). He was familiar with the most well known stories from Greek Mythology, thanks to the copy of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths my grandmother gave me when I was a little girl, which I’ve always loved, and Mary Pope Osborne’s light adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey. So we had fun exploring the wealth of mythological allusions and guessing what was coming next.

The Greek gods were, as we all know, a far cry from monotheists’ perfect, infinitely loving God. They were powerful but also lecherous, violent, mean and petty — gods created in man’s own image. And they had a penchant for coupling with mortals, fathering half-mortal heroes like Achilles, Hercules and Perseus.

In Rick Riordan’s world, the Greek gods are alive and well and still siring half-mortal children. Perseus Jackson, dyslexic, diagnosed with ADHD, and having been kicked out of schools all over the state, definitely does not see himself as a hero. And learning that he is a demigod, like his namesake, is not welcome news. Especially since it means that gods are prone to sending monsters to kill him. And having to save the world from a clash between the Big Three Gods — Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades — was not something he’d signed up for.

The book is clever, imaginative, and laugh-out-loud funny. I loved 12-year-old Percy’s voice — his blend of humor, intelligence, immaturity, impulsiveness and heroism was a big part of what made it work. This is a novel with plenty of mythological allusions and plot twists to engage a kid’s mind, but it has enough humor, action, and over-the-top silliness to hook middle grade and young teen readers.

The movie adaptation stays true to the basic premise, and it offers plenty of action and special effects. However, to fit the story into a two-hour film, without scrimping on any battle scenes, they changed almost everything else. First, they aged the kid-characters. Percy is played by 18-year-old Logan Lerman and his friend Annabeth is played by 23-year-old Alexandra Daddario. Then there’s Grover, Percy’s best friend and protector, played by 25-year-old Brandon T. Jackson — unlike the Grover of the novel, he has an affinity for chasing women. Hollywood made these characters much older and sexier (of course they did).

Second, the screenwriters fashioned an entirely new plot, using some of the elements of the original story. The new plot wasn’t bad, but it was predictable. In the novel, we got to use some smarts, along with our knowledge of mythology, to guess what would be revealed next. The movie tells us everything at once and rushes ahead to the battle scenes. The acting and character development were not particularly strong. And the things I loved most about the novel — Percy’s voice and outrageous sense of humor — were, of course, missing.

It was a fun, fast-paced movie, and I enjoyed the action and special effects. But all in all, I’d say it was a three-star film adaptation of a four-and-a-half star novel. If occasional movies are in your budget, it might be worth watching on the big screen, but I’d read the book first.

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