Sunday, March 14, 2010

By the gods

I remember seeing the trailer for the awkwardly titled Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief before the fair-to-middling Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. It looked intriguing, but given its February release date, I figured it to be a stinker. So last night when Heidi and I were trying to find a movie to go to and we had it narrowed down to Percy Jackson and Avatar, both of which were at the dollar theater, I almost said that we should just forget the whole thing and stay home and watch a movie on TV. Instead, we went to Percy Jackson and what a wise decision it was.

Based on the book of the same name, the movie introduces us to Percy Jackson who appears to be just another unmotivated, ADHD-battling teenager. But unbeknownst to him, he is actually half ancient Greek god - his father being Poseidon, the god of the sea. When Zeus' (Sean Bean) lightning bolt goes missing, Percy is accused of stealing it in order to start a war between the gods. What follows is a great blend of the classic stories of Greek mythology superimposed over the modern world as Percy tries to clear his name and save his mother from the clutches of Hades.

As a kid, my dad told me the stories of Greek mythology and I was spellbound by them. The story of Medusa especially appealed to me - a woman so ugly that she could turn any living thing into stone. I loved the monsters - minotaurs, Furies, the Hydra, among others - that were so liberally spread throughout the myths, as well as the stories of heroes beating nearly insurmountable odds to win the day. It didn't hurt that Clash of the Titans came out when I was 9 which brought so many of these monsters to stop-motion life. At more than one point during PJ&TO, I found myself smiling like that 9-year-old, completely wrapped up in the coolness of seeing the 7 headed hydra or Uma Thurman's completely unexpected appearance as a certain snake-haired woman. Sure, some of the effects pushed up against Van Helsing bad, but overall, they were passable and, more importantly, were used to help tell the story rather than take the place of the story. (Alice In Wonderland, anyone?)

The movie was criticized for being too Harry Potter-ish, and I can see where the criticism comes from. Both storeis have a misunderstood boy with great power and legacy who is whisked away to a magical world where he truly comes into his own. As Madonna says, I've heard it all before. But it's the incorporation of the ancient Greek myths and where the story goes with what could otherwise be a rather derivative plot that earns my forgiveness.

There's a remake/rehash of Clash of the Titans coming out in 3D (what's NOT coming out in 3D these days?) the first part of next month, but as far as I'm concerned, that movie is completely superfluous. Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief made me feel like a kid again and had a healthy dose of respect for the Greek myths, which is more than I think the dirty, overblown CG-filled Clash remake will be. For that reason alone, Percy Jackson is the true heir to Clash of the Titans' throne. More than worth the premium Saturday night dollar theater pricing of 2 dollars each.


Anonymous said...

Really liked the film too. I'm interested to see, as they make more of the books into films, how they're going to deal with the changes they made.

(If you've not read the books: there's a whole plot layer with Kronos that was taken out of the film -- for time I assume -- that becomes a major feature in the later books.)

Dan said...

I read about the Cronos aspect of the book and immediately thought that would have been a better motivation for the Lightning Thief. But I understand why they cut it - Cronos had a 2 second mention at the beginning of the movie and I wonder if the screenwriter thought that one more Greek mythological would just confuse the audience.

I'll be interested to see if they even make any more of these books into movies - I'm not sure how well it did at the box office. Usually if it's at the dollar theater a month after its wide release, that's a bad sign.