Published on February 13th, 2010 | by Greg0
The Lightning Thief: A Big Fat Greek Tween Movie
I don’t like to brag, but having won the high school statewide championships for mythology, I consider myself a bit of a Greek myth buff. So, with great anticipation I’ve been looking forward to the most recent set of tween movie-based-on-book series-to-be — Percy Jackson & the Olympians: Lightning Thief.
Percy Jackson is a regular kid of today’s generation. He lives with his mom and a stepfather he hates. He has ADHD and dyslexia, which means he often struggles in school. One day while on a field trip, a substitute teacher takes him aside, attacks him after turning into a Fury, and sets the course for the adventure that will take him to Camp Half-Blood (a camp for demigods) and beyond with his two friends Grover (a satyr) and Annabeth (daughter of Athena). There he learns he is the son of Poseidon, his ADHD is a natural consequence of his battle reflexes and his dyslexia is his hardwired ability to read Greek. He also finds out that he is accused of taking Zeus’s lightning bolt, which will result in a war in about 14 days if he doesn’t return it.
There are probably many who liked the original book more than I did who might disagree with this statement, but I thought this was a pretty good adaptation of the book series written by Rick Riordan. The book itself starts off solidly, building the tension and keeping his parentage a mystery — he’s a demigod, but from which God? Then the book gets much slower and that’s where the movie really stepped in and made things more interesting. A lot of the changes were good, streamlining plot points and pulling things together. Grover’s character was a lot more likable and fleshed out in the movie, though Annabelle’s much less so. It would have been nice if they had added a little of the initial parental mystery that worked so well in the book (instead we find out in scene one that Poseidon’s the dad), but with the given time constraints they made some pretty good choices.
There were a lot of bad choices as well that one wouldn’t expect from such a seasoned director. Some cheesy dialogue, some cheesy acting, and wait, what’s that? Voice overs! Oh, wait. It’s a kids movie. With all the tween craze of Harry Potter and Twilight, I just didn’t think they made kids movies purely for kids anymore. But despite some very entertaining scenes, it crosses the line from “I love this movie, it brings back my childhood glee” to “I’m slightly embarrassed to be watching it.”
Whether it’s witchcraft striking fear into the hearts of many Christian groups or vampires debating their souls, religion has played an interesting part in the major recent tween flicks and Percy Jackson is not avoiding the trend. Going directly to an old-time polytheistic religion this series bring back rather human and fallible Gods with differing opinions, often not agreeing with each other and not even being particular nice or good to anyone. Delving into Greek mythology puts one on a slippery path of infidelities, acts of violence, and all sorts of… sticky thoughts. I asked my Latin teacher once why there were two different origin stories for Aphrodite, one where she was Zeus’s daughter, one where she arose from the sea foam in the ocean. He said they were not two stories, but one. After all, he asked, where do you think the sea foam came from?
And they do get into some sticky notions in this movie. Carrying around a cut-off head, addictive lotus flowers, and cruelty to endangered animals (hey, fire-breathing hydra have feelings too). Some of these situations were rearranged to be a bit more palatable. The Gods are notoriously bad parents and the movie instead portrays them as caring parents who are unable to be with their offspring. Some are simply sugar-coated, like Medusa’s (the awesome Uma Thurman) having sex with Poseidon ages ago being the reason Athena cursed her with snakes. And a few old-fashioned ideas were updated for the modern world. No longer is Athena chaste, instead she’s leaving behind her own demigods. And the underworld Hades? Well, there’s no Elysian Fields and no Sisyphus, just something looking remarkably like a Christian hell, which makes for some more interesting death metal style imagery, but also seems out of place in the Greek universe.
Besides providing a lot of subliminal food for thought about our theological leanings, the movie provides a lot of good action and good fun. Look forward to seeing the changes they make in the next movie. In theaters February 12, 2010.