Friday, February 19, 2010

The Lightning Thief steals Harry Potter's thunder...

It seems that every Hollywood studio wants to discover the next 'cash cow' movie franchise and follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter.
Percy Jackson The Lightning Thief movie billboard
Even though Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief doesn't share the same worldwide iconic popularity the Harry Potter phenomenon enjoys (or Twilight to a lesser extent), after seeing this fast-paced movie I'm more than ready to pay to see a few more Percy Jackson installments.

The basic synopsis of the story is that troubled teenager, Percy Jackson, discovers he's the demi-god son of Poseidon when someone tries to frame him for stealing his uncle Zeus' thunderbolt.
Percy Jackson The Lightning Thief teaser poster
Accompanied by his friend and undercover satyr protector, Grover, and Annabeth, the daughter of Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, he sets out on a quest to save his mother from the depths of the stygian underworld and from his other uncle, Hades, and finally convince the Olympian gods of his innocence. Nice family, huh?

And if you're thinking, does the name Percy Jackson have any significance, the answer is yes, as mythical hero 'Perseus' was responsible for slaying Medusa.
Percy Jackson The Lightning Thief film poster
But you may feel a film about a boy with a troubled home life, weird powers, magical creatures and a destiny to save the world, even sharing the same director as the first Harry Potter movie, Chris Columbus, may be familiar territory right? Well think again.

It's a much better cinematic first outing than the 'Philosopher's (Sorcerer's in the U.S.A.) Stone' film (with shades of Narnia thrown in for good measure), boasting better CGI effects, more action, far less exposition and scene-setting and 100% better acting.
Percy Jackson poster
There is more of an emphasis on action and less on mystery or problem solving, it's all easily laid out for Percy and his friends, with no real investigation as such, but it's still highly enjoyable stuff and just a great fantasy romp.

Having said that it is slightly schizophrenic in its approach. Is it an adult story trying to appeal to kids or a kids story trying to appeal to adults. There are a lot more adult themes (the basic premise involves ancient gods coming to Earth to mate with mere mortals), there's sexual innuendo, scary monster imagery, writhing realistic snakes and real blood.
Annabeth Percy Jackson poster
Well this 35 year old liked it anyway (but I'm still a big kid at heart), after all there's a lot to like.

I've always been intrigued by the Greek Pantheon of gods, compared to say Norse mythology, so the background context appeals to me. The movie has brilliant teen leads in Logan Lerman as the titular 'Percy', Alexandra Daddario as the gutsy 'Annabeth' and comedic relief from Brandon T. Jackson as 'Grover' the satyr, all likable characters and actors.
Grover Percy Jackson poster
I've never read Rick Riordan's fantasy series that Percy's adventures are based on, but I like that it's fairly easy to get up to speed on his universe.

My criticisms from early in the movie are that Percy's reaction to his mother's seeming death is fairly unemotional and he takes it far too simply in his stride, plus his casual acceptance of the existence of gods, satyrs, minotaurs, furies, hydras and gorgons was a tad unrealistic.
Chiron Pierce Brosnan Percy Jackson poster
Most of the adult roles are well cast, Pierce Brosnan makes for a likable centaur training camp instructor, Sean Bean a believable 'Zeus' and Kevin McKidd a great 'Poseidon' (the tunic still suits him from his 'Rome' days), but Uma Thurman steals the show as a sexy Medusa, even with her hair wreathed in squirming convincing snakes.
Uma Thurman Medusa Percy Jackson poster
The worst casting has to be Steve Coogan as Hades. His demonic winged CGI depiction is fantastic, but the British funny man as an aging rock star lord of the underworld just doesn't work for me.

Finally I have to say the production values are great, from the forest training camp, to the mythical creature interpretations and special effects. I also loved that the doorway to Hell was located under the Hollywood Sign.
Hades Percy Jackson poster
Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief deserves four **** stars and even though I've no desire to read the books, I look forward to seeing the demi-gods in action again in the future. It may not do the same box office as Harry Potter, but it's just as entertaining and worth seeing on the big screen.

Let's see whether the forthcoming mythical movie, Clash of the Titans, can improve on this heroic offering...

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