February 15, 2010

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief Review

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief
20th Century Fox
Directed by Chris Columbus

Novel adaptations aren't anything new to movies, but when a studio aims to make a franchise out of it, the undertaking can be quite hard and overwhelming, especially considering the fact that the franchise could potentially compete with Harry Potter, which in Percy Jackson's case, is a strict no-no.

While this Greek mythology laden series has a bit of potential, it's hard not to be underwhelmed by the sheer amount of things that work against its debut. Make no mistake, the film holds a bit of entertainment value, but it's advisable for fans of the book to stay away.

So the film is about a boy who is starting high school, but his self-esteem is in the crapper because he has dyslexia and ADHD. Not only that, he also lives with a "loser" stepdad who frequently abuses his biological mother so yeah, long story short, his life sucks. Apparently though, his real father is actually a god in Mount Olympus and a lot of the people in his life are supernatural beings that were assigned to protect him. When Zeus' master bolt is stolen, he thinks Percy is to blame, prompting all the other monsters, including Hades, to get to him before Zeus does and gain control of the bolt, which will let them gain control of the universe.

Obviously, the premise has all the trappings of an epic adventure, but the epic adventure falls short of its promise, because the film is actually more of a road trip movie than it is a fantasy. I mean, yes, it has fun with a lot of mythological characters like the Lotus-Eaters, Medusa, and the Hydra, but at its core, the bulk of the movie is actually consistent of an unexciting search for Persephone's pearls. And no, "pearls" is not a double entendre.

The acting is wooden (except for Uma Thurman's portrayal of a Gorgon), the jokes tend not to work, and the film doesn't do a good job on the 'suspension of disbelief' department, which is sad because the film is set in modern times and thus, the characters have modern sensibilities. Now, it may be unfair to expect a suspension of disbelief in a fantasy film, but a lot of the time, the film expects you to root for Percy Jackson and company, and it regularly leaves visual cues that take consideration of the effects of their actions in the real world, so yes, you do need to leverage a bit of a suspension of disbelief.

To make things worse, it's hard to relate to the Percy character. Again, this is a fantasy film, I know, and his heritage dictates that he must be a great demigod, but the humanity of his character seems to be lost in the shuffle, not only because of his unnaturally magical boost of ego and leadership skills, but also because of the rapid mastery of his waterbending, I mean, magic and fighting skills. Seriously, the way he learns how to control his magic is unnaturally fast, even for a fantasy film, and despite his domestic situation before the demigod thing, there's nothing in Percy that seems believable. Not to mention: he can drive a car. Isn't his character supposed to be twelve or something? For that matter, aren't his friends twelve as well? How'd they learn to drive a car so fast? How'd they even get in a casino without question? And why does the world revolve around America? Mount Olympus is now in America? ...IN AMERICA!

Actually, the whole film just feels soulless, which dulls the film's fun factor immensely, and the unbelievability it rises up to is just too much even for the genre it clearly resides in. If the Harry Potter series could make a human out of nearly every character in its canon (thanks to its cast of classically trained British actors) despite the magic, why can't this one? The film, at its core, is like staring at a well-oiled machine that goes through its motions 24/7.

Still, the film scores a major point with its fast-paced plot. Unlike other films, including Columbus' own Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the film isn't bogged down by exposition, thus it is much more lean and mean in comparison to those other films. In plain language, the film doesn't overstay its welcome, as it doesn't linger in one place for too long, nor does it chatter excessively about an event or a character. The film gets it over with nice and quick, and fortunately, it doesn't end with a cliffhanger.

Still, letting go of the excess baggage involves a lot of trade-offs: the world isn't fleshed out; it isn't explored thus it isn't immersive, the characters are not fully developed and for the most part two dimensional, every situation doesn't have much weight because the characters leave a place and never talk about it again, and the actors, especially those who play bit parts like Zeus or Poseidon, don't have enough room to stretch out their acting skills, which is a damn shame.

The film goes through the story as if it were a process that is followed step-by-step, and it really shows. Everything feels like a process done by a robot or something, and when you think about it like that, the film becomes undesirable when viewed a second time.

A notable thing about the movie, however, and this is just based off the rants of my sister and brother, both big fans of the Rick Riordan series, is the extreme deviation of the movie from the source material. They note about the inclusion of Ares and his child, they note about the unnecessary process of the search for the pearls, and they note about the misplacement of lines and miscasting of characters. I'm okay with a few misplaced lines and a more ethnically rounded cast of characters (PFFT, right.), but I'm quite concerned about the events and facts that were omitted, because apparently, a lot of characters and events that happened in this movie that are necessary for the sequel to operate are simply not there. Now, this happens all the time with novel adaptations, hell, the Harry Potter series takes a lot of liberties with characters and stories for a lot of the time, but at least it doesn't omit the crucial parts unlike this movie.

Again, it does have entertainment value, so if you're forced to watch it, you won't really mind, but if you're a fan of the book, well, let's just say you'll find more entertainment in reading it again instead of scrutinizing every single thing about this movie. Can it be considered a catastrophic failure? Objectively on its own, it really isn't a failure, but the thing is, it lacks soul and emotion. There's no spirit that emphasizes a character's longing to save X character, there's no weight to a character's wanting to see Y parent who abandoned her long ago. Even the special effects don't look too special because of this. It's just wooden, but nonetheless decently made.

Rating: 6.5/10

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