Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Rating:

OLYMPUS ON MY MIND

Main Cast:  Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson

Director:  Chris Columbus

I am happy to announce that my new business as a celebrity wedding consultant is starting to take off.  I was busy doing my early morning yoga exercises earlier this month and was in the middle of a very successful downward facing dog pose when the phone rang here at Chateau Maine.  It was Kim Kardashian, who is apparently the current arbiter of taste and style in American culture.  She is marrying someone named Kanunu something or other and was not able to book Versailles as a venue due to some governmental red tape.  So like the French.  I immediately offered her Chateau Maine and my services as an alternate but apparently her guests are already arriving in Paris.  I volunteered to take the first flight across the pond to make all of the arrangements for her.  I had immediate visions of the sanctuary at Notre Dame swathed in hundreds of yards of white tulle, a dove release into the rafters, and the bride and groom dressed as Quasimodo and Esmerelda to give that certain je ne sais quoi to the proceedings.  She said she’d think about it and the connection suddenly went dead.  I assume there are problems with the trans Atlantic cable again.  When she did not call back (that cable must be having real trouble), I showered and dressed and returned to my planning.

I’m going to have some tasteful little flyers made up advertising my services and leave them in all of the better restaurants, hotels and boites nuit of Beverly Hills and the Miracle Mile.  It’s going to be on eggshell vellum with aubergine and chartreuse ink with a cunning little portrait of me in the wedding costume from my huge hit, A Bride for Seven Brothers.  I am listing just some of the services that I can provide for a proper Hollywood bride.  I’m going to add a little box now reading ‘Endorsed by Kim Kardashian’; that should bring in the business.

I have been told that Kim is a goddess so that got me thinking that I should get into theme weddings and that the Olympian gods and goddesses of ancient Greece might be a good place to start.  After all, Chateau Maine was compared to a classical temple in a lovely little interview that appeared in Poultry Monthly some years ago.   In order to do a little research, I went poking through the DVDs that had accumulated during my recent absence and found Percy Jackson and the Olympians:  The Lightning Thief from 2010 and popped it into the home theater in order to do a little research.  It is based on the first of a series of novels for younger readers by Rick Riordan that I have never read but have often seen on the half price table at our local Barnes and Noble.  Any number of books with fantastical backgrounds have appeared in the wake of the enormous success of Harry Potter and this set seems to have done better than most.

Young Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is being raised by his hip young mom (Catherine Keener) with a nasty lump of a husband (Joe Pantoliano) in modern New York.  We know that young Percy is special because when we first meet him, he has spent several minutes sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool without ill effect.  It turns out that the Olympian gods are still alive and well and that Percy is the result of a liaison between Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), god of the seas and his mother.  As a half human, half divine demigod, Percy soon finds himself at Camp Half-Blood with the various offspring of other Olympians.  Here he meets up with pals Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena (Melina Kanakaredes) and Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), a comic relief satyr missing a satyr’s most important attribute, all under the tutelage of the majestic centaur, Chiron (Pierce Brosnan).

Zeus  (Sean Bean) has had his lightning bolt, his most powerful weapon, stolen and, through various plot machinations, our three plucky teen heroes are soon racing around the country, crossing distances that take normal motorists two or three days in a matter of hours, while they attempt to track down the thief.  Soon they are tangling with a sultry Medusa (Uma Thurman), the lotus eaters of a Las Vegas casino,  and eventually ending up in the Underworld (which is uncomfortably close to Chateau Maine) where they have a high stakes showdown with Hades (Steve Coogan) and Persephone (Rosario Dawson).  Eventually, of course, the lightning bolt is found, the thief is uncovered and order is restored leaving our heroes wide open for a sequel .

The producers were obviously hoping for a long running franchise similar to the Harry Potter films but alas, this film is not up to the task of establishing a series.  The conceit is promising enough but because it has been done with more loving care, better budgets and better actors in Harry Potter, The Lightning Thief comes across as a meretricious imitation rather than as something that can stand on its own.  We can’t help but think, as each scene unfolds, that we have seen something similar in the past done better.  The world of the Olympians is certainly ripe for exploring in a modern context rather than such silly swords and sandals epics as Clash of the Titans as the myths of the gods and goddesses speak directly to primal human concerns.  Unfortunately, most of the gods have been reduced to little more than cameos with somewhat famous faces; this leaves us wanting to know more about them and their relationships but as soon as we start to get anywhere, we cut back to our teeny bopper protagonists who are a good deal less interesting than Zeus or Poseidon or Athena.

The three young performers essaying the roles of our  youthful heroes are inoffensive.  None of them, however, comes close to establishing an iconic juvenile performance and could have been interchanged with dozens of other Hollywood younglings without any appreciable difference to the final product.  Brandon T. Jackson comes the closest to establishing rapport with the audience, helped by his comic relief function and his goat legs but his bad ass wisecracks dribble down his chin rather than sparkle and wake us up.  Mr. Lerman, as Percy, is pretty, but plastic and there is no real sense of true emotion as he faces his various challenges.  He has the same vapid stare whether he is facing down a minotaur or wondering about his place in the world.    The adult performers, seasoned pros all, do the best they can with their underwritten roles and a few succeed in making a mark despite limited screen time, especially Uma Thurman as the calculating Medusa and Joe Pantoliano as Percy’s unpleasant step-father who eventually gets an appropriate comeuppance.

The film is directed by Chris Columbus, the man who also guided the first few installments of Harry Potter.  Unfortunately, lightning did not strike twice and his work here is pedestrian at best.  He keeps all of the plot elements of the novel but forgets that the language of cinema is more than that of ‘filmed novel’ and scene after scene seems to come to a chapter break and then we’re off to the next set piece with no real through lines in terms of theme or emotional context for the audience.  His staging of battles against various monsters is exciting but he gets so caught up in his CGI that we lose sight of any stakes that Percy and his friends may have in the outcome. The paint by numbers screen play is by Craig Titley.  There are a few interesting scenes, particularly in the Underworld and Medusa’s lair thanks to production designer Howard Cummings.

My DVD may have had extras but I could not be bothered to explore them at length as, while I found the film pleasantly entertaining, there was nothing about it that made me wish to learn more about it or any of the talents connected to it.  I can see Sean Bean and Uma Thurman in much better films.  Younger children will be bored but older children might enjoy it and learn a bit about mythology.  Adolescents will recognize it as not very good and turn it off for reruns of American Idol.

Furious teacher.  Smashed cars.  Healing powers of water.  Gratuitous ‘Capture the Flag’.  Multiple statues.  Lotus cakes.  Nashville side trip.  Mother in peril.  Manhattan showdown.  Magical elevator.

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