Saturday, February 13, 2010

Movie Review: Percy Jackson (vs. Avatar)

"Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief."

Cool title. OK, you got my attention.

My husband actually wanted to see this before I even knew it existed. He had read the book (in a day), and being the Greek mythology buff he is, he wanted to see the movie also. So, we left the little peanut with Grandma for an evening and had ourselves a date.

This movie is directed by Chris Columbus, the director of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," which, aside from my own fascination with Greek mythology, gave me some hopes for the film. The book was entertaining enough, but I had the feel throughout that Percy didn't act so much as be acted upon, up until the end--but let's face it, the Greek gods did move humans around like chessmen back in the good old days. Percy and his pals took an awful lot of things in stride without so much as a blip of emotion, on top of that, though--and there's a lot to be said about seeing your mom get squished by a minotaur.

But enough about the book. I still wanted to see what they did on film.

I was sadly disappointed. The movie tried--unsuccessfully--to imitate Harry Potter in scope, and the special effects were noticeable for their clunkiness. It takes a bit for me to notice the mechanics of a film instead of the plot (i.e., bad screenwriting). The plot and emotion were so sadly lacking here that I couldn't help but stop at the high point of the film and think, "Oh! This is the part for which they saved the big bucks in special effects!" (BTW, guys, centaurs' fetlocks ought to MOVE when they take a step forward--check out Oreius in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," and then redesign). They were cartoonish and called attention to themselves, rather than being an intrinsic part of the plot. STORY FIRST, always.

As to the plot and writing, they left out some of the funniest parts of the book, and rearranged the book's plot to the point of cheap imitation. I was sorry for all the fans of the book, of which there are many (NYT #1 Bestseller). Percy is twelve in the book. Here, he's 15 or 16. Ares isn't even mentioned, the gods look like gods should, and dang it, they even left out the Muzak in the elevator to Olympus.

Sigh.

While the movie does have some funny parts (Medusa's head, the casino scene), it falls far short of compensating for bad storytelling. The dialogue and acting are awkward, with the exception of Grover the satyr, who seemed the most comfortable with his character. Everyone else seemed put there, but not interested in being so. Even Sean Bean couldn't rescue this movie for me.

If you want good fantasy, go see "Avatar." Its special effects are huge, but so seamless that you forget nothing onscreen is real--and as stunning as they are, they take a backseat to the story, supporting it instead of trying to make up for the lack of it. Its plot is admittedly not original, but it's told so engagingly that you won't mind.

Or, you can wait for your dose of Greek gods when "Clash of the Titans" comes out in May. I am looking forward to that one, even though it'll be hard for me to love anyone more than I love Harry Hamlin as Perseus in the original film. The special effects are dated in that one, of course, but it's a classic.

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