Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (film review), by Rick Riordan

Picture this, dear readers—

One day, you walk to the store and buy a chocolate chip cookie. You've noticed in the past that this store's baker isn't very good, so you worry that maybe the cookie will be too dry, or he'll use imitation vanilla or fake chocolate chips or something, but you still want to try it. After all, it's a chocolate chip cookie, and how badly could anyone screw that up?

But then you bite into the cookie, and you realize that—surprise!—the baker replaced all the flour in the recipe with talcum powder, and the thing you're eating is actually totally inedible. It might look like a cookie at first glance, but that's as far as it goes.

That's how I felt about Chris Columbus's "adaptation" of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, which I had the misfortune of seeing this weekend. I have so many complaints I'm not sure where to begin, but I guess the cookie metaphor above comes close—I shelled out $7.25 to watch something that bore only a cursory resemblance to what I had to come to see.

I went in with concerns: Columbus had made some early calls that I thought were weird, including bumping up the three main characters' ages by several years, and I've seen the first two Harry Potter movies, so I knew he was a pedestrian director at best. But you know what? None of that stuff mattered, because everything about this movie was so bad that the things I had thought was going to irritate me didn't even register. Entire chunks of the plot were either heavily altered or completely re-written. Major scenes in the book—all of Percy's early time at camp, the fight on the St. Louis arch, the scene in the water park—were chopped out, and replaced with a generic road trip based on an entirely new storyline. Characters were removed (including Mr. D, Ares, and Clarisse), and new ones appear—Persephone shows up out of the blue, somehow transformed from Riordan's empty-headed Goddess of Spring into a voluptuous vixen in a black lace corset who hits on Grover and plays a major role in the final conflict.

Seriously, with all that, how could I be irritated over stuff like Columbus's decision to rewrite his heroine—blonde, level-headed, 12-year-old Annabeth—as a short-tempered, sword-swinging brunette played by a 23-year-old actress? Not that it mattered, as all of Annabeth's character development was condensed down to looking hot while playing with her sword and staring soulfully at Percy. Any actress between the ages of 15 and 25 with two working arms and the ability to look good in a leather breastplate could have played this role. (And I'm not even going to start on the way that she rarely wore a helmet during the camp training scenes—sure, everybody else was wearing one, and she's the daughter of the goddess of military strategy, but what does that matter? She might have gotten helmet hair!)

Don't see this movie. Don't tell yourself that will be okay because your expectations are already low. Trust me, they aren't low enough. I watched this movie with eight people, ages 11 to 31, and not one of us had anything good to say about it. Most of us were too upset to articulate anything beyond: "GYAH! That was so... so... BAD! I mean... GYAH!" It took more than an hour for us to calm down enough to wonder if Columbus had actually read the book, or if he'd just based his movie on a description from a friend. We debated what it would take to make us feel better (answer: our money back, followed by a personal apology from all parties involved), and discussed the fact that Columbus had removed all of the plot points that connected this book to its sequels, and wondered if that meant that he'd known he was making something too terrible to succeed...

...but I'm betting he didn't. If there's anything I learned from this movie, it is to never underestimate the delusions of Hollywood. If they could take a book chock-full of charm, humor, and cinema-friendly action sequences and make something this terrible out of it, they are definitely crazy enough to hope it will be a major box-office success.
Posted by: Julianka


16 Feb, 2010 08:32 PM @ version 0

"...answer: our money back, followed by a personal apology from all parties involved..."
The previews told me to avoid this film because those alone say that it rates in the "I'll never get back the time that I spent watching it" category of Bad.

16 Feb, 2010 08:49 PM @ version 0

I know! And I thought it would be that bad... but it was worse. So, so much worse.

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