Posted by: Dr P | March 1, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

I was going to start this review by taking a wild dig at Percy for being a Harry Potter ripoff, but that would of course suggest that the Potter mythology is in itself unique – which it clearly isn’t. So instead I’ll merely make the observation that the Percy Jackson books fall neatly into the many fantasy series which surround young people being awakened to their mystical destinies and discovering hidden powers, secret heritages and a magical world they previously knew little about.

That said, the choice of Chris Columbus, director of the first couple of Harry Potter movies, is a double-edged sword, in that it puts the first book firmly in the hands of an experienced fantasy director but also opens it up to strong direct comparison with Potter. Is this a good thing? Read on and find out!

It’s probably worth pointing out that while the HP books invite us to a magical world of witches and wizards, the world into which Percy Jackson is drawn is one more steeped in classical mythology; Jackson, or PJ as I shall now call him, is one of hundreds of children born to the ancient Greek gods and their human concubines – “demigods” in fact. Whilst many of these offspring never discover their true identities, or are killed by strange beasts and warring factions, many others learn of their fate and are drawn to the magical “Camp Half-Blood” where they are trained to face the battles ahead.

When an ancient feud between the three central gods, Zeus, Hades and Poseidon (PJ’s father) erupts over the apparent theft of Zeus’ weapon, the titular lightning bolt, the youngster is cast as the lead suspect, and all manner of hellish beasts are sent to hunt Jackson down and retrieve the artefact. Percy’s eyes are opened up PDQ as his life is threatened by a number of these creatures, and it turns out that his crippled teacher and crutch-endowed best mate are actually his protectors – and moreover they’re a centaur and satyr (half man, half goat – hopefully chosen from hundreds on offer at goatcompare.com). If only the satyr had been called Duncan, life would have been even funnier. The PJ and Duncan big screen experience …

There’s a hilarious piece of casting for Pierce Brosnan as the centaur/teacher. Poor Pierce must be wondering what has happened to his career – having saved the world as James Bond and been a suave master criminal in Thomas Crown, now he has to sing appallingly poor Abba covers in Mamma Mia and dress up like a horses ass in PJ! PJ as in Percy Jackson, not PJ as in pyjamas – a centaur in pyjamas would be completely stupid.

Anyway, PJ also falls head over heels for the token female, Annabeth, daughter of Athena and somewhat nubile; unlike Hermione in HP, who started out as a very young teen and was thus off-limits in the perv stakes, Annabeth certainly isn’t … and old PJ is right in there. Woop!

After a hastily arranged game of capture the flag (hey, what camp experience is complete without a trip into the woods and sneaking into your opponent’s back door?), PJ sets out on a quest to visit Olympus and convince Zeus that he doesn’t actually possess the bolt, and so stop the war being unleashed at midnight on the Summer Solstice (why on earth the gods always have to pick a particular day to start their wars is beyond me – is it beyond these higher beings to just say “right, lad, give me my bolt by Tuesday week or you’ll be for it”?).

Anyway, PJ is accompanied by goat boy and fit girl, and together they must track down a number of mystical pearls, venture into Hades and generally avoid getting killed along the way. Cue appearances by such classical figures as the Hydra, Medusa and Persephone (wow!!).

All in all, it feels like a bit of a Potter clone, and the backstory isn’t particularly well developed. It’s very definitely aimed at the kids/young adult market but it’s not a bad movie for the adults either – plenty of action, the effects are good, you can laugh at Pierce dressed up as a centaur, and there are some hot girls to ease the experience. Just don’t expect any historical accuracies, and it’s not in the same league as Potter.

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