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March 05, 2010
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
By CNA Staff

By CNA Staff

Older Children and Adults: Morally Acceptable: Good Craftsmanship

Based on the popular children’s book by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief tags along behind the successful Harry Potter films, The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Lord of the Rings, and even movies like Troy or 300, which attempt to modernize the ancient and capitalize on a pre-existing idea.

As far as stories go, the Lightning Thief scores high on the originality meter. The tale proposes that the Greek gods of Olympus never disappeared. Instead, they were forgotten. Nevertheless, they continued in their petty quarrels and in their love affairs with mortals which created children who are half mortal and half god: the demigods. These demigods often struggle with dyslexia and ADHD, the story goes, because their brains are hardwired for ancient Greek and their bodies are equipped with amazing reflexes which predispose them for battle.

Meet Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), a demigod though he doesn’t know it. Percy has been kicked out of every school he has ever attended. He can stay underwater for seven minutes, and he has no memory of his biological father. Then, on a class trip to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, he is attacked by a real, live Fury out of Greek Mythology who thinks he’s stolen something significant.

The story takes off from there. Percy finds himself at a summer camp for demigods where they learn all sorts of life skills such as sword-fighting, ancient Greek, and archery. At the camp, he finds out that he is Poseidon’s son and that Zeus is blaming him for having stolen the master lightning bolt.

The dialogue throughout the movie isn't very plausible. Despite the argument that teenagers (even demigods) aren’t profoundly philosophical beings, much of the conversations between characters is forced, unnatural and lacked depth entirely. The poor dialogue, coupled with the absolute absence of character development, is a serious setback for the critical viewer. Moviegoers are not allowed into Percy Jackson’s emotions or thoughts anywhere in the film. Instead, they are introduced to an impeccably dressed teenage heartthrob with trendy haircut. It may be easy to get a crush on the actor, but it is very hard to get to know the character he plays.

Equally as problematic is the character of Grover, (played by Brandon T. Jackson) a satyr assigned to protect Percy from the monsters that prowl the world in search of demigods to destroy. While he may not be a stellar protector, Grover becomes Percy’s best friend. The actor who plays Grover is one of the only African-Americans in the film, and the majority of his lines and actions bespeak a Chris Rock-style of shallow (and unnecessary) humor. Whatever happened to the notion that two men can be friends, building each other up through their friendship and mutual experiences?

As is common with contemporary films, especially those with imaginative tendencies, the graphics are stunning. From flying shoes propelling a demigod across the New York skyline like Neo from the Matrix and a skiff drifting through the currents of the airless and ever-burning Hades, to the attack of unimaginable mythical beasts, the movie holds the viewer captive with a long stream of very realistic animation.

The PG-rated move is suitable for just about everyone. There is no profanity, no nudity, and little canoodling. (The main characters show their affection by disarming one another in a sword fight.) And despite the dubious nature of satyrs, Grover remains a family-friendly character with a tendency to spend too much time talking with Aphrodite’s daughters. However, the realistic and graphic computer renditions of the monsters, especially Medusa, are not suitable for younger children. It seems that the animators really enjoyed their role and used the realism that technology brings to overemphasize details such as the snakes that are Medusa’s hair, the monstrous heads of the Hydra, and the unimaginable details of Hades. Indeed, many of the scenes drag on too long and easily become unpleasant.

While more narration would have improved the story, and a little less emphasis on the computer animation would have been nice, The Lightning Thief is a refreshingly original storyline with a refreshingly clean presentation (unless you don’t want your kids knowing what the inside of a casino looks like). Don’t be embarrassed to see it, even if you don’t have kids in tow.

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