Opening in conjunction with the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies in Vancouver, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” brings classical Greece to modern times in a very different way from the Games. It earned a number two U.S. opening spot last weekend, bringing in $31.1 million.
Much like the Harry Potter series, “The Lightning Thief” thrusts its hero into the midst of a magical world within our own, with mortals coexisting unknowingly with strange beasts. It’s like “Men in Black” with B.C. aliens. Into the delicate balance between the top three gods, Zeus (Sean Bean), Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) and Hades (Steve Coogan), comes a “lightning thief” who steals Zeus’ lightning bolt, the most powerful weapon in the universe. When Zeus pegs Poseidon’s unsuspecting–and innocent–half human/half god son as the culprit, the count-down begins for Poseidon’s son Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) to find the lightning bolt or allow a war that would destroy the world.
The film focuses around the most epic road trip of all time, starting in New York City and moving to a Spartan wilderness camp where young demi-gods play full-contact capture the flag, complete with swords and any special powers inherited from Dad or Mom. From there, Percy, his satyr protector Grover (Brandon Jackson) and Athena’s daughter Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) embark on a journey to rescue Percy’s mother (Catherine Keener) from Hades, who is holding her as a bargaining chip to get the lighting bolt. Along the way they face some of the baddest creatures that the Greek bards conjured, including a hydra and Medusa (Uma Thurman). They make it to the Underworld a little wiser–only to receive a shock about who really is the lightning thief.
Unlike the early Potter films, which relied on Harry’s childlike awe and the uniqueness of the story to propel the films to as instantaneous popularity as the books, “The Lightning Thief” combines classic Greek stories and plenty of humor for the young and old to keep audiences laughing. I watched the film amidst a small press screening audience, since D.C.’s historic snowstorms kept most critics away, but despite the audience size, laughter echoed through the theater for most of the film. A few corny moments and acting slips by the young stars were bolstered by co-star titans like Pierce Brosnan, Bean and Thurman.
Director Chris Columbus, a writer-producer-director Renaissance man of film and the director of several Potter films, effectively translates his background working with children and a pseudo digital cast to this Greek adventure. He guides the young cast to generally strong performances, and lets the film show action rather than how many quick cuts can fit into each scene.
Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, writes with a strong comic sense in a style that one of my former editors would have called “meat and potatoes” writing. Craig Titley‘s story models this, as he removes needless dialog to focus on the story, generally using humor to advance character and plot, and not for humor’s sake.
Aside from the opening effect of a giant Poseidon rises from New York’s harbor, the filming and special effects were solid, something too often taken for granted today.