Growing up in a strict monotheistic household, it really wasn’t a priority for anyone to teach me about the ancient Greek gods. Perhaps my devout Catholic parents figured it best not to confuse my evolving young mind since the Bible was already dense enough with tales of one wrathful God and his demigod-like son. Children’s author Rick Riordan, however, raised his son in far more Greco-friendly fashion, regaling his boy with nightly bedtime stories featuring Zeus, Poseidon and the Olympian gang. When he ran out of myths to retell, he made up a new Greek demigod: “Percy Jackson,” modern teenager with human learning disabilities (A.D.H.D. and Dyslexia) and godly lineage (he’s the son of Poseidon). Well, at least, that’s the origin story for the best-selling “Percy Jackson” book series provided on one of the making-of featurettes of the Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief blu-ray.
While it’s hard not to champion a creative endeavor born of father and son bonding, especially one with the aim of educating young readers about Greek mythology, it’s harder not to approach this movie with anything but deeply human cynicism. It seems obvious Fox was hoping to launch another Harry Potter-style cash cow with The Lightning Thief. Hiring director Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) was the first suspiciously duplicative step in replicating that series’ success. Here, Columbus is again responsible for laying the basic groundwork for a possible multi-part film series (there are five “Percy” novels), but sadly the book’s first filmed adaptation is a franchise non-starter.
Having never read the “Percy” books, it’s tricky to gauge which of The Lightning Thief’s weaknesses are attributable to its author or filmmaker, though a few of its strengths do seem identifiable with Columbus. Like his two Potter films, The Lightning Thief certainly features its share of eye-popping visual effects and amusing turns from older performers in supporting roles. What this film lacks, however, is Harry Potter’s engaging trio of young leads.
I’m not sure if the issue is casting or writing, but the overly pretty Logan Lerman (3:10 to Yuma, Gamer) certainly doesn’t elicit a lot of natural sympathy as the movie’s protagonist. Percy is set up as a young man suffering from debilitating learning disabilities and a broken home, but Lerman acts like his greatest grievance might be a wisp of hair out of place on his Bieber-esque coiffed head. Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, hell, even Dorothy, were far more convincingly tormented in their “ordinary worlds” before embarking on their hero’s journeys, which is what made them, and their travels, so much more engaging. Once Percy sets out on his own quest, the non-stop action and imaginative set pieces help distract from the fact that he’s a pretty underwhelming character, as are his sidekicks Annabeth, daughter of Athena (played in one note “tough” fashion by the wan Alexandra Daddario) and Grover, a half-man, half-goat Satyr (played by Brandon T. Jackson of Tropic Thunder).
Far more amusing are the film’s adult performances, notably from Uma Thurman, who vamps deliciously and threateningly as Medusa, and Steve Coogan, who inhabits Hades like some Jagger-esque rock star. Also on hand are Pierce Brosnan as a minotaur, Kevin McKidd (TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) as Poseidon and fantasy film vet Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings series) as Zeus.
Adult viewers will probably get a kick out of the film’s depiction of Vegas as a city of modern day Lotus Eaters and Hollywood as the literal portal to hell, but in the end, the entertainment factor rests with the kids, specifically Percy, and my lack of enthusiasm for this “Harry Potter” wannabe made it a challenge to endure the film’s closing scenes, in which Percy is reunited with absent father Poseidon and his long suffering mother (played by a wasted Catherine Keener). Remember how moving it was in the first Harry Potter when Harry looked into that magic mirror to connect with his deceased parents? This film has no such pathos…or magic.
The Blu-ray 1080p High Def picture certainly shows off the film’s rich black, blue and fiery red hues. Audio is appropriately earth rattling. Options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 5.1 Descriptive Audio, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese and Mandarin.
Bonus material includes 10 deleted scenes and the featurettes Inside Camp Half-Blood, Discover Your Powers Quiz, On Set with Brandon T. Jackson, The Book Comes to Life, Meet the Demigods and my personal favorite, Secrets of the Gods, an interactive tour of Mount Olympus featuring brief bios of the Greek Gods featured in the film.
The Blu-ray bonus pack includes a DVD copy of the film and a bonus digital copy.
A franchise non-starter with lackluster young leads. Still, there’s enough action and effects wizardry on hand to amuse undemanding fantasy-adventure and Greek mythology fans.
Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief is rated PG for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language. It has a run time of 118 minutes.