Friday, May 31, 2013

Always a Good Time for Classic Good vs. Evil: Percy Jackson on Screen and Page

Don't be fooled by the teenage boy on the poster/ cover - this is more than a series for middle school youngsters. Or Greek mythology scholars.

Rick Riordan:
Percy Jackson & the Olympians
(The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan's Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, The Last Olympian)

The Lightning Thief (2010) by Chris Columbus
Sea of Monsters (2013) by Thor Freudenthal

I always dread the moment I start reading a new series of books or start watching a new tv show. It's different to read single books or watch a single movie every other night. The thing about series - on screen and page - is their addictiveness. Human beings are fragile, we're emotional animals and easy to trap that way. We can get addicted to all sorts of things, mainly referred to as drugs, such as stimulating herbs and chemicals, sports, all the stuff that is put into micro-wave pizza. And yes, we can also get addicted to the arts of reading books and watching movies. With the breakthrough of internet platforms, especially tumblr, these addictions might have increased, but perhaps they've just become more visible. Staying up all night to finish reading The Hunger Games or watching season 2 of Game of Thrones has never been cooler. Geeks, ahem: we, are everywhere.

Unlike many people however, I wouldn't consider myself being part of the various cultures of fandom. I'm at the periphery of this rather new cultural phenomena and I'm looking at it with fascination, but I just can't completely loose myself in something. Not even Doctor Who (although I probably am close). This is neither a bad thing nor a good thing, just an observation. The fact is I dread becoming too much of a part of the fandoms, and this brings me to the opening of this article: every time I start watching or reading something that is going to take more than 2 hours slash 1 week of my life, I dread to become to involved. What if this book or series turns out to be better than anything life could ever offer? What if it asks a question I should've never heard? What if it answers the questions that must be never be answered (although, believe me, Doctor Who certainly doesn't)? I'm being melodramatic here, but perhaps you get the point.

No wonder we're all emotional wrecks with all of this going on.

Of course I had the same thoughts when I considered reading the much-discussed Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. Now let me start at the beginning. I first heard of Percy Jackson when I saw the trailer for the 2010 movie which I found hilariously horrific. I then forgot all about it until my sister whom I mention far too often on this blog got all involved with fandoms. Which is my fault; I made her watch all Harry Potter movies with me in one week. Anyhow. We watched Percy Jackson since it's one of the bigger fandoms online. And we loved it! It was hilarious in a good way and although following many established rules of the fantasy/teenage/action/adventure genre(s), it felt like a very original and honest, down-to-earth movie. Logan Lerman, who effortlessly made my (and my sister's) Top 10 up-and-coming actors' list after his breathtaking performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, plays Percy Jackson and he's joined by a nice cast of well, okay actors. The point is that they're perfect for their roles though. No one stands out specifically and the actress that played Annabeth was a little hard to adjust to, but in the end I can't complain about the cast. Logan Lerman was supposed to be the center of it all, and how he was! With his innocent face and comical expressions, he nailed the role and held together the film, that wouldn't have been very cool with a weak lead. Having seen some of his interviews, it feels like the role of Percy doesn't stray very far from Lerman's own character, but I still think we can say that he's a wonderful young actor.

The movie also doesn't take itself to seriously, which may be one of its biggest advantages. This was my worst initial impression; that it was going to be one of these typical teenage fantasy movies that takes itself too seriously and shows nothing new. After all, Eragon had and has not been erased from my memory yet, however hard I'm trying. But Percy Jackson is light-hearted - it knows its weaknesses and it knows how to set its tone right. It knows what kind of movie it is, and that's not a common thing for any movie, to be honest. No, Percy Jackson isn't a masterpiece or a must-watch movie or whatever descriptions we have for a certain kind of movie - this is a movie that wants to entertain, not evoke deep thoughts in the audience. And it does an awesome job at that.

PJ also has the most awesome chapter titles ever.

Speaking from a literary point-of-view, the significance of the Percy Jackson novels is slightly different from that of the movie, while the goal remains the same: to entertain. Most book-tubers (yes, there is such a thing, and it's some of the coolest stuff I've recently discovered) fell head over heels in love with Percy Jackson against their expectations, while they considered the movie to be so-so or bad. The problem lies in reading the books first and then watching the movie, expecting a classic adaptation that tries to follow the books and they translate well to the screen, or they don't. Chris Columbus took a rather different approach to the movies, and judging from the Sea of Monsters trailer, the series are going to continue this way. Basically, they're doing their own thing and do not follow the book when it comes to details or what the characters look like - except Percy. Even the characters themselves can be different from the books or left out completely. But I can't see anything bad in this, because I loved the first Percy Jackson movie, independent of the books still. So if you, dear reader, consider diving into the realm of demi-gods, make sure to start your journey on a screen. That is not an e-book screen, we'll get back to that one later.

Apparently, the novels also have more of an ambition, or a different ambition, than the movies, which they execute very well. Rick Riordan being extremely well-versed in greek mythology, seems to be trying to educate youth in one of his favorite subjects - what sounds like dry, boring, irrelevant bullshit magically becomes a riveting journey, told through one of the funniest narrators I've ever encountered. Most American students do know a thing or two about Greek mythology, while I as a Danish student didn't know much more than the legend of Prometheus. I had read up on it last year though, struggling my way through Ovid's legendary Metamorphoses, which is an enormous book with Greek myths of varying degrees of... suspense. Loved some of 'em, hated others. My biggest issue was the sheer amount of Gods that could be found in this book - I simply couldn't remember which was which. I mean, they all sort of got a lot of children (which connects it very well to Percy Jackson) and transformed a lot of people and demi-gods and gods into... other stuff. Like trees. A lot of trees. Whatever, Rick Riordan made the world of Greek mythology, the different personas, come to live and almost relatable.

Which brings us back to our dear Perseus. From the minute you've read the title of chapter 1, there is no turning back - you're under the spell of the most up-and-coming demigod before you can say "This is a pen". By the way: this quote which has been all over the internet for a while now is from the movie and does not appear in the book. That's how cool Columbus is. Back to the topic though. Percy is an awesome narrator, which makes him more than another boring, sort of stupid good guy who accidentally becomes one of the most important figures in history. Yeah, there are a lot of Harry Potter similarities here, what with the funny friend Grover (Ron) and the brainy friend Annabeth (Hermione). But let's not get into that, since nothing can compare to Harry Potter. I really didn't mind that Riordan stole a bit here and there, it's what happens in fantasy and if the thing has its own character and its own story, I'm able to forgive the lightning thief (at least it's not on Percy's forehead). But back to Percy. He's just got Mr. Charming written all over him, I mean look at the GIF above. That's how I imagined Percy's face almost all the time - and it's probably what I looked like most of the time, reading this. Much of the reading pleasure comes from the original, ridiculous and witty metaphors. A few cool quotes: 

"I had become one with the plumbing." - The Lightning Thief

"Could an Olympian parent turn against his half-blood child? (...) I wondered if maybe I should've sent Poseidon that seashell pattern tie for Father's Day after all." - Titan's Curse

"Three years ago, Blackjack had been enslaved (...) until he'd escaped with a little help from my friends and me. I figured he'd rather have his mane braided like My Little Pony than be back here again." - The Last Olympian

Some more eye candy... appropriately.

As you can see from the quotes above (or maybe you can't), the book is written in very simple language, and adding to that the low quantity of material (the books are all around 200 pages long), you can easily find yourself lost in Percy Jackson for a month (or 3 weeks if it's the holidays) and then find yourself lonely and finished with the books when you still feel you started reading a day ago. Percy Jackson is not a masterpiece, I need to repeat this, it's not the next classic or anything like that. It's foreseeable. Of course he defeats, he conquers and he learns. But it's fun, it's easy, it's informative and entertaining and you can't help but love it after a while. And if you, like myself, find yourself craving more and more, there's always the movies. As I said, they're doing their own thing, but it's a cool thing as well. Let's hope it'll take them some years to film everything and that a new series will be out there for us to devoure. A new page that we dare not turn, but still do, a new poster at our theater. Reminding us of the sweet curse of fandom. 

... And don't forget, when you're in the midst of getting lost in fandom, tell yourself calmly:
This is a [book/movie/comic/song/tv show/anything similarly addicting]. This  is a [BOOK/MOVIE/COMIC/SONG/TV SHOW/ ANYTHING SIMILARLY ADDICITNG]!


  1. I've never read the books, but I thought the film had some of the most horrific acting I'd seen in a long time. Also it drove me nuts that the girl that is playing AnnaBeth is older than me (I'm 26) and playing a high schooler. I was really impressed with Lerman in Perks, I think he's matured quite a bit as an actor. Hopefully it carries over into this film. That chapter title is pretty awesome though!

    1. I agree, some of the actors were very stiff and especially some of the gods were quite over-the-top. Hades, for example, is portrayed in a much more humorist way in the books, while in the movie he's your typical stereotype villain.
      She is? Wow, that's interesting. I'd never have expected her to be older than 26. But then again, Logan is older than Percy is supposed to be as well, although I don't know how old he's supposed to be in the movies (in book #1 he's 12).
      Perhaps you'll try reading the books some time, but if you didn't like the first movie, I'm not sure you'll like the books either. Thanks for your comment, Brittani!


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