From Greek to chic

J.K Rowling’s beloved conception of a boy wizard who discovers his true identity in the world of talking spiders and sleek flying broomsticks in his quest for an ultimate showdown with the Dark Lord is surely the template for the newest kid on the old fantasy block.

They say that imitation is the best form of flattery. But I digress.

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The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan’s bestselling children fantasy that is alike Harry Potter in so many of its elements, takes its shot at joining older and more established film franchises with its first big screen movie adaptation. The story gives a contemporary, pop culture twist to ancient Greek mythology, making it all the more fun and appealing to a young audience: the Empire State Building is actually Olympus, home of the gods, the Underworld is below Hollywood, and every Greek god that lives in the heavens also has an updated 21st century persona. (Well, if I were Hades, I’d take a Mick Jagger human form too!)

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As with previous fantasy novels that have been brought onto the silver screen, the books are infinitely better. While the first of the Percy Jackson & The Olympians print series was lavish on details of its hero’s epic adventure to the Underworld and his side quest to find out more about his heritage (his mother is mortal, while his dad is an ancient Greek god), the movie had streamlined the book’s 375 pages to a 119-minute film that’s bigger on its visual effects than its flimsy plot.

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Zeus (Sean Bean), ruler of Olympus and god of the skies, accuses Percy Jackson, son of the sea god Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), of stealing his master lightning bolt that’s the most powerful one on earth and the heavens as well. The teenager has 10 days before the summer solstice to return the bolt to its master, before an apocalyptic war so disastrous and destructive even mankind won’t be spared, begins between the gods.

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So now, Percy must travel to Half-Blood Camp, a lousy reference to the title of the sixth Harry Potter book, where he will train in swordfighting and learn more of his long ancestral past before he begins on his dangerous quest to the Underworld.

Joining him on his Herculean mission across America is the daughter of the goddess Athena, Annabeth Chase, who is played terribly by Alexandra Daddario because she tries too hard to ape Hermione Granger, and the satyr Grover Underwood, who’s reinvented by actor and funnyman Brandon T. Jackson to reflect a more comedic personality onscreen than the timid role he played in the book.

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Undoubtedly the best looking of the ensemble cast, Logan Lerman (3:10 to Yuma) stars as the titular hero. His cheeky grins and mythical god image are set to put him on the radar of screaming fan girls worldwide, even though he makes you barf whenever he tries to get all emotional during the film. The scene where Percy had discovered the sacrifices that his mum had made for him after she had supposedly passed away is a reason enough to send the actor for some classes that the scriptwriter should tag along for as well. “She did all these for me? Why didn’t she tell me earlier?” says the boy who has just lost his mother, with a few drops of teardrops glistening in his sparkly blue eyes. Double barf.

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The strong supporting cast that includes Pierce Brosnan as Chiron, trainer of heroes and half-man half-horse, Uma Thurman as she vamps it up as the seductive Medusa (who has little snake friends on her head where her hair should be), and Sean Bean, fans may remember him as Boromir from the Lord of the Rings series, who plays the angry lightning god.

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However, the action sequences were jam-packed with fast cuts and spectacular digital effects that are worth the value of the movie tickets alone. This comes as no surprise given director Chris Columbus’ track record with big budget action-packed pictures like 2 of the Harry Potter film franchise and the Fantastic Four films. Whether Percy is battling the gargantuan Minotaur or the 5-headed fire-breathing Hydra, the film is rapidly paced to keep you at the edge of your seat while throwing up some dazzling lighting bolts and nimble swordplay in the air.

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By the first 60 minutes, most people who are able to follow the poorly developed story would have guessed the identity of the original lightning thief already, which is such a letdown considering that the author of the books had gone to such great lengths to keep his readers in suspense right till the last chapters. Screenwriter Craig Titley had also forgone some of the breathtaking moments in the book, such as the first time Percy had learnt to will water to his advantage in Half-Blood Camp and the taming of the ferocious 3-headed dog Cerebus by the sharp-witted Annabeth, for a much looser narrative that would have buckled in the film if not for its strong visual support. Perhaps the director should have been more faithful to the original story that made Riordan’s book a major bestseller.

The ultimate showdown in the book between Ares, the war god, and Percy was also scrapped in favor of a completely new face-off where the lead character summons water in air bending and gravity-defying fashion to defeat the main antagonist. The consequences of doing so may spill over into the subsequent films where the additional arc of Percy’s bitter relationship with Ares will call for additional screen time and development.

Forged with danger, suspense, action, evil dark lords, and even a cheesy romantic subplot, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief is poised for big numbers at the box office. The heroic saga made and marketed to capture of some of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings colossal fan base will inevitably do so, as movie-going audiences get their fix of magic and glitter in a year that’s quickly shaping up to become one in celestial territory, given the upcoming release of mega blockbuster Clash of the Titans on Jan 25 in Singapore that is also based on the legends of greek god Perseus.

UrbanWire gives Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief 2.5 out of 5 popcorns.

Release: 11 Feb (Singapore)

Duration: 119 minutes

Rating: PG

Language: English

Genre: Fantasy / Action

Director: Chris Columbus

Screenwriter: Craig Titley

Cast: Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Brandon T. Jackson, Steve Coogan, Uma Thurman, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Kevin McKidd