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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Fox // PG // June 29, 2010
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Bill Gibron | posted June 19, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
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R E P L A Y
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The Product:
Just like the grander stories in The Bible, ancient Greek religion - otherwise called mythology by those unable to separate their own fiction from fact - usually gets short shrift, cinematically speaking. Sure, there have been dozens of dopey peplum, sword and sandal epics more interested in babes and bodices than the actual gods and goddesses. We've also had the handiwork of stop motion genius Ray Harryhausen, though he often played fast and loose with the legendary truth in order to serve his sensational F/X needs. Indeed, Tinseltown typically does not do sacred spectacle very well. Either they are too scared to insult someone, or more than likely, believe that can come up with something better than icons and stories that have lasted several millennium. In the case of the recent Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, it's a bit of both. On the fear side is a studio that's afraid of yet another failed attempt at a Harry Potter like payday. And on the new and improved side is a filmmaker that has his issues and a property that probably plays better on the page instead of loaded with paltry punchlines and slapped onto celluloid.

The Plot:
As things begin, we are told of the actual existence of the ancient gods of Greece. Zeus in particular is very angry at his brother Poseidon. Apparently, the main man's magical lightning bolt has been stolen, and each accuses the other of using the crime as a means of starting an all out war on Olympus. Zeus believes that Poseidon's son Percy Jackson is to blame and sends out all the various and sundry creatures of myth - harpies, centaurs, minotaurs, and hydras - after the clueless teen. When he learns of his ancestry from his mother, our young hero teams up with half-man, half goat protector Grover, the battle ready daughter of the goddess Athena, Annabeth and demi-god mentor Chiron to take on the various enemies of good. They include Medusa, Hades, Persephone, and all the other clashing forces of these timeless titans. In the end, they hope to uncover the truth and discover the real crook before ancient Armageddon is unleashed.

The DVD:
The problem with Percy Jackson and the Olympians can be pared down to a clash of concepts. On the one hand you have a work of children's literature that tries - somewhat successfully, one might add - to bring the tales of Zeus, Poseidon, and the rest of the antiquated deities to a cynical, post-modern audience. Within the often uneven film adaptation, director Chris Columbus and his screenwriters find a way of balancing the needs of the 'now' with the reverence of the 'then'. Granted, the casting is a little too Nickelodeon heavy and the standard studio demographical "dumbing down" has occurred, but for the most part, everything Edith Hamilton made middle schoolers cringe over is there in painted prose perfection. But then there is the contradictory need to make everything hip and cool, like the motion picture version of Poochy from The Simpsons. In the character of Grover, a satyr with a street smart mouth, actor Brandon T. Jackson manages the near impossible - a live action version of a failed FOX CG animation affront. Loud, obnoxious, and overloaded with pathetic pop culture references, his desire to turn everything into a joke almost singlehandedly destroys the film's sense of wonder and adventure.

Luckily, Columbus is smart enough to stay within his strengths - that is, when his budget allows him to. After helming the first two Harry Potter films, the man responsible for Adventures in Babysitting and Mrs. Doubtfire brought us Rent and I Love You, Beth Cooper. Not the strongest run of recent efforts and yet for a $95 million proposed epic, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief looks incredibly slapdash. It's almost as if the film was rushed into theaters to capitalize on something that no one was quite sure they were trying to benefit from. The result is computer work that looks artificial, uninspired art and character design, and several action sequences that reek of motherboard manipulation. Of course, no one expects abject realism from a movie dealing with the members of a long dead culture's creative way of coping with the mysteries of the universe, but at least someone like Terry Gilliam finds a way to make his evident magic act resonate. Here, if it's not being conjured by a couple of geeks behind a monitor, it's basically not worth showing. Even when the backdrop is designed to be otherworldly and inventive, it doesn't look like something organic or natural.

It's the cast that will keep you engage here, long after the scope and storytelling have stumbled and stalled. Sean Bean's Zeus is a decent veiled villain, while Kevin McKidd's Poseidon is a forced father figure. As for the various pure baddies, Uma Thurman makes a fetching Gorgon, Steve Coogan is a cock rocking Hades, and as Persephone, Rosario Dawson has never looked better. Indeed, among the adults, the only odd ball is Pierce Brosnan. Stuck in a costume that cuts off the lower half of his body and bolstered by some incredibly awkward imaginary prosthetics, his hero instructor Chiron seems both stoic and awfully uncomfortable. With the kids, it's a different story. Lead Logan Lerman does a great job of balancing the present with the hidden talents of his parentage. Similarly, Alexandra Daddario's Annabeth is compelling if underwritten. That just leave Mr. Jackson, and the less said about him the better. Overall, Percy Jackson is a noble attempt, a not always successful jumpstart to a franchise that, sadly, will probably never see a second installment. Had Columbus had more control over its creation, one could envision a very special beginning to a potentially intriguing series. As it stands, we have a single movie that almost works, and that's about it.

The Video:
As per this critic's policy, Screener copies of DVDs are not awarded points for video or audio. If FOX does send a final product version of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief to the site, this paragraph will be updated accordingly.

The Audio:
As per this critic's policy, Screener copies of DVDs are not awarded points for video or audio. If FOX does send a final product version of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief to the site, this paragraph will be updated accordingly.

The Extras:
There are four basic bonus features offered (there may be more on the Blu-ray, and there may be more on the eventual DVD release - remember, this is not final product). The first is a series of deleted scenes that really add very little to the storyline. Second is a interactive "quiz" which allows you to discover you own personal "powers". It a trifle. Then comes a EPK like look at the book series, the author Rick Riordan, and the process of bringing the tomes to life. Finally, there's a theatrical trailer and a collection of FOX-based "Coming Soon" ads. That's it. No commentary or complicated Making-of. No other link to the source material - i.e., the myths - and the movie.

Final Thoughts:
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief has a lot going for it. There are likeable leads, solid supporting performances, an engaging storyline, and some decent, if underdone spectacle. But there are also a couple of elements present that will almost surely derail your appreciation of the entire package. While it doesn't deserve to be tossed alongside the other attempt cash-ins on the hugely successful Harry Potter, there's is still not enough here to warrant complete praise. Balancing out the pros and cons and taking into consideration that this critic has only seen a screener copy of the proposed digital presentation, a Recommended rating will be issued. Kids will probably adore all the monsters and magic. Parents might actually get a kick out of it too. Perhaps one day someone will make the definitive Greek Mythology movie (and NO, it wasn't you Clash of the Titans remake...). Until then, Zeus will have to take comfort from Moses and the gang. When it comes to religion of any kind, Hollywood has a hard time wrapping its pointed little head around it. Something like Percy Jackson is the result.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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