Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review - The Lightning Thief (movie)

We took the kids to see The Lightning Thief last weekend. Jason and I had read the book but nobody else in the family had. We all came away from the movie laughing and glad we'd gone. It was a great family experience. We all enjoyed the movie but the general reviews were a little mixed.

One of my biggest worries going in was that it might be too intense for Julia and maybe for Andrew. Julia's biggest complaint was that it was too loud at times (although she did legitimately hide from the visuals at least twice). Andrew agreed that it was loud but didn't have any other complaints. And they both slept through the night fine afterwards. There were a handful of sequences that were overly scary for young kids…many of which were in the trailer (hence my original nervousness). The transformation of Mrs. Dodds into a Fury, the Minotaur, Hades at the camp, the Hydra and a few segments in Hades' palace. Of those, it was the Hydra and the Hellhounds that got to Julia. She quickly recovered though and enjoyed the rest of the film.

I was taken aback by some of the cheesy dialog and presentation. Riordan's writing may be for kids or tweens, but it was still witty, tight and smart. I definitely didn't get that same vibe from the writing in the film. Some of the acting was a bit staid as well (I though Uma Thurman made a good Medusa but her performance felt 'phoned in'…and Pierce Brosnan didn't sell his role to me either). But for a kids adventure movie, the script and the acting worked. The special effects were fabulous (though the satyr and centaur effects didn't look quite 'right' to me). The pacing and action was good. Overall, it was a great adventure movie.

As for the overall reactions to the film…as I said, we all enjoyed it. Jason and I talked a bit about some of our disappointments having read the books. And honestly, it's those differences that seem to be our main complaints.

Not all of the differences bothered me, but while watching the film, the following complaints nagged at me:
  • No explanation of why the gods and mythological locations are in America rather than Greece
  • What's up with Grover becoming a semi-sex-crazed comic relief character?
  • The action at the camp was way TOO SHORT (I didn't feel any real time lapse….it felt like he was awake at the camp for maybe two days….which suggests that ALL of his skill is from instinct rather than training)
  • The sexual innuendos and flirtations from the Nymphs and daughters of Aphrodite
  • With the camp….so many key elements were removed:
    • No 'sorting' (maybe they didn't want it to be too much like Harry Potter's sorting?) into tents
    • No Clarisse, Dionysus or other camp characters
    • No mention of Thalia or her tree or the barrier around the camp
    • No oracle or prophecy or official quest…rather, Percy & co just sneak out of camp with no clear idea of what they're doing
  • No meeting with Ares on the quest
  • No "waiting room" before entering Hades
  • The Underworld is all 'hell fire and brimstone' rather than actually presenting the different degrees of the Underworld as in the book (and mythology)
  • No frantic escape while being pulled into Tartarus
  • No Cerberus
  • No Helm of Darkness
  • Percy's amazing control over the powers of water
The ending was slightly modified with a battle atop the Empire State Building and across the skyline of New York instead of a more simple approach to Olympus followed by a later confrontation with the traitor. I felt that this presentation was certainly visually exciting and worked out pretty well.

In spite of the complaints, I really did enjoy this movie. It was a lot of fun and a good adventure. It was generally appropriate for kids, even fairly young kids (Julia is 5 and was very borderline). Language and violence weren't over the top and the innuendo was generally brief and (likely) over the head of young kids. As a family film, it does well (should satisfy the same sort of audience as for the early Harry Potter films).

I look forward to seeing how well they work through the rest of the series (especially considering the fact that they removed a few key building blocks through their omissions). I suspect the movie will be well received and it will be a popular series. I won't mind if future films stray from the books to a degree, so long as they provide a bit more accuracy in terms of the mythological aspect and as long as the bits they remove from the books are truly peripheral (pulling out elements that can make a plot stronger just seems silly to me).

If you haven't read the book, you should have fun. If you have read the book, try not to be too critical of the differences. Young kids or easily frightened kids should wait a bit or have parents there to cover their eyes/ears. Overall, it's a fun experience. The story and characters are very creative and a lot of fun. If you had to choose between the book and the movie, take the book…but you needn't avoid the movie.

3 out of 5 stars


Lisa Moore said...

Yeah we didn't love it. We had a bunch of giggly girls behind us that thought every cheesy joke was hilarious. It bugged me how much they changed the movie from the books and I wonder if they will even be able to do sequels. The whole story just seemed a bit rushed. It was definitely targeted toward tween and older children.

Crystal said...

Great review! I was hoping to see the Oracle, Clarisse and Ares too. But overall I enjoyed the movie.

Phoenix said...

Glad you liked this! I'm definitely gonna check it out. :)

Trulee said...

We're heading there next weekend. I'm glad I read you review first. Now I'll be able to prepare myself. My sister and her family saw it and they liked it better than Harry Potter. (I think that must due to a preference for mythology over plain magic.) Sounds like my boys will definitely enjoy it!

Tales of Whimsy said...

I think I will see the movie first. Whenever I read the book first, the movie disappoints.

Thanks for the bullet points.