Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Lightning Thief

This weekend was my daughter's birthday party. It's a sleepover involving no less than ten adolescent girls. As you might expect, I make it a point to be out of the house as much as possible...

Every year I take Jacob and go to a movie during this event. This year I looked at the movie choices and it came down to The Tooth Fairy, The Spy Next Door, or The Lightning Thief. It seemed like The Lightning Thief was the best of these choices, so we figured we'd give it a try.

But first... This movie is based on a book, and I have a general rule about movies based on books: READ THE BOOK FIRST. This stems from reading the hobbit as a kid and then seeing this on TV. In the book the Hobbit, the Arkenstone is described as, basically, the most beautiful gem ever created. It has an inner light and also reflects every light that shines on it. How do you imagine the most beautiful gem ever created? What does it look like? In the tv special it looked like a chunk of white plaster with gems stuck in it. Not EXACTLY how I would envision the most beautiful gem ever... From that point on, I have made it a point to always read the book first, so I have my images in my head instead of seeing the movie maker's images when I read the book.

So, on Friday I took Jacob to Barnes and Noble, and bought him the book. I told him that if he wanted to go to the movie, he had to read this first. It's 375 pages and he is almost 9. Sounds daunting, but he pulled it off. He is a pretty good reader. After he went to bed I took the book and read it so that I would not be waiting for him to finish it the next day.

The book:

The book is delightful. It is a little linear (go here, fight monster, go here, fight monster, go here, fight monster) but still a good read. The main characters are 12 year old kids, and the book does a decent job of grappling with the problem of how three young kids would get from New York to California without taking a plane and not being old enough to drive.

There are really great moments in the book, my favorite of which is when they go up in the St. Louis Arch and encounter a fire breathing chihuahua. Throughout the book, Percy receives small amounts of cryptic help from his very famous father (if you have no idea what these books are about, Percy is the son of a greek god). There are good characters that they encounter, and it's a fun and easy read from start to finish. If you have a child who is into fantasy, this is a great book for them to read. It bears some similarities to Harry Potter, but that doesn't really detract from the book.

The movie:

Let me start by saying this: I am not one of those people who thinks it makes me sound intelligent to say "the book was better than the movie" or just, by default, always likes the book better. For example,Jurassic Park is one of the best books ever written, and a pretty good movie as well. I enjoyed both (well, I was completely obsessed by the book, but that's not for this discussion. No book has ever grabbed me as that one did). The Hunt for Red October was an awesome book, and an awesome movie. The best part was, the book was a better book, and the movie was a better movie. To me, that's exactly how adaptations should be done. Take the best stuff from the book and re-write it so that it is appropriate for the screen and has the right level of action and suspense.

On the other hand, it is possible to follow a book too closely. The film Screamers showed us this. I can't think of a movie that followed the book more closely, and failed so spectacularly as a movie. The book was amazing, the same thing as a movie...not so much. I went to see the movie on opening weekend, and was completely underwhelmed. So was everyone else, as the movie was a total flop.

So, how does all of this tie in to The Lightning Thief? Simple. This movie bears very little resemblance to the book. Some of the characters are the same, but the plot is very different. Not only is it very different, the main villain of the book is entirely absent from the movie! The movie took a few characters, a couple of plot elements, and a general premise from the book. That's it. Which is a huge shame because the book could have made a really great movie. There was an attempt to make the movie have a bit of Lord of the Rings scale and feel, which is also unfortunate because this is NOT a book about epic battles and hundreds of people with swords. It is a story about three twelve year old kids going on an adventure in a world in which the greek gods really exist. But the movie is a story about three 16-18 year old teenagers who drive around the country looking for pearls and then go visit Hades.

The plot is very weak and rather disjointed. The effects are fine, but nothing special. The characters have no depth to them at all, and readers of the book will be left very disappointed. My son was, and he is not exactly a movie critic. The weirdest part of all of this is that the book reads a bit like a movie, and you get the feeling it would be a great movie. Unfortunately it was not to be. This movie falls short in so many ways it's hard to fathom. Pass on this one.

But read the book.


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