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The Clear Alternative to Harry Potter

Movie Title: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
Spoilers: No

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Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
comes from a novel by Rick Riordan. Chris Columbus, the director of several Harry Potters, directed the movie. While both series' are aimed at building stories about ancient times, magic, and myth for young audiences, the two are not in competition. The Potter audience wants to become more intimate with the characters and the story, but with Percy, it's about the action and pacing - and believe it or not - the educational value.

It's been ten years, and a generation has grown up with Potter and the gang. They love everything and everyone to do with Potter. They've come to idolize them (while jerks like me just make obscene remarks from the sidelines about Hermiones Granger).

The telltale difference with Percy Jackson fans is that they tend to favor lightheartedness and bookoos of action over a prolonged story with more sentimentally significant figures. And so it is that a fan not happy with the one will probably like the other (if they like either).

My higher marks go to Jackson. The characters are likable with just a few moments of a glance. You like everyone. No one was miscast and the frequent breaks into adolescent humor are not intolerable. That's a big plus! It's possible to be funny, or in the absence of being funny, just animated. That the bulk of us can live with.

Everyone here - and not just the star-loaded cast - works. Everyone on the set absolutely loves the parts they play, and it shows (it always shows). They are confident that they are the stars of the show or else needful helpers to let the stars shine. That is in order if a movie is to succeed.

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) thought he was an ordinary kid, with worsening ADHD and dyslexia. But then he discovers that his brain was meant to read ancient Greek, and his (capital F-ather) is Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), god of the seas. Poseidon, together with Zeus (Sean Bean) and Hades (Steve Coogan), were the "big time" gods. All the others were considered subordinate to them, shuffled around the pantheon with time and local conquerings.

It's a big revelation to learn that you are a demigod, like Hercules and Perseus, and that your professor of mythology doesn't believe in mythology. Jackson's professor (Pierce Brosnan) knows it to be real and is himself the centaur, Chiron.

But suddenly, Percy is swept into a world where sword fights and the coolest of epic old-time battles actually happen on the training grounds for the gods and their offspring. Percy comes to notice and take a liking to Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena, the goddess of war and strategy. But this training is for a reason. Percy finds himself to be of eminent importance.

A young Jackson learns that the gods he has been studying about in school and have been relegated to the realm of unimportance in everyday life are in fact real. That's a big revelation. And then he learns that Zeus thinks him to be the lightening thief. Yes, gods can be stolen from and often forget things because they leave them lying around just like humans do…even very important things, like freaking lightening bolts that are of indescribable power.

Percy finds himself on the receiving end of the wrath of the highest god, and a war is fixing to break out that would level civilization. And Uma Thurman plays a totally creepy but irresistible Medusa! Had to throw that last bit in there.

The plot exemplifies what is wrong with all religion—it has holes in whatever form it is found. But who the flip cares because you can't analyze religion anyway. It's not to be taken seriously, but is just serious enough to be soaked up by the young who are looking for adventure and/or need direction. Or, in the case of the gullible and weak-minded, religion is learned to give their lives meaning. Whether it's Zeus or Jesus, they serve the same purpose for humans by supplying the ingredients for fun or the means to build a working life philosophy.

As with most of the movie, the themes of death and hell are dealt with ever so flippantly. The pain and misery of seeing burning, hungry souls should be terrifying, but you're not supposed to think about it, not for long. Just see the grim elements as momentary justifications for everything that is going on.

The silliness of the plot has to be intentional. If you're a god, Mt. Olympus can be reached from the empire state building. Hollywood puts you literally right at death's (Hadeas') doorstep (not just metaphorically like your pastor says when he condemns Harry Potter and the like as satanic). Little shoes with wings half the size of a feather enable you to fly atop the highest clouds.

Precious stones for teleportation have been left in a Parthenon replica in Nashville, Tennessee for who knows how long, and no one has stolen them or knows of their power. Worse yet, Percy's mother lives with a smelly fat man to keep the smell of divinity of her demigod son away from the noses of the gods who might find him and harm him. Sounds too corny to dignify by watching, and maybe it is.

Religion, like all mythology, has holes. Religion is stupid and the holes can't be filled in. Why not suspend skepticism and find some humor in those ridiculous things if you're one to think about them? But that last bit about the smelly fat man IS grounds to decide not to watch the movie. I wouldn't blame you.

The gods are the gods...selfish and shot with human frailties (since we created them). They lose things and they knock up earth women and have offspring by them. They become family men for a while and then neglect their heavenly duties. So, the king of the gods makes a ruling that divides families—no gods can live with or interact with their demi-sons or daughters. Call it heavenly red tape. Gods have rules. Gods are dicks.

PJ is quite a show-off, a well-stirred mix of creativity, action, and low-grade humor for a youthful crowd. It boasts great special affects and extravagant action...and damnit, it's informative!

When things drift from being about alleged myths that are found to be facts based on Greek gods and their creepy hideouts, everything that is said is either shallow or a juvenile attempt at humor. The story and the execution of it may speak to the imagination, but the characters are never handled seriously enough to keep the adults occupied.

I'd still take this over Harry Potter any day.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG (for scenes of peril and dangerous encounters)
Director: Chris Columbus
Summary: A teenager discovers he's the descendant of a Greek god and sets out on an adventure to settle an on-going battle between the gods.
Starring: Logan Lerman "Percy Jackson," Brandon T. Jackson "Grover," Alexandra Daddario "Annabeth," Jake Abel "Luke," Sean Bean "Zeus," Pierce Brosnan "Mr. Brunner / Chiron," Steve Coogan "Hades," Rosario Dawson "Persephone," Melina Kanakaredes "Athena," Catherine Keener "Sally Jackson," Kevin McKidd "Poseidon," Uma Thurman "Medusa"
Genre: Adventure / Action / Fantasy
Trailer

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