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Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief movie poster Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Theatrical Release: February 12, 2010 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Chris Columbus / Writers: Rick Riordan (novel), Craig Titley (screenplay)

Cast: Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson), Brandon T. Jackson (Grover Underwood), Alexandra Daddario (Annabeth Chase), Jake Abel (Luke Castellan), Sean Bean (Zeus), Pierce Brosnan (Mr. Brunner/Chiron), Steve Coogan (Hades), Rosario Dawson (Persephone), Melina Kanakaredes (Athena), Catherine Keener (Sally Jackson), Kevin McKidd (Poseidon), Joe Pantoliano (Gabe Ugliano), Uma Thurman (Medusa), Maria Olsen (Mrs. Dodds/Fury), Julian Richings (Ferryman), Bonita Friedericy (Hysterical Woman)

Buy Percy Jackson from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo Standalone DVD

By Kelvin Cedeno

Ever since the success of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, Hollywood has been trying to get other fantasy book series off the ground as the next big film franchise. While a few have succeeded (Twilight, the first of the Chronicles of Narnia) others have either done middling business (Eragon, The Golden Compass) or outright bombed (The Seeker, Inkheart). That hasn't stopped studios from pursuing other properties and adding colons to titles in anticipation of sequels. Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is one such attempt.

Released February 2010, the film fell somewhere in the middle of the recent fantasy book-to-film gross range. Its $89 million domestic earnings aren't too bad if the modest reported budget of $95 million is to be believed. Foreign attendance was more considerable, raking in $137 million. So while it did turn a bit of a profit, this wasn't the smash Fox obviously hoped for, and a sequel at this point isn't looking very likely. That's a bit of a shame as Percy Jackson is a solid picture.

With his demigod nature just revealed, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is handed a special pen for emergency use. Best friend and protector satyr Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) shows Percy around Camp Half-Blood.

In this universe, we find that the myths concerning Greek gods are, in fact, true. The gods have adapted to modern times and can easily blend among mortals. When Zeus's (Sean Bean) lightning bolt, the most powerful weapon found on Olympus, has been stolen, he believes the son of his brother Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) is in possession of it. He gives Poseidon until the summer solstice to bring the bolt back, or else a war will begin. The problem isn't just that Poseidon's son is innocent; the child has no idea of his parentage.

The boy in question, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), discovers all this soon enough when several different monsters come after him in search of the bolt. His best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) leads him to the only place demigods are safe: Camp Half-Blood. It is here that Percy learns there are other teens like him who have inherited unique abilities from godly parents.
He also finds out that not everyone is who they appear to be, as Grover reveals himself to be a satyr sworn to protect Percy. After various school difficulties, Percy finds Camp Half-Blood to be the one place he fits in, though this doesn't last long.

When Hades (Steve Coogan) captures Percy's mortal mother (Catherine Keener) in hopes of exchanging her life for Zeus' bolt, Percy sets out on a quest to rescue her. Joined by Grover and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), the headstrong daughter of Athena, Percy searches for the pearls of Persephone (Rosario Dawson). The pearls are scattered throughout the country, and obtaining each one leads to not only the location of the next, but ultimately to the whereabouts of the Underworld. There's danger to be had, though, as each pearl is guarded by monsters and other enchantments. As the summer solstice approaches, Percy must figure out how to rescue his mother and clear his name in the process.

In his flaming underworld monstrosity, Hades drops by looking for Percy. Percy (Logan Lerman) tries his hardest not to look into the deadly eyes of snake-haired Medusa (Uma Thurman).

When a novel is translated to film, fans of the source material are both curious and adamant about the adaptation in question. Having read this series beforehand, I went in with an open mind, as no matter how much I love a novel, I don't expect an exact regurgitation. What works on the page doesn't always work on film. As far as adaptations go, Percy Jackson takes quite a few liberties. Purists may disagree, but I find that for the most part, the film is an improvement over the novel. Perhaps that's because I didn't love the first book to begin with. I thought it was fun and breezy, but nothing more than that. It wasn't until later on that the series became more substantial and well-rounded.

This filming of the first book has a tone more consistent with later entries. Rick Riordan's novel is very much aimed at the middle school crowd. It is so extremely tongue-in-cheek that it's hard to take seriously. That the film aims more for a high school audience and grounds the dramatic aspects is, for the most part, a benefit. The only casualty is that, for all its fluffiness, the novel had a voice that separated it from the countless other modern fantasy series. This cinematic interpretation, on the other hand, admittedly feels a tad generic in how it presents these events.

Still, certain plot mechanics are more fine-tuned here. What was mostly a series of disconnected coincidences is linked together here and given purpose. The ending is also much more satisfying, even if it's perhaps the film's wildest departure from the source text. Readers will be disappointed to see that many significant characters have been dropped along with certain key sequences. While that might pose a problem for future installments, the streamlining works for a standalone movie.

Though many viewers will already be familiar with the world of Percy Jackson, many more will enter this film without any baggage. To them, this should provide some decent entertainment. The storyline is easy to follow, even if a great deal of exposition is thrown into the first act. The defining idea -- Greek gods in modern times -- is an intriguing one. Viewers growing weary of wizards and vampires will probably consider this a breath of fresh air, but story elements are still reminiscent of other properties.

Centaur Chiron (Pierce Brosnan) looks like the Hagrid of Camp Half-Blood, but as activities director, he seems to wield administrative power like Dumbledore. Greek gods are giants in their natural state, which explains why Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) might think his half-human son is such a tiny young man.

An impressive cast has been assembled for this picture, and it's thanks to them that this avoids feeling like B-grade fantasy. Their presence, however short, gives the story weight and acts as a sort of validation. Of these actors, Uma Thurman as Medusa makes the most indelible impression. She plays it neither too seriously nor too comically, striking just the right balance between camp and chills.
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Logan Lerman does fine as the lead, giving Percy enough spunk and cockiness to avoid blandness. Brandon T. Jackson is the most memorable of the three leads. While his character's essentially been reduced to the black comic relief (something that's admittedly shocking at first for those familiar with the novel), he still injects plenty of life into his scenes.

It's hard to find anything really wrong with Percy Jackson as a film. Questionable adaptation choices aside, perhaps the most legitimate concern is that there's very little character development. Percy, Annabeth, and Grover tend to feel like the plot is directing them rather than vice versa. When all is said and done, we may have spent a lot of time with these characters, but it doesn't feel like we've really gotten to know them. It's all surface level at best, and no one seems changed by the experiences at hand. Obviously there's plenty of time for that in the sequels if this becomes a full-fledged franchise, but that doesn't mean an initial entry can't exhibit some growth.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief doesn't break new ground in the world of contemporary fantasy. It mainly just adds Greek gods into the mix, but that alone is entertaining. Fans of the novels may be horrified at how much has been altered, but many of the choices made work for the better. Newcomers won't have to worry about being lost in the shuffle as the story is very clear cut and peppered with interesting set pieces. It's a shame that this is likely to be the only film in this series. If they were able to take a fairly fluffy book and make it this substantial, one can only imagine what they'd do with the more complex later ones. As it stands, Lightning Thief makes for an entertaining romp that's at least more finely tuned than that other Greek myth film released this year.

Percy Jackson is now available on DVD and in a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo. We look at the latter below.

Buy Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

BD: 2.35:1 Widescreen, DTS-HD 5.1 (English),
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English DVS, Spanish, French, Portuguese)
DVD: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English,
Descriptive Video Service), Dolby Surround (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: June 29, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Three single-sided discs (BD-50, DVD-9 & DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Blue Keepcase
Also available on Standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief comes to Blu-ray in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. No one should be surprised that the image is pretty much flawless. The film's color palette learns towards a warm, saturated look that's accurately represented here. The picture is free of digital defects, and the fine grain level demonstrates that no DNR has been applied. This consistently detailed transfer should please all viewers.

Even better is the DTS-HD 5.1 track. Fantasy adventures of this sort are perfect showcases for surround demonstrations, and this one's no exception. Sequences involving the hydra and the Underworld are rich with effects that completely immerse the listener. In fact, this is a rather loud film overall. The few quiet, dialogue-driven scenes are far outweighed by the more elaborate set pieces, though speech never needs to fight to be heard. Likewise, the score adds scope to the sound field without becoming overpowering. The track is just as outstanding as one would hope.

The DVD's transfer is terrific by that format's standards. The picture is satisfyingly spotless and sharp, while the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack offers an unusually active and dynamic experience.

A-ha! Rock star-like Hades (Steve Coogan) and his dissatisfied lady Persephone (Rosario Dawson) appear in an extended scene. How you react to an attic owl discovery is very telling, or at least the "Discover Your Powers" quiz thinks so.

BONUS FEATURES and MENUS

This Blu-ray release adds to the popular trend of family film combos supplying three different discs for high-definition, standard-definition, and mobile devices. While the standard DVD contains several supplements, most bonus features remain exclusive to the Blu-ray disc.

All in HD unless otherwise noted, the Blu-ray extras begin with ten deleted scenes (14:03). These mostly add extra beats and moments to existing scenes. The two most notable cuts are an alternate introduction to Annabeth more in line with the novel and a scene about Grover's past that foreshadows future installments. None of the footage seems essential, though none of it's particularly worthy of deletion, either.

What comes as a disappointment is the lack of Ares, God of War.
The character played a significant part in the novel, and Ray Winstone was reportedly cast in the role. A few brief shots from his main scene appear in the trailer, but in the final film he ends up being a blink-and-you-miss him background extra. Also conspicuously gone is the original filmed ending that was used as the teaser trailer. Fans of the source material would've loved to have seen these, and their exclusion reeks of a missed opportunity.

"Secrets of the Gods" is an interactive feature that presents minute-long biographies of the following 14 characters: Percy, Annabeth, Grover, Luke, Chiron, Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Athena, Apollo, Persephone, Medusa, Minotaurs, and Hydras. While brief and redundant for fans of either the novels or Greek mythology, they still provide a few decent notes that the movie itself misses.

Next is a "Discover Your Powers Quiz." Here, players select how they would react to various scenarios, and through this, are told which god they are most like. It's a pretty lame game that doesn't seem very accurate (this reviewer got two different gods after playing twice). As a note of interest, actor Brandon T. Jackson appears momentarily at the end to announce your result.

Author Rick Riordan says a few words about his novels in "The Book Comes to Life." Though Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) is portrayed as a warrior, her appearance on the DVD's main menu is paired with the LED video wall from Las Vegas' fictional Lotus Casino.

"The Book Comes to Life" (4:24) is a short interview with author Rick Riordan. He explains how the Percy Jackson series started as bedtime stories to his son after he ran out of Greek myths to tell. Director Chris Columbus appears shortly towards the end to discuss how he became involved with the project. While the remarks are fairly interesting, there isn't enough substance here to make an impression.

"Inside Camp Half Blood" (5:09) takes a look at the residence of the film's demigods. Several crew members compare the final design to both the book's description and their initial concepts. Outside of that, there's not much else to be gleamed outside of footage showing the extras goofing off.

We continue the "brief-featurettes-that-could've-been-more" tour with "On Set with Brandon T. Jackson" (5:56).


This clip follows the actor while filming on location in both New York and Tennessee. That is intercut with some EPK sound bites from him. While Jackson is a likable host, too little is shown of him at work. For example, the end shows Jackson on his last day of filming in between takes, but we never actually see him perform his final scene or any celebrations and goodbyes that may have followed.

"Meet the Demigods" (3:49) is more EPK fluff from the main actors. Here they summarize the storyline and their character arcs. Some behind-the-scenes footage scattered throughout is mildly diverting, but that's about it.

The final featurette, "Composing for the Gods: A Conversation with Christophe Beck" (3:29) (SD) is also the most substantial. Heard, but not seen, Beck explains his approach to the film score and how Chris Columbus helped shape it. It's still too short to be anything major, but it feels noticeably less promotional than the other pieces.

Finally, the welcome inclusion of the theatrical trailer (2:24) rounds out the supplements.

Both the BD and DVD open with trailers for Fox Digital Copy, The A-Team, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Marley & Me: The Terrible 2's, Space Chimps 2: Zartog Strikes Back, and the Percy Jackson & the Olympians book series. Additional previews can found among the bonus material for Tooth Fairy, Flicka 2, and Fox Family Favorites.

Of the above features, only five of the deleted scenes, the "Discover Your Powers" quiz, "The Book Comes to Life," and the trailer make it onto DVD. This adds to the troubling trend of withholding viable supplements from DVD to make the Blu-ray more enticing. Too bad that doesn't work here since there's still virtually nothing one can learn about the film's production that can't be found in online press junkets and interviews.

Both the Blu-ray and DVD's main menu feature a montage of film clips and publicity stills set to a piece of grand score. The BD's pop-up menu expands upward and, in the annoying Fox tradition, presents one menu selection at a time within a small box. The DVD's character-themed submenus are silent and static.

All three discs come housed in a standard blue case. Inside, a pamphlet supplies the digital copy activation code and advertises a Fox application. A small sticker on the case itself contains a special password that leads to an online sneak peek at the graphic novel adaptation of The Lightning Thief.

Percy (Logan Lerman) displays the second of the three American blue pearls of Persephone that he, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) must retrieve before entering Hades.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief doesn't radically change the face of the fantasy genre, nor does it intend to. Its aims to divert, and as light entertainment, it works. The Blu-ray provides exceptional image and sound, but the bonus features are underwhelming, to say the least. Loyal fans of the books may want to rent this in case they this adaptation is too removed for their liking, but those who enjoy the genre as a whole should like this well enough. It doesn't offer the best that fantasy has to offer, but it's still a pleasant way to spend two hours.

More on the Blu-ray & DVD Combo / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy the DVD / The Books

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Reviewed July 6, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Screencaps from standard DVD. Images copyright 2010 20th Century Fox, Dune Entertainment, 1492 Pictures, Sunswept Entertainment,
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