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

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 just 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. The foreign gross was more considerable, raking in $137 million. So while it did turn a bit of a profit, it 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.

Grover Underwood (Brandon T. Jackson), Annabeth Chase (Alexandra Daddario), and Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) all marvel at the sight of the Lotus Hotel and Casino.

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 difficulties with various schools, 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.

It's not everyday you can say your professor's a centaur, though that happens to be the case in regards to Mr. Brunner, a.k.a. Chiron (Pierce Brosnan). As daughter of wisdom goddess Athena, Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) is able to center her gift towards battle strategy and precision.

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.

Those who have trouble keeping their eyes off Uma Thurman may need to exhibit some self-control in regards to her role as the legendary Medusa.

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.
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.

Buy Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, English DVS)
Dolby Surround (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: June 29, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Also available in Blu-ray Disc + DVD + Digital Copy Combo

VIDEO and AUDIO

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief comes to DVD in an anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Thanks to Fox's persistent belief in sending out heavily-compressed DVD-Rs for review, neither the image quality nor the Dolby Digital 5.1 track can be properly assessed. Hopefully, we can revise this after street date, when the studio makes final product available.

Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) dejectedly tells Percy of how he once failed to protect Zeus' daughter Thalia in this deleted scene. How you'd react to your next door neighbor being struck by lightning could (somehow, someway) help you discover your powers.

BONUS FEATURES and MENUS

Percy Jackson continues the alarming trend of DVDs serving a paltry platter of supplements alongside a meatier Blu-ray. The DVD extras begin with five deleted scenes (7:57).
Four of these are actually just minor extensions of existing scenes. The fifth, a scene that gives some of Grover's backstory, isn't relevant to this installment, but becomes vital later on.

More important than what's included here is what's missing. Ray Winstone was cast as Ares, the god of war, but later had all of his scenes cut. In the final film, he appears in the background of a single shot as a "blink-and-miss-him" cameo. Considering how important the character was in the source material, the lack of these scenes here are most conspicuous. It's possible they may appear on the Blu-ray (which adds five additional scenes), but at this point, there's no way of knowing.

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 at the end to announce your result.

Author Rick Riordan briefly explains the origins of the Percy Jackson novels in "The Book Comes to Life." Percy pulls a Moses as his father Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) fades in behind him on the DVD's main menu.

"The Book Comes to Life" (4:24) is a brief 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 stories told are fairly interesting, there isn't enough substance here to make an impression.

Finally, the welcome inclusion of the theatrical trailer (2:24) rounds out the supplements. The Blu-ray includes all of the above along with five additional featurettes (and the aforementioned extra deleted scenes).
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We look forward to assessing them in the near-future.

The disc opens 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 within the bonus material for Tooth Fairy, Flicka 2, and Fox Family Favorites.

The main menu features a mix of film clips and promotional stills set to the film's score. The submenus are all static and silent, each one with a different character theme.

Percy (Logan Lerman) hastily retrieves one of Persephone's pearls, each of which helps lead to the underworld and can be used for instant transportation. Hades (Steve Coogan), with Persephone (Rosario Dawson) by his side, is sure that Percy is indeed the lightning thief and is determined to get the bolt any way he can.

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 as light entertainment, and on that level, it works. The screener copy received for this review is not indicative of the final presentation, but it is apparent that the DVD will be a half-hearted effort in the bonus features department. Loyal fans of the novel may want to rent this first in case they find this adaptation too removed for their liking, but those who enjoy the genre as a whole should enjoy 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.

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Reviewed June 16, 2010.



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