Wednesday, February 24, 2010


JM: So, K, are we ready to talk mythology?

KM: Sure thing, J.

JM: Okay, in the mythology of modern epic filmmaking, Chris Columbus is a villain worse than Hades, and his latest film, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, is like sitting in the Underworld for two hours.

KM: It felt like longer than two hours, to be honest.

JM: I'm surprised it didn't run longer, given Columbus' bloated, overlong installments of the Harry Potter series. But this introduction to the Percy Jackson series -- an adaptation of the first of Rick Riordan's five youth novels -- is even worse than Columbus' clumsy, pedestrian Potter entries. By far. This movie is heinous.

 Continue reading after the jump.....

KM: I was pretty disappointed. Going in, I was so excited for our son since he read all the books and was so looking forward to seeing it. Plus, when you have three children and the age span is pretty expansive, a parent can long for a more "mature" movie than the typical Disney fare. To that end, I was more entertained than I was in Cars, but I was too often baffled to be grateful.

JM: For the record, our kid is smart. As an avid reader of all five books -- and with the knowledge, perhaps planted in his head by one of us, that Chris Columbus is a cinematic criminal -- his expectations were appropriately tempered. And, indeed, even he left the film damning the film with faint praise. You know when even a rabid fan walks out of the movie only moderately pleased, you haven't accomplished anything significant with your movie.

KM: The movie plays heavily to the 10-to-13-year-old crowd, so why go out of the way to be so divisive when it comes to gender and sexuality? Why does there always have to be so much sexual tension? Why do the young boys have to have sculpted ab plates and why do the young girls have to have sculpted breast plates distracting us and our kids from the battle scenes?

JM: The gender typing is extraordinary throughout. Not simply gender typing, really, but there is a layer of mild raunchiness that feels genuinely out of place, like Columbus felt obligated to integrate culturally-impacted sexuality into an otherwise tame, boring kiddie flick. We know Columbus is a perfectly happy perpetrator of uncomfortable raunch, as evidenced by his 2009 entry, I Love You, Beth Cooper, which is one of the worst teen comedies ever made. But to integrate scenes of uncomfortable randiness in this's time for Columbus to move on and let an actual filmmaker take over this material.

KM: Oh, God, I hated Beth Cooper. What a trashy, horrific film. I agree with you about all the uncomfortable raunch. There are not many safe places for young adults to turn. They either are patronized and talked down to in much G-rated fare, or they have too much pressure to grow up too soon and lose innocence in modern day PG-13 movies. So, for this PG-rated movie to shove tired stereotypes and bawdiness down the throats of pre-teens and young teens is quite disheartening. I found myself actually getting mad as I watched it.

JM: As if it really matters that much, let's cover the plot, which bothers me not so much because it's ridiculous as because it is handled with such utter stupidity that it seems like a colossal failure on a story level, when it actually might not be (can't totally say, since I haven't read the books, and won't be able to say, because I never will). Anyway, Percy Jackson is a typical school kid who discovers he's a demi-god, a hybrid of human and mythic god. Seems his mom got knocked up by Poseidon, and as a result he's capable of amazing feats.

KM: You will laugh at me, but I do not think the plot is that bad. Sure, it’s ludicrous, but so what? If handled deftly, it could have been a lot of fun.

JM: The film's inciting incident, explained in ridiculous expository detail in one of the worst pre-title cold opens in movie history, is that Zeus' lightning bolt has been stolen, and he believes Poseidon's son, Percy, is the titular thief.

KM: Yes, the fact that they thought they had to dumb down the text and explain everything so overtly in the pre-title spot did clue me in that the movie was not going to satisfy. Sometimes, you just know.

JM: Of course, Percy isn't the thief, and his journey is to discover who it really is while parading through cute-but-intense F/X sequences. Oh, and he attends a mythical school for demi-gods that operates in the film like a cross between Hogwarts and Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.

KM: Ha Ha. The film’s sophomoric attempts at comedy are matched by its lame attempt to “surprise” us as to who the real lightening thief is. Awful. Kids are smarter than this. They do not need placated to by a man who obviously is less grown-up than they are.

JM: The whole enterprise is dead on arrival. And it is not simply that Columbus is immature, but that his understanding of filmmaking is third-rate. Here is yet another story about myths and magic where the entire world fails to even come close to capturing the imagination. The action scenes are ripped off of Columbus’ Potter sequences, which were limp and uninspired to begin with. The special effects are off-the-charts bad, especially for a film intended as an early-year tent pole and the first in a potentially-lucrative franchise. I’m not sure how Columbus went from a moderately competent director of earthbound family fare (Home Alone, etc.) to an atrocious peddler of half-assed otherworldly adventure. Any studio head who got an eyeful of his first two Potter films and said, “Hey, this is the perfect guy for our movie!” should be fired.

KM: And what about the actors. To see Uma Thurman, Catherine Keener, and Pierce Brosnan acting their hearts out as if they read a different script than the one that got put on screen. I felt sorry for them.

JM: Oh, lord. The sight of Pierce Brosnan in a transparent SNL-level bearded disguise is almost as bad as the sight of Pierce Brosnan’s torso awkwardly composited into the form of a centaur. I think I’d rather hear him sing in Mamma Mia! 2: Who’s Your Daddy? than give this a second look.

KM: Oh, and Rosario Dawson as the slutty wife of Hades who couldn’t wait to get some “ass” – er, I mean “goat” -- from the movie’s only black character in the movie, the offensively goofy, ever-horny, half-goat sidekick Grover. Stereotype after stereotype.

JM: By the way, the 16-year-old character is played by 26-year-old Brandon T. Jackson, who previously was seen on screen fronting “Pimp Juice” in Tropic Thunder. I guess the lesson to take away from this is, simply, that the guy is versatile.

KM: Shall we grade?

JM: Sure. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief earns the title of most labyrinthine title of the year, and a D from me.

KM: The part of me that wants to see a live action kids movie that isn’t Harry Potter is giving this film a C. But the other part, the one that is completely frustrated and angry over the inclusion of offensive and inappropriate material gives The Lightning Thief a D+.

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