(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This film with the cumbersome title is a young adult movie from a young adult novel that reminds us of precursors like JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and CLASH OF THE TITANS, but is set in a contemporary setting. A high school boy finds out that the root of his problems is that he is a demigod in the sense of Greek mythology. In this world that mythology was not only true, the battles of the Greek gods continue today. Percy Jackson is suspect number one in the theft of Zeus's lightning bolt so goes from being an underachiever to battling the great monsters and gods of the Greek myths. This is a surprisingly satisfying fantasy adventure. Director Chris Columbus adapts a screenplay by Craig Titley based on the popular novel by Rick Riordan. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

The trailer for JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS talked of a story set in a time of "men like gods and gods like men." The makers had me right there. The film offered special effects genius Ray Harryhausen's mythical monsters, gods that towered eighteen feet high, and the story of an epic quest of heroes. Few films have had films with so much imagination to grab me. I was reminded of that first viewing of JASON when I saw PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF. This is a film that will introduce another generation of kids to new worlds of gods and monsters.

Percy Jackson (played by Logan Lerman) somehow never fit in at his high school in New York City. In fact he does not quite fit in to our world in general. Then one day on a school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art a particularly harsh teacher turns into a harpy. Literally, she is a harpy with wings and fangs. His handicapped best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) turns out actually to be a satyr. His teacher Mr. Brunner is actually the centaur Chiron (Pierce Brosnan from the waist up; digital horse from the waist down). It seems that in the tradition of Greek myths, Percy does not know his lineage. His mother is a downtrodden housewife (Catherine Keener) and the father he never met was Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). It seems there is chaos in heaven. Someone stole Zeus's lightning bolt. Chief suspect is Percy. This bolt is the key to all political power on Olympus (moved to hover just next to the Empire State Building). A rogue's gallery of gods and monsters want to get their hands on the lightning bolt. Nearly everyone thinks Percy has it. The confused teen has to learn to fight like a demigod and then go to Hades to look for the bolt. But he needs a way to escape Hades. Percy forms a team with Grover, and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), a new friend who happens to be the daughter of Athena--enemy of Poseidon. The three must go across country and collect three blue pearls, the key to escaping Hades. Each pearl is in a different American city and each is guarded by a peril from ancient Greek myth.

Most people seem to be comparing this film, the first in a series as the title implies, to the "Harry Potter" films. Well, Chris Columbus (who directed two "Potter" films) directs it. And it is based on a young adult series and it does involve a teenager with the supernatural. Both involve boys with an unknown heritage. There certainly are parallels, but this film is set in a different sort of world and one with a little more gravitas since it is not entirely made up. The atmosphere is quite different.

Will this film be remembered as fondly as JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS? Probably not. In the 21st century it has too much competition from other CGI films. And the effects are not as much fun as those of JASON. On the other hand they are far more sumptuous. While Jason might have an animated monster in a scene, LIGHTNING fills the frame with visual effects, albeit digital effects. What surprised me is that I had some affection for an action adventure film the way I would have in the days of the Ray Harryhausen's best films. I rate PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

One more comment on the Percy Jackson books: a friend in high school was very enthusiastic about the series and the Greek mythology he had learned from it. I discussed mythology with him and was surprised how much he knew. I gave him a gift of a book on classical mythology and later heard he wrote a report based on the book. He came away with a better understanding of the roots of Western culture. Had he been interested instead in Wolverine, what would he have learned of any comparable value?

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper