The Lightning Thief
May 11, 2015
The Dom compares the first book in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, 2005's The Lightning Thief, with its 2010 film adaptation.
The Dom: Ooooh! I finally get to use my favorite adaptational catchphrase. (clears his throat) Dear The Creators of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief Movie, if you want to tell the author's story, *tell* the author's story. If you want to tell your *own* story, *tell* your own story. Don't take the author's story and try and turn it *into* your story, you jackasses.
People Asked: 24
Saw the Film: 12
Read the Book: 10
The Dom: Helloooo, Beautiful Watchers; and welcome back to Lost in Adaptation. I joined the Percy Jackson party a little bit later in life than the *intended* age bracket, but I still thoroughly enjoyed them. They really appeal to my interest in Greek mythology -- I can't quite put my finger on how; but I really feel like the author captured the slightly alien, yet somehow human nature of the ancient Greek gods. He also didn't fall into the usual trap of assuming that just because Hades was the lord of the Underworld, and because the other gods treated him like shit, that he was an evil person *or* getting him mixed up with Satan. Most importantly, the books don't talk *down* to the reader, even though they're intended for a younger audience.
And then, ya have the film. There's three types of changes that commonly appear in film adaptations: there's the changes that *have* to be made, the changes that you can get *away* with making, and the changes that *spit* in the face of the book and show that you *completely* missed the point or didn't care in the first place -- in this particular film, you can't go five minutes without getting hit in the face with all *three*! Just in case you haven't picked up on it yet, it's *my* philosophy to not take sequels into account in these reviews unless I absolutely have to; it's not fair to the film if you judge it for not including something that was introduced in the books later in the sequels, and it also doesn't *excuse* a film for not including something because they put it in a later movie. Sea of Monsters will have its turn; this is The Lightning Thief, nothing else.
Mmmmkay, now that the disclaimers are out of the way...
What They Didn't ChangeEdit
The Dom (V.O.): The *concept* of Camp Half-Blood -- the bastard children of gods and mortals being brought together to keep them safe and to train them in the ways of heroing -- is in both book and film. They also kept at least *some* of the plot. Zeus' thunderbolt is stolen; and everyone suspects Percy, the son of Poseidon, because it was standard procedure for the gods to get their offspring to do their dirty work for them. All of the gods gear up for war, each blaming one of the others for the theft; and Percy and two of his friends have to track it down and bring it back to Zeus before the summer solstice and the very last peace talk. His quest ends up taking him to the Underworld and eventually to Mount Olympus, which has been relocated to the top of the Empire State Building because the gods like to move around every century or so and attach themselves to whichever country is currently the most prosperous. Despite being tricked into carrying the bolt around with him, Percy manages to bring it back to Zeus just in time to stop the war of the gods.
Other than this, you have to look pretty hard to find anything else they didn't mess around with. The film held true to the idea that a side effect of Percy's mixed species heritage partly manifests itself as several attention and learning disabilities, like ADHD and dyslexia -- speaking as someone who's been plagued his whole life with ridiculously inconvenient dyslexia, I was pleased to see someone attempt to visualize its effects *and* the frustration and embarrassment it can lead to. On his way to Camp Half-Blood, Percy and his mum were attacked by the Minotaur (pronounced "MINE-o-tore") -- no, I'm *not* pronouncing that wrong -- and his mother is taken to the Underworld as a hostage by Hades just before Percy *kills* it with its own horn.
The Dom: And, well, gosh, I think that's pretty much it. Everything else is just one big *clusterfuck* of changes and omissions.
What They ChangedEdit
The Dom: Oh, boy. There are *so* many of these, I'm gonna have to divide this section up into subcategories.
The Dom (V.O.): The pearls used to escape the Underworld were a gift from Poseidon, delivered to Percy by a messenger; they required NO WORK WHATSOEVER to obtain! Why the hell did they feel the need to make the search for the pearls such a huge part of the movie?! There was already a perfectly good plot for them to follow!
They still visited places like Medusa's Garden Emporium and the Lotus Casino, but that was because they just happened to stumble into them by chance. What's that you say? "But Dom, you gorgeous genius, isn't it *better* that they tried to tie these things into the plot rather than just having them unrealistically walking into them by happenstance?" Well, yes...and no -- that was almost the whole point. In many Greek stories like the Odyssey and Theseus and the Minotaur, the heroes *constantly* ran into *one* completely random encounter with a weird monster after *another*; having it happen in a modern setting was a clever nod to this -- the film kind of missed a trick here.
Seemingly unimportant at first glance, Mrs. Dodds is Percy's *maths* teacher in the book, not his *English* teacher. The reason I give a fuck is because the very first chapter is amusingly named "I Accidentally Vaporized My Pre-Algebra Teacher", so there's no way in hell they could have missed this detail. Their blatant ignoring of this *is*, I think, a very clear "fuck you, book; we don't give a shit" statement *right* at the start of the film.
In keeping with this attitude, they cut out the part where Percy uses his sword pen to cut Mrs. Dodds in half, causing her to disintegrate and reconstitute later in the story. That was one of the things in the books: the monsters were immortal. If you *killed* one, its spirit would go to the Underworld; but it would *eventually* recorporealize back in the real world, albeit sometimes *decades* later. By the way, the idea of magically disguising a weapon as an everyday household object may *seem* clever, *right* up until the moment you accidentally leave it on your desk.
(shows The Dom as a student in Percy Jackson's class whose pen has run dry, causing him to pick up Percy's magic pen)
Student: Percy, I'm just borrowing your pen for a second!
(he causes the hidden sword's blade to extend, impaling him through the neck)
The Dom (V.O.): The book's deeper understanding of the fundamental nature of ancient Greek deities is *not*, alas, carried well into the film; they talk and act like normal human people -- no unusual behavior, no sense of regal presence. That Poseidon was Percy's father, a plot point given away in the movie's opening *scene*, was actually a big *reveal* a good way into the book. A lot of people knew that he was a half-blood, and some people *suspected* that he might be the son of one of the Big Three; but most just assumed he was a son of Zeus because Zeus was such a notorious poon hound.
They made Poseidon a tortured, loving father who *desperately* wanted to be there for Percy, but was forbidden from doing so. In the book, there was no such law; each god was free to interact with his children as much as he or she wanted. Percy and Poseidon's interactions were...*interesting* in the book; there was an uncomfortable formality borne of their years apart, and Poseidon had the extreme aloofness and self-confidence you *would* expect from an all-powerful being. There was just a *tiny* hint of his affections for Percy and his pride in him, although he kinda spoils this by straight-up saying he doesn't know what to make of Percy and telling him he regrets siring him because of the hard life he must now lead as a hero.
The book describes how all the gods -- with the possible exceptions of Zeus and Hades -- updated their appearance over time: Dionysus now wears a tiger-print Hawaiian shirt, Ares looks like one of Hell's Angels on steroids with two fiery pits for eyes, and Charon has developed a thing for expensive Italian suits. The film did this a little bit at the beginning, then dispatched it altogether, putting everyone in armor and togas from then on -- perhaps fearing that you might not get that the *giant dudes* hanging out at Olympus were Greek gods otherwise.
Annabeth and Percy were meant to be on the *same team*; she uses him as bait to distract the red team while *Luke* went and got the flag -- it was sort of a bonding moment, but also showed how ruthless she could be. The sons of Ares were predominantly the *daughters* of Ares in the book -- big, tough young girls that could beat the living *shit* out of you without having to expend much effort doing so. I'm not sure if them changing this is indicative of sexism or just their total lack of respect for the original story.
The Dom (V.O.): They did the usual thing where they add on a few years to the characters so they don't have to work with children -- I can't really begrudge them this, as good child actors are few and far between and they're a *nightmare* to work with.
(shows the age of Annabeth's actress as 21)
The Dom (V.O.): Ohhhh, yeahhhh.
(shows Annabeth's age in the film as 16)
The Dom (V.O.): Uh, uh, ohhhh, dear.
(shows Annabeth's age in the book as 12)
The Dom (V.O.): Uh, uh, OHHHH, no, no, no, no, no.
Grover got a change of ethnicity in the film *and* a complete personality makeover; a awkward, nervous young man is given a good helping of self-confidence and attitude. It's bad for adaptation points, but his humor is probably one of the few redeeming features of the film. What's way *more* offensive was *small* things like him freaking out at seeing the rats -- satyrs are meant to be lovers of *all* animals. It's tiny mistakes like this that really break a character, in my opinion.
It's interesting to note that the word "demigod" isn't used in the book, preferring the word "half-blood" to describe Percy and the other divine offspring; this is probably because, in the Greek mythology, it's more of a general term for supernatural beings, not *necessarily* just the children of the gods. There's no cheap knock-off of the Marauder's Map in the book; they were *fine* with the concept that you could just *tell* someone where to go. In the book, the Lotus Hotel could keep someone *enthralled* just by being so super-crazy *awesome*; the film took it upon itself to add in the LSD flower cakes -- I don't know if this is meant to be an anti-drug message or just another example of dumbing down the plot.
The entrance to the Underworld was the lobby of a building in the book, not the Hollywood Sign. There's tons of spirits hanging around who weren't given coins for the boatman when they died -- there's actually a really funny joke they missed out on, where Charon mentions it's possible to add the cost of your trip to the Underworld to your last cable bill. They kind of downgraded Zeus' lightning bolt in the film -- forget blowing chunks off the Empire State Building; that thing was meant to have the destructive power of a *nuclear carpet bombing*! Nobody dared take it out of its CASE in the book.
The post-credits joke where Gabe finally gets his comeuppance went down a little differently in the book's epilogue: Percy's mother INTENTIONALLY uses Medusa's head to MURDER him, and then she *sells* his petrified body as *art* as *revenge* for his years of domestic violence! Wow, that was a *surprisingly* dark twist at the end of the book, now that I think about it!
Really Annoying ChangesEdit
The Dom (V.O.): Chiron actually *gives* Percy the quest to go to the Underworld -- I guess the film just felt it couldn't live without an act of teenage defiance in its plot. In the film, they took Medusa's head *along* with them on their quest so...I dunno, *hijinks* could happen; in the book, Percy instead chooses to *mail* it to Olympus as a big old "fuck you guys" message -- apparently, it was more important for them to RIP OFF Clash of the Titans than stick to the novel.
The hydra was, ironically enough, one of the few mythical beasts that *didn't* feature in the book at all. Everything involved in the whole "Parthenon" segment is strictly film-only; and COME ON, is there *anyone* out there who doesn't know about the whole "hydra head-regrowing" thing? It's virtually common KNOWLEDGE at this point; it was in a damn DISNEY movie, for Pete's sake!
(shows Hercules attacking the hydra in the animated Hercules film)
Philoctetes: Will you FORGET the "head-slicing" thing?!?!
The Dom (V.O.): Does the film *really* have to treat us like we're this stupid?
In the book, Percy *couldn't* wear the winged shoes because Zeus, the lord of the skies, had it out for him; and any type of flying would've given him *all* the excuse he needed to reduce Percy to a pile of smoldering ashes. As a result, it was *Grover* who wore them for the entire quest; and that was actually an important plot point because it's *ultimately* what caused Luke's plan to fail.
Hey, remember when I said the book was clever enough to not get Hades and Satan mixed up? (shows the demonic-looking Hades from the film) Uhh, boy. (sighs) I wasn't sure if the debris they were sailing through on their way to the Underworld was, like, a zero-gravity River Styx -- if it *was*, that was kinda clever; if not, WHERE WAS THE RIVER STYX, you assholes?!!
They change Cerberus, the famously huge and three-headed dog and guardian of the Underworld, into three *separate* dogs, which they referred to as "hellhounds". (shows Persephone in the film) Wait, *Persephone* was there during SUMMER?!? Well, THAT'S not accurate to the book OR the Greek legend! *This* is really starting to piss me off.
It also drove me *mad* that they kept referring to the Underworld as "Hell" in the film; *that's* bullshit. I'm *not* arguing semantics here; in the ancient Greek religion AND in the Lightning Thief book, the Underworld is divided up into three sections: one great, one kinda like Limbo, and one kinda shitty. In the film, they just decide to go with the *Christian* Hell, because why stay true to the *story* when you could make shitty *jokes* all through the movie?
Persephone: WHAT WILL YOU DO?!! I'm already in Hell.
The Dom: In the book, Percy describes Hades as being the first god that he has encountered that actually looks god-like.
The Dom (V.O.): (dramatically narrating Hades' description from the book) "Robed in silk; a crown of braided gold resting on albino-white skin with jet-black hair; radiating grace, yet *dangerous* power; atop a throne fused of human bones."
(shows Steve Coogan as a more slovenly Hades in the film)
Hades: Welcome...Do you think I'm an idiot? I'm HADES!!
(his statement "I'm HADES!!" echoes repeatedly as The Dom seethes with anger)
The Dom: When I started doing these reviews, I promised myself I wasn't gonna go on long, screaming tirades and just turn myself into a cheap knock-off of more talented producers. After what happened in Dune, I made sure I was prepared in case this kind of thing happened again. Reginald! Engage the "calm intellectual" filter.
(the screen turns bluish)
The Dom (V.O.): (translated from his rantings as he rages silently behind the filter) Quite frankly, I do not care for this adaptational choice, as I feel they intentionally insulted the source material in an attempt to obtain a rather cheap and pointless laugh at the expense of what *should* have been a very intimidating and serious character. This joke fails to be amusing enough for this to have been worth it. I'm curious to know who is responsible for the screenplay for this movie. (checks his phone) Goodness me, it's Craig Titley, the gentleman who is most famous for the questionable decisions made in the live-action Scooby-Doo movie. Mr. Titley, I'm sure you're a very pleasant person, but I rather think you are ill-suited for your current profession -- perhaps it is time to consider a change of career. R-R-R-R-R-Reginald, I believe I have calmed down enough that I no longer require the "calm intellectual" filter...
(the bluish tint disappears)
The Dom: ...so just switch it off, you stupid clone butler. (sighs) There's, like, a million other things changed, but this section's long enough already; so let's take a look at...
What They Left Out AltogetherEdit
The Dom: Where...the fuck...was Kronos? They left out the setup for the main villain of the entire *series*?!!
The Dom (V.O.): Breaking my own rule here, I will say that I know he appears in the sequel; but *that* doesn't fucking matter! He should be in *this* film! But no, the villain of the whole movie was just a kid with daddy issues.
And *where* the fuck was *Ares*, the OTHER main antagonist?! They actually *started* the diner scene where he turns up (shows the Music City Diner in the film); and I was all, "Oookay, here we go. (dissolves away from the scene) Wait, that's the end of the scene? Guys, go back; you forgot to meet Ares!!" It's like they filmed in that location just to *taunt* us: "Hey, guys, you remember *this* bit of the book? Well, *fuck* you; we're not doing it." The climactic battle at the end was meant to be between Percy and *Ares*, which Percy wins against all the odds because he's getting a *power-up* from standing in the sea -- but no, it's just a fight between him and a kid with *daddy* issues.
Luke *only* reveals his betrayal in the final chapter; he fools *everyone* and gets away *scot-free* at the end to continue his quest to free Kronos. His motivation is primarily that his mind has been invaded and corrupted by the king Titan -- Kronos played on Luke's *frustration* that he is being held in Camp Half-Blood *permanently* for his own protection. Buuuuut *nope*, he's just a kid with daddy issues.
Chiron the centaur is a *teacher* at Camp Half-Blood, but he's not in charge there -- the camp is run by Dionysus, god of wine and partying, who's currently working his way through a 100-year banishment from Mount Olympus for getting jiggy with some nymphs that Zeus had declared out of bounds; he's also being forced to *spend* this time in a state of strict sobriety, so he's in a perpetual mood of *grumpiness* throughout.
Even the characters that *did* make it into the film had their backstories confiscated and not returned -- they ignored Annabeth's troubled past with her detached father and resentful stepmother; Chiron's millennia of teaching heroes heroing, and how he became immortal; and Grover's ultimate goal of tracking down Pan, the missing god of nature, so that he can undo mankind's pollution of the Earth. They attempt to *replace* the latter with the possibility that Grover will be awarded *horns* in a setup reminiscent of the *angel* wings in It's a Wonderful Life -- in the book, satyrs just grow their own horns because, you know, they're a...body part?
There are several other random monster attacks and traps on the way to the Underworld in the book, including a fight with a *chimera* at the top of the Gateway Arch and a deadly waterbed shop -- which sounds silly, but was actually kind of horrifying. They also left out Annabeth's invisibility helm, a gift from her mother which has taken the form of a Yankees cap due to the effects of the Mist -- the Mist being the name for the ever-present magic that overrides mortals' memories of seeing supernatural things. Lastly, it's a bit of a disappointment that they didn't include the Oracle, a creepy folklike being that lives inside an attic inside a mummified body that occasionally animates and gives people confusing hints about their future.
The Dom's Final ThoughtsEdit
The Dom: I know this is gonna sound a little bit weird, Beautiful Watchers; but the feeling I picked up on behind the *hordes* of unnecessary changes was *arrogance* -- like...Titley thought he could do a better job of writing the story than the author, even though the book was a bestseller and *his* only past accomplishment was completely ballsing up a live-action version of a cartoon show. *That's* why this film sucked, and *that's* why it can kiss...
(the screen again turns bluish)
The Dom (V.O.): (again translating his silenced ragings)...its reputation goodbye. Reginald, I didn't ask you to switch the "calm intellectual" filter back on, so *please* disengage it. (the screen remains bluish) R-R-R-R-Reginald, while I respect your choice to ignore my request, considering my current state of agitation, there's a small chance this situation *may* lead to violence. Goodbye, Beautiful Watchers; I will see you next time.