Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (PG) ★★★

Percy Jackson Comes to Life on the Big Screen in a Big Way

Based on the highly popular middle school children’s book of the same name by author Rick Riordan, this film is sure to delight fans. Logan Lerman, 3:10 to Yuma (2007) stars as Percy Jackson in this entertaining family film. Directed by Chris Columbus of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) fame, he’s a sure-fire veteran of successful children’s films and perfect for this one!

The tale centers on the Greek gods who sometimes visit Earth to have children and these children are called demigods. Percy is a demigod who doesn’t know it at the beginning of the film. His dad is the Greek god Poseidon and his mom, Sally Jackson, is a human played by the talented Catherine Keener; Where the Wild Things Are (2009). The main difference in the film is that Percy’s 17-years-old and in the book he’s only 12-years-old. We first meet Percy when he’s in High School and astounding his best friend Grover, played by Brandon T. Jackson, by holding his breath under water for a full 10 minutes! We also discover that Percy is frustrated by a reading condition called dyslexia.

We meet one of Percy’s High School teachers, Mr. Brunner, played by Pierce Bronson as he’s escorting students on a field trip. The magic and fantasy begins in the room of Greek gods at the museum the students are visiting. Mr. Brunner is also a demigod and has another persona in the land of the Greek gods; Chiron, a centaur. Percy gets a lesson in reality very quickly and learns about himself, his father and the creepy guy his mom is living with.

In the land of Half Blood Hill, a Long Island summer camp that trains young demigods, Percy begins to piece together the events of his life and starts the quest to find his real father. Annabeth, the daughter of Athena, played by Alexandra Daddario, befriends Percy and helps him with his journey as well as his sword fighting skills. The journey involves traveling across the United States to find out who stole Zeus’ lightning bolt (which is a weapon of mass destruction). The team meets various mythological enemies who try and stop them. They meet up with Medusa, played by Uma Thurman, who clearly reveals a new look as she wears a wig encircled by live snakes. She has the power to turn humans into stone by staring into their eyes.

The heart of the story is the relationship between parent and child. This theme rings loud and clear in Lightning Thief. The main reason Percy starts out on the journey in the first place is to rescue his mother and meet his father. Near the end of the film, Percy does meet up with the culprit who stole the bolt and the visual effects in this scene are fantastic! 

The origins of the story are child-parent centered. Author Rick Riordan’s son Haley asked his Dad to tell him a bedtime story about the gods and heroes in Greek mythology. Riordan had taught Greek myths for many years at the middle school level, so this was an easy request. When he ran out of myths, (Haley) was disappointed and asked if he could make up something new with the same characters. At the time, Haley a second grader had just been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. Greek mythology was one of the only subjects that interested him. Riordan quickly came up with the character of Percy Jackson and told Haley all about Percy’s quest to recover Zeus’s lightning bolt in modern-day America. It took about three nights to tell the whole story, and when he finished, Haley told his dad that he should write it out as a book.

“Making Percy ADHD and dyslexic was my way of honoring the potential of all the kids I’ve known who have those conditions,” says Riordan. “It’s not a bad thing to be different. Sometimes, it’s the mark of being very, very talented. That’s what Percy discovers about himself in The Lightning Thief.” (From the website ‘Scholastic for Teachers’ author Rick Riordan).

As a former middle school teacher of gifted literature, I value all fairly well-made films for children and parents and this one is in that league. It’s not quite up to the Harry Potter film bells and whistles, but that’s ok as the film has enough going for it on its own.

Sarah Adamson © February 2010