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New film: Percy Jackson – Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Directed by Thor Freudenthal

In order to meaningfully consider the new Percy Jackson move, it’s necessary to consider the last one – “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” or as it’s now referred to “Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief.” And that reinvention is also meaningful.

The series of books, and now movies, follows the exploits and adventures of various young characters who are demi-gods – each the child of a human and a member of the pantheon of the Greek gods of Olympus. The central character, Percy Jackson, is discovered to be the son of Poseidon, God of the sea, and as such he has significant power to manipulate or draw strength from water.

The first movie in the series is, quite simply, one of the worst adaptations I’ve ever seen. I’m not labeling it as one of the worst movies (although it isn’t very good), but referencing the manner in which the book was adapted for the screen. Significant aspects of the book are left out or changed – which is common as books are adapted, as an average movie has less content than an average book. But in that instance, the nature of the story was materially changed, and not for the better.

The second movie starts out with Percy going head to head with Clarisse, daughter of Aries, in an athletic competition at their camp for demi-gods. That’s immediately followed by an expository accounting of their past competitions – because Clarisse is Percy’s camp nemesis. Except that she was absent in the first movie, which means that the second has to not only introduce her but also introduce this backstory of competitive conflict to make up and cover for that absence. It’s as if the first Harry Potter movie had neglected to include Draco Malfoy. (And note that the first Percy Jackson film was directed by Chris Columbus, whose first two films in the Harry Potter series also led to multiple stylistic changes in the later films – but I’m getting ahead of myself….)

In the first book, Percy’s identity as the son of Poseidon is not immediately clear and he attends camp among a group of other unidentified campers until such time as his parenthood is established. At that point, he finds himself living alone in the cabin for children of Poseidon because not only are campers segregated according to their respective divine parent, but the most powerful gods Zeus, Poseidon and Hades were forbidden to have children with mortals.

By comparison, in the first movie, he’s quickly told he’s the son of Poseidon and given his own private cabin – which resembles some kind of cross between a memorabilia-filled seafood restaurant and the honeymoon cabin at a Tahitian resort. It’s elaborate, luxurious, impossible to heat, likely to instill jealousy in the other campers, and inconsistent with the book.

This is relevant, because the second movie avoids Percy’s cabin entirely. Which may not seem like a big deal, but it’s symptomatic of multiple other changes. The camp, as a whole, seems like a different place. The two camp leaders, Chiron (a centaur) and Mr. D. (Dyonisius), have been re-cast and every other “adult” character from the first movie is missing. We don’t see Percy’s mother, or any of the gods, or any other consistent actor from the first movie, outside of the central group of demi-god campers.

The second movie is almost a complete reboot of the franchise, except for maintaining the central young cast – who are presumably relatively inexpensive to employ. Gone are such actors as Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, Catherine Kenner, and Uma Thurman. Admittedly, some of their characters are gone from the story, but the overall payroll for the second movie must be a fraction of the first. It’s as if somebody agreed to risk the next installment, but only at a reduced cost.

Which brings me to the next observation – the special effects also look cheap. This is a movie that looks like it could have been made five or ten years ago. It’s also a movie that attempts some equally cheap directorial tricks – such as having the camera lens appear to be splashed with water or muck during action scenes in those environments. It’s an odd approach in a film that doesn’t otherwise attempt any level of gritty realism.

The end result is a film that manages to deliver its story, in a constrained but somewhat effective manner. It’s choppy and inconsistent, and visually unimpressive in a genre where being visually impressive is what tends to win converts. It plays like a calculated attempt to minimize risk while continuing to attract established fans of the book series, along with other young filmgoers and their parents who will generally eagerly soak up almost anything suited to their age group during the long summertime. And realize that these are “clean” adventures that manage to stay within the confines of a PG rating to appeal to the youngest audiences. It’s probably a relatively sound business decision after such an inauspicious start to the series, but it doesn’t make for an appealing or especially satisfying outcome.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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