Sunday, February 21, 2010

Percy Jackson and Persephone

I know you are all eagerly waiting to hear my review of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief. I finally saw it last night. I have to say, I very much enjoyed the books by Rick Riordan but the movie left a lot to be desired in my own opinion. Read on to see what I thought.


As I mentioned in this post, I thought that Riordan had portrayed Persephone and the Underworld in a very respectful way. However, the screenwriters did their damage and plucked Persephone out of mythology, placed her in an abusive marriage and moved her into Hell. Persephone didn’t even appear in the first book, but the movie added an entirely new storyline that involved her prominently, and I thought poorly.

We meet Hades early in the film and he appears as a fiery hell demon – wings and horns and everything you might expect from “Evil”. I was disappointed in that depiction especially since Riordan didn’t give you that image of him at all. In fact, as the books progress the character of Hades becomes much more complex. Later, Hades appears as a Mick Jaggar-esque rock star but reminds us that he can just as easily transform into Tim Curry’s character from Ridley Scott’s Legend.

On their way to the underworld to complete the quest, the children in the movie end up in Nashville Tennessee at the Parthenon there. At first I was very excited that the filmmakers decided to place part of the movie at this scale reproduction in the American South. However, once the children entered the building I was quickly disappointed. They were supposedly inside the Nashville Parthenon, but the statue of Athena there was not authentic. I was sure they were going to destroy the Parthenon in an action sequence, but why put a statue that doesn’t match the statue in the real building? It said to me that the filmmakers didn’t even do the research.

Eventually the heroes of the story reach the entrance of the Underworld. Once they were in the Underworld, the imagery turned to fire and brimstone. I really bristle when people take biblical images to describe the Greek Underworld. I do understand that they were making a movie for American kids that probably do not have a deep love or understanding of Greek Mythology. But I don’t think it gave the moviegoers a fair perspective on the stories of the ancients. In the movie, the story of Persephone is described at its very base – Persephone was stolen by Hades and kept in the underworld as a prisoner. She despises her husband and only wants to spend her time on Olympos. I was also confused by the filmmakers’ understanding of the myth. If they wanted to portray Persephone as the victim, why in the world was she still in the underworld the day before the Summer Solstice? Based on the general understanding of the myth, Persephone should be with her mother from the Spring to the Fall before returning again to her husband. If they are going to go cliché, they don’t even manage to get that entirely accurate.

Overall, I also had a big problem with the random aging of the main characters. In the book, Percy and his friends start out the series at the age of 11. In the movie Percy is somewhere around 15, 16, or 17 – they never specify. To me, the unexplained aging of the characters kind of ruined the integrity of the story. It didn’t make much sense to me why they were all at summer camp as older teenagers. I thought the plot was overly simplified (and rewritten for the most part) to reduce the story to the lowest common denominator. This is not a feeling I had from the books. Yes, they start out simple from the point of view of a very confused 11 year old, but as he ages throughout the series the story, the mythology and Percy’s own perception mature right along with him.

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