It’s not easy adapting a novel to the screen, they are two very different mediums (yeah, news flash) and many elements of a book just can’t be translated well into movie form, but filmmakers will keep fighting to get it right and us the viewers are often caught in the crossfire. In the case of “The Lightning Thief” your enjoyment factor may well hinge on whether you have read the book or not. I know many people who really enjoyed this film and almost all of those people have not read the book, while those who have read it found the movie greatly lacking. So here as a book reader I’ll discuss why the film left me kind of cold.
The Lightning Thief is Chris Columbus’s second time adapting a popular children’s fantasy book to the silver screen and what is most interesting is that in the case of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone he was oft criticized for being too slavish to the source material so when he took the director’s chair for this film it appears he decided to go in the other direction. So much is missing from the book I’m hard pressed to decide where to start.
Percy Jackson: In the book he is a twelve year old troubled kid who bounces from school to school and suffers from dyslexia and ADHD. In the movie he is seventeen, doesn’t seem to have any troubles at school (bullies in the book give him a hard time) but we are told he has dyslexia and ADHD. I’m assuming the change in age is more about fiscal responsibility than an artistic choice. Having young actors in a movie limits you greatly at what you can do and they can only work so many hours a day. After working on Harry Potter with a young cast I can understand Chris Columbus not wanting to go through that again. In the book no one knows he is the son of Poseidon (well one assumes Poseidon does), we get clues along the way; a wave from a fountain attacks a bully, when he is about to get a swirly in the camps washroom the toilets all explode drenching his attackers, but it is when he is healed and power amped by standing in the river that he is revealed to be the son of the sea god. While in the movie it appears that everyone is aware of who Percy’s dad is and so we are robbed of the dramatic reveal. Even Percy is kind of blasé about it.
Grover: Unbeknownst to Percy but his best friend Grover is his protector and also a satyr. The Olympians try and keep an eye on demi-gods because monsters like to track them down and kill them, now in the case of Percy nobody suspects him of being the son of Poseidon because the big three; Zeus, Poseidon and Hades made a vow to not sire anymore children because their offspring are too powerful and upset the balance. So guardians are put with godlings to keep an eye on them in case things get dangerous and eventually lead them to Camp Half-Blood if the threat becomes great. Grover in the book is quite shy and meek but who later reveals his dream to be allowed to search for the missing god Pan. In the movie he is cocky, funny and has no goal other than to become Protector First Class and earn his horns. That’s right, in this movie satyrs are basically angels trying to earn their wings.
Annabeth: She is the daughter of Athena and is introduced in book while she nurses Percy in the camp’s infirmary after he was injured fighting the Minotaur. She is a bit stand-offish because Annabeth’s mom and Percy’s dad have a history of not getting along, but Annabeth gets over this quickly. In the movie she is introduced as an antagonist during a game of “Capture the Flag” and she beats Percy with her sword to within an inch of his life. This is one of the biggest departures from the book because it reveals that Chris Columbus has removed the character of Clarisse, daughter of Ares the god of war, who is the camp’s main bully. It is she who fights Percy during Capture the Flag and is defeated when Percy steps back into a stream and is invigorated by the powers of a sea god. This is like if Columbus had decided to leave Draco Malfoy out of Harry Potter. It drastically changes how we feel about Annabeth and we lose an antagonist for the movie. Now Clarisse isn’t a major character in the first book but she becomes one in the second books so she had to be introduced in the movie version of the sequel.
The Plot: In the book Percy is accused of stealing Zeus’s Master Bolt and if he doesn’t return it by the Summer Solstice there will be war between the gods. This is still the basic plot of the movie but it is very much sidelined at the half-way point as the movie becomes a scavenger hunt for Persephone’s pearls the plan to rescue Percy’s mom. In the book Percy plans to confront Hades and get his mother back but that is something he keeps close to his vest as everyone else is focusing on getting the Master Bolt back and preventing the war while Movie Percy is all about getting his mom and hang everybody else.
All I could think of was someone liked the Horcrux hunts in the Harry Potter books and thought it would work great here. It doesn’t. In the movie a demonic fiery Hades shows up at Camp Half-Blood to demand Percy hand over the Lightning Bolt if he wants his mother released from the Underworld. In the book Hades doesn’t want the Bolt he actually doesn’t want war as the Underworld is getting too crowded as it is. What he does want is his Helm of Darkness which was also stolen. His missing helm is also missing from the movie version.
Percy goes on this mission to the Underworld to get his mother back from Hades not because he thinks Hades has the Bolt as book Percy and most everyone else believes, while movie Percy sneaks out of the camp, against orders from Chiron, to go rescue his mother, unlike in the book where he was given the quest to find the stolen Bolt by the Oracle.
Luke: Is the son of Hermes and he really, really hates the gods. Movie Luke pretends to befriend Percy and offers him aid on his mission to save his mom, he tells our heroes of Persephone’s pearls and that they are basically a “Get Out of the Underworld Free Cards” and that there are three of these pearls hidden in the United States and once you get into Hades you step on one of those Pearls and they will whisk you away. In the book the pearls are a gift from a naiad and not the basis for half the movies running time. Luke also gifts Percy with winged sneakers as well as a map that reveals the pearls’ locations and where the entrance to the Underworld is.
Luke is the biggest change from book to movie. Both book and movie Luke hates the gods but in the movie he is the sole villain. In the book there is a shadowy voice in Percy’s dreams that we learn is Kronos one of the Titans and father of the gods. The whole plan with the stolen lightning bolt and Percy going to the Underworld is all part of his plot to escape the deep abyss of Tartarus. The winged shoes were to drag Percy into the pits once he got close enough. In both movie and book it is Luke that stole the Master Bolt but in the book he failed in getting it to Kronos as he was caught by Ares. Kronos had to alter his plan by whispering thoughts of war to Ares, convincing the god of war to slip Percy the Master Bolt saying that when Percy brings it to Hades it will be all out war among the gods. In the movie Ares barely exists, you just see him sitting among the gods at the Olympian council meeting. Leaving Kronos and Ares out of this movie is like leaving the Emperor and Darth Vader out of Star Wars.
Hades: In the book he is a very pragmatic character who may be a little miffed at being the one saddled with running the Underworld but he has no desire to rule the other gods as he does in the movie, he actually wants to avoid war because he can barely keep up with all the dead coming in as it is. Book Hades is miffed because someone stole his Helm of Darkness and thinks Percy has taken it as well as the Master Bolt. Hades just wants his helm back and will free Percy’s mom if he gets it. Percy uses the three pearls so he, Annabeth and Grover can escape the Underworld get the bolt back to Zeus while leaving Percy’s mom behind. This is very different from the movie as their Grover stays behind to apparently make time with Persephone. When Hades gets the Helm back he does free Percy’s mom clearly showing that though he may be a ruler of the dead that doesn’t make him a dick.
Ares: As mentioned he isn’t even really in the movie version. In the book he is this scary looking biker dude that, like Luke, pretends to be helping Percy but in fact is trying to start a war because, you know, he is the god of war. The movie ends with Percy having this big Master Bolt vs Water Power battle with Luke while in the book it is Percy facing off against ARES THE GOD OF WAR that allows him to get the bolt and helm back to their proper owners. This is a much more terrifying match up than teen sea god against snotty camp counselor.
A Few Other Missteps:
• Percy in the school pool stays underwater for seven minutes and just thinks he can do this because he loves being in water. Not the brightest bulb in the box.
• At the museum Percy is listening to his iPod and ignoring the lecture about the Greek gods given by his favorite teacher, this does not help make the character likable.
• Movie Percy has to get whispered help from Poseidon all the time while book Percy figures things out for himself.
• The Underworld has only one setting “Fiery Hell” and no Elysium, Asphodel, Tartarus, or Fields of Punishment.
• Persephone is not in the book because the Summer Solstice would not find her living with Hades.
Chris Columbus hasn’t made a terrible movie I just have a hard time understanding the reasoning behind most of the changes he made, especially the removal of Kronos who is the main villain of the series.