Thursday, March 4, 2010

“The Lightning Thief” – Cussing to follow.

Do you remember the scene in “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie is pounding the bully and spewing out a rated-PG version of cussing? I think I heard the same thing coming out of the mouth of one of the kids in the theater while watching “The Lightning Thief.” Except, it was the rated-R translation and it was definitely worth having to bite down on a bar of soap.

Okay, maybe it was me cussing and maybe it was only in my head, but I’m sure the literate kids in the audience were thinking the same thing as me; what in the holy fuck did they just do to a really good book? I’m sure you’ve talked about or heard other people talk about how movies are always worse than the books they are based on and that’s for good reason. Hollywood loves to purchase the rights to popular books, then proceed to use 75% of the pages as toilet paper in front of the author while he is waiting to get his check. It continues to amaze me that an angry author hasn’t gone ape shit on a screenwriter or studio for basically setting his work on fire. Rick Riordan (author), it’s your time to shine.

“The Lightning Thief” is the first of a series of five books called “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.” Like the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series, “Percy Jackson’s” target audience is fourth through eighth graders. Books written for this demographic are typically only a couple of hundred pages, are filled with action, and don’t bore the reader with a lot of description or conjecture. After all, kids don’t have the patience to read books like “The Stand” (1000+ pages). Actually, I’m amazed that they can stand reading the “Twilight” books or any of the “Harry Potter” books, three through seven, as all of them are several hundred pages. My point is that “The Lightning Thief” is a perfect book for kids (and adults) in that it is 375 pages of non-stop action and should have been really easy to put to film.

Proof of its simplicity is in the plot. Somebody has stolen Zeus’ lightning bolt and Zeus accuses Poseidon of using his son, Percy, to steal it. Zeus decrees that if it is not returned by the summer solstice, there will be war between the two of them and the rest of the gods will have to choose sides. Percy is given the quest of returning the bolt to Zeus. This is a very simple plot and is retained in the movie. Unfortunately, the writer chose to keep little else from the book and changed or twisted nearly all of the events to typical Hollywood bullshit.

The best thing about the book is that Riordan found a way to modernize Greek mythology and insert it into today’s world. He explains that the gods and myths didn’t die; they just shifted with the heart of western civilization as time went by. In today’s world, that put Mount Olympus on the 600th floor of the Empire State building and the entrance to the underworld in Los Angeles. How fun is that? Other examples include the gods dressing in current fashions and many of the Greek monsters and heroes living among humans. He also introduces what he calls “mist,” which keeps normal people from seeing the true nature of these things. Not only is all of this completely missing from the movie, it starts off with a 100-foot tall Poseidon, clad in shiny ancient Greek armor, walking out of the ocean in front of a gaping human. Why is this necessary? A giant Zeus doesn’t fly out of the clouds on a chariot to meet Poseidon; he is simply greeted by name and wearing a suit. Apparently, the writer didn’t want to waste any time getting to the book burning.

Aside from the thousand little things that were changed, there were some major changes that had me fuming as time went on. The first was a game of capture the flag at a camp for the demigods. In the book, Percy is on a team with Annabeth, who would eventually accompany him on the quest. The game plays out with her using him as part of her strategy to capture the flag. Her strategy works and leads to the beginning of their close friendship. In the movie, however, Annabeth leads the opposite team and the whole game is the two of them sword fighting while the rest of the camp circles around them and watches. Why keep the capture the flag game at all and just make it a sword fighting challenge? This scene is incredibly irrelevant in this context and a big spit in the face to Riordan. But the writer was far from finished at this point.

During their trek across the country to find the entrance to the Underworld, they meet Ares, who pretends to help them, but is really trying to help make the war happen. After all, he’s the god of war. In addition, Ares and Percy battle in the climax of the book. Not only was this climax missing, but Ares was completely removed from the film. How the fuck is that okay? How do you remove a main antagonist? It would be like removing Darth Vader from “Star Wars.”

The final straw for me was that the evil plot was orchestrated by the Titan Cronos in the book, but was completely removed from the film. If the rest of the books are turned into movies, they won’t make any sense now that Cronos has been removed. Cronos’ goal is to regain his power and destroy the gods. The whole damn point of all of the books is to stop Cronos. Instead, the antagonist in the movie is a fellow camper, Luke, who is upset with his father (Hermes) and says the gods have had power for long enough. When the climax of the movie became Luke fighting Percy in flying shoes, I almost walked out of the theater. This was that shitty ass Hollywood-izing I was talking about.

The lesson to be learned here is that Hollywood needs to stop fucking up the books we love. Why bother paying for the rights to books if you’re only going to wipe your ass with them in between filming scenes? I truly hope that they leave the rest of the Percy Jackson books alone (fat chance of that happening) because it’s only going to get worse. On a final note, fuck the screenwriter, this is bullshit, keep your shitty ass away from my books. At least, that’s what I think Ralphie said.

Rating: If you haven’t read the book, ask for eight dollars back. If you have read the book, light a flaming bag of dog poop with your ticket stub and a note attached that says “To Writer” at your local theater. It’ll feel better than getting your money back.

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