Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Inspiration from Percy Jackson

I read the ebook in record time. A middle-grade fantasy with Greek mythology? I couldn't help myself!
It was the first of a series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, called The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. 

I was wrapped up in the plot, rooting for the vulnerable yet hard-fighting heroes, when I mentioned it to my hubby.

"Oh, yeah. I saw movie just like that on TV at my parents."

Apparently, I am behind the times, 'cause I hadn't heard of the 2010 film of the same title as the book. I finished reading it, then watched the movie, curious to see how the plot had been condensed. I'm not a strong plotter and really enjoyed following the tangles and knots Rick had tied.

I'm a writer, so you no doubt think I'm gonna say the book is better than the movie.

Yes, but I'd like to talk about what I think made the book strong and consequently, the movie weaker. Beware the spoilers - I'll try not to be very specific, so you can still enjoy book and film!

First, characters. Book Percy is twelve. His age, dyslexia, ADHD and the lack of explanation about his history, make him vulnerable and approachable. Yet they also make him fight harder and really search for answers instead of just listening dumbfounded. Movie Percy is about seventeen and a "beau gosse" handsome kid. He fights fewer battles, with more teen bravado. Book Grover, his friend and protector, deals with insecurity over a past failure and has a big dream to bring balance back to the environment. Movie Grover is a cool brother, who likes the ladies and wants to earn a promotion. Lesson? Deep characters are worth it. We identify with them, we love them, we respect them.

Second, mixing the modern with the fantastic is one of my favorite things! I'm trying it in my current work in progress. The book was brilliant. Summer camp with the orange t-shirts, the canoes, the mess hall, the cabins...all there. With a cabin for each of the twelve major deities, in their own style. Where you use real weapons and fight hell hounds in Capture the Flag. Cool. In the film, it was too much like stepping into Ancient Greece. Beautiful, but not as...interesting to me. Lesson? Being creative with the setting and mixing it up. Having a Chihuahua that turns into a Chimera on the Saint Louis Arch, is more interesting than a fight in a random Greek structure. Have fun and think hard!

Third, adults and parents roles. Book adults are a bit incomprehensible to the kids, who treat them with respect, either from love or a bit of fear and awe (even the douche-bag step-dad is treated with restraint for good reasons). Adults point the kids in the right direction, toss them a sword pen, for example, but otherwise, the kids do all the action. Movie adults try to make things easier for teens and apologize a lot. I didn't find hand-wringing a very regal action for a god in front of his human son. The scene was handled with the dignity and distance necessary in the book; definitely hard for the father and difficult to understand for the son. I loved the mom/son relationship in the book - especially in the end, when Percy feels all hero-y and how his mom responds to it. It didn't come off that strong in the film. Lesson? Don't dis the parents/adults, but don't let them take over either!

Third, the jump from a middle-grade book to a more teen audience film meant adding a love interest between two characters that wasn't in the book. I thought it really changed the dynamic of the three friends on their quest, to a couple with a third-wheel best friend. Not as fun. And I didn't think it added anything. Other than mushy stuff. Lesson? Consider relationships between characters carefully. Who is the story for and how will a relationship change the feel of the story.

Fourth, plot. The book plot involves, in one way or another, a bunch of the major deities; Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Ares, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Athena...and even the old Titan Father Kronos himself. Comp.li.cat.ed. Who dunnit? And why? The movie need to move faster, I get that. But it cut out the whole under-plot. I was sad; it seemed too easy to solve.     

All in all, I think I'll stick to my current rule; if I love the book, I'm not gonna watch the movie. If I see a movie and love it, I'll look up the book and try to read it too. For example, I never have watched the Harry Potter movies, but really want to read Marley and Me, 'cause the film was so fun.

Anywho, I can't wait to start reading the second Percy Jackson and the Olympians...but I think I'll skip the new movie. I love to hear your thoughts on analyzing strengths of books/films/stories/plots.


  1. I loved the Percy Jackson movie! I think it was imaginative and filled with tons of surprises for kids and teens alike! I tend to be like you, where if I like a movie, I'll invest some time in the book. But differing somewhat, if I like a book, I'll check out the movie!

    1. It's neat to hear everyone's impressions! Honestly, it's great to have books and movies in the world, stories in lots of media forms. I love crashing in front of a great "kids" movie!

  2. It's funny because I actually saw the film first. My mom gave me a copy and I watched it about 20 times before I thought, you know I should just read the book. So I picked up a copy and at first I was so confused. But the more I read the more I loved the book! He actually had contact with the Gods and the God where hilarious! Short running shorts and biker clothes, total modern day representations of them. Anyway you'll love the other four books as well as anything else by Rick. He is a great writer!

  3. I saw the movie when it came out (I remember wanting to see The Blind Side instead but missed the time for it...and I still haven't seen it!) and I remember liking it. It's great that the book was better though, they usually are! And I didn't know they were going to make more movies.

    1. I love hearing everyone's impressions!

  4. I feel like I have to read the book first, so I can judge appropriately. (I don't always manage it in that order though.) I'm perfectly willing to love a movie as much as the book as long as the changes make sense and feel necessary and the movie keeps in with the spirit and intentions of the book.

    The movie adaptation that breaks my heart is Ella Enchanted because I loved that book as a kid (and still do!). The Disney movie (which I've never seen past the first 15 minutes) completely stripped everything recognizable and awesome from the story, except the characters names (Dancing dwarfs who dream of becoming lawyers? A talking snake? An evil uncle!?! Where exactly did those characters come from!?!). I've dedicated many a rant on this subject, but I'll attempt to not get too carried away. Unfaithful adaptations are kind of a thing (arch-nemesi!) for me.

    1. I totally agree about Ella Enchanted!! I wish they had just used a different title if they were going to change everything.