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Book vs. Movie: The Lightning Thief

A comparison of the the book and movie versions of The Lightning Thief, the first installment of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson & The Olympians series. Plus: a drinking game for the movie!

Book vs. Movie: The Lightning Thief

ERMAHGERD YOU GUYS, today's the cover reveal for Rick Riordan's next book in The Heroes of Olympus, The House of Hades!

Ok, real talk: I actually don't care about covers until they're in my grabby little hands. (And even then, I'm still fairly dense. I read words, not pictures, y'all.) BUT this is a particularly Percy-filled year: the adaptation for The Sea of Monsters will surely disappoint me hit theatres on August 7th, and OMG IS IT OCTOBER 19TH 8TH YET -- er, the aforementioned House of Hades will be released this fall.

To tide myself until then (because OMG HOW CAN I WAIT THAT LONG?!), I'll be inundating the virtual pages of FYA with my excessive love of the Percy Jackson universe. Maybe I just never grew out of my Greek mythology phase. ('Cause we all went through an Ancient Greece phase during that Social Studies unit, amirite?) Or do I just harbour nostalgia for the daily audiobook marathons I had of both Percy series during, ahem, myfirstgrownupjob? WE MAY NEVER KNOW.

In any case, The Lightning Thief is about to get the book vs. movie treatment. Which will emerge victorious? Will this just become an outlet for my (many and verbose) grievances about the movie? And will you, dear reader, pretend like you don't already know the outcome of this comparison?

But first! A drinking game for the movie! Because you'll need to be BLITZED to enjoy it.

THE OFFICIAL FYA LIGHTNING THIEF MOVIE DRINKING GAME

Take a drink every time:

•  Someone says "lightning thief"
•  Someone says "protector"
•  Someone says "dyslexia" or "ADHD"*
•  Someone's godly parentage is referenced
•  A cameo by a grownup delights you
•  A plotline is painfully spelled out for the audience
•  Sean Bean dies (oops, wrong thing)

*I'm not trying to make fun of learning disabilities. Just the clunky script.

For fans of the book, take a drink every time:

•  The movie grossly deviates from the book, with blatant disregard to the rest of the series and/or basic human logic

PREMISE

Percy Jackson has a knack for getting kicked out of schools. He's also got a whole bunch of mythological monsters after him, because oh yeah, his deadbeat dad is actually a Greek god. And now he's in trouble with everyone else on Mount Olympus, too: they think he's stolen Zeus' master lightning bolt, and the gods are on the verge of an all-out war. It's up to Percy to clear his name and restore peace to Mount Olympus.

Book:

The book, published in 2005, 375 pages.

Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson arrives at Camp Half-Blood, a secret training facility for demigods, upon discovering that he's one himself. After consulting the Oracle, Percy takes up the quest to recover Zeus' lost master bolt. Accompanied by satyr Grover and fellow camper Annabeth, Percy ventures to the Underworld in order to confront prime suspect Hades -- while being pursued by monsters, gods, and everything in between. Although Percy manages to retrieve the master bolt, he also uncovers a devastating betrayal that could bring forth the destruction of the gods.

Movie:

The movie, released in 2010, 118 minutes.

(I should preface this by saying that I am not an adaptation purist. But this movie's lack of faithfulness doesn't help its cause AT ALL.)

In a series of knee-jerk reactions meant to oversimplify and to distinguish this series from that other magical boy wonder destined for greatness, sixteen-year-old Percy Jackson arrives at Camp Half-Blood upon discovering that he's a demigod. After Hades issues him an ultimatum, Percy sneaks out of camp and takes up the quest to recover Zeus' lost master bolt.

Accompanied by satyr Grover and fellow camper Annabeth, Percy follows a map of contrivance that literally spells out where to find pearls that grant escape from the Underworld -- while facing whatever monsters are waiting for them at each location. Although Percy manages to retrieve the master bolt, he also uncovers a poorly veiled betrayal that brings forth a gratuitous fight scene with a hamfisted villain monologue.

(Pro-tip: Give your viewers more credit, movie. Family films much better than you don't dumb themselves down, so what the Hades is your excuse?)

Winner: You're kidding me, right? (Book 1, Movie 0)

HEROES

Book:

Percy adjusts pretty well to this whole demigod business. But then again, if twelve-year-old me found out that one of my parents is a god, I'd roll with it too. And actually, there are some other aspects that work because he's still so young and impressionable (e.g. being so trusting, or bickering with Annabeth). Also, it's easier to accept expositioning basic Greek mythology to a kid than a teenager.

Aside from helping Percy with his quest, Grover and Annabeth are fully developed characters in their own rights. And the demigod camp premise allows for the introduction of characters that become more prominent in later installments (e.g. Luke, Clarisse), without suddenly shoehorning them in à la Nikki and Paulo.

Movie:

Percy's a little emo -- and not just 'cause he already has the hair for it. This version of him is pretty much devoid of all humour (and decent dialogue), and he's in freak-out mode most of the time. But he has the distinct advantage of being portrayed by Sad Logan Lerman, who finds his way into a lot of my posts (because I keep bringing him up).

Brandon T. Jackson does what he can with Grover's cringeworthy lines, as his character basically just serves as girl-crazy comic 'comic' relief. Jake Abel's def. not my first choice for Luke, but the lack of subtlety in handling the character is not entirely his fault.

Finally, there's Annabeth, played by Alexandra Daddario. Alexandra is super pretty, and she's been in things like Parenthood, Always Sunny, and an Imagine Dragons video. I'm sure she's a lovely young woman, and I wish nothing but good things for her.

And now I shall eviscerate this character and casting.

Well, first of all -- Annabeth's lifelong passion to be an architecture has been reduced to a flimsy "OH HEY the Parthenon is neat" shout-out. She gets a few throwaway lines about her mom Athena, but that's about it. She is merely The Girl; an ass-kicking, Amazonian-like girl, but The Girl nonetheless. Her characterization is pretty much non-existent.

The battle side of Annabeth's inherited Athena attributes are emphasized, rather than her intelligence or strategic prowess. It's not that Book Annabeth doesn't fight, but there can never be enough portrayals of smart, strong girls. Screw the comparisons to you-know-who! (Besides, that's a freaking honour. You wear that comparison with pride!) But then again -- if Movie Annabeth didn't fight, how else could she and Percy to engage in some swordplay foreplay?!

Speaking of, their on-screen chemistry was NOT convincing. There's even a little bit of insta-love (well, insta-googly eyes) on his part. And OK, they don't really look alike, but their few shared features and the lack of sizzle* made my brain think they'd be better as siblings. (And hey -- everyone else is doing it!)

*I know it's a family movie, OK? But that doesn't preclude swoon, 'cause HELLO I'm pretty sure this was all from a family movie too.

And a general comment about the casting: Movie Percy starts off at sixteen. There are five books in this series alone. What's the endgame here? This movie pulled in a lot of bank, even though -- spoiler alert!-- it suuuuucked. But if that's any indication, these movies will keep getting made. And even with a year and a half between subsequent movies, Logan Lerman will be like 28 when The Heroes of Olympus series (aka the books that I want to see adapted the most) even starts. 

(I'll spare you by cutting off this downward spiral of hypothesizing. And trust -- I can project v. v. far.)

Though despite my bemoaning of the changes that The Lightning Thief movie made -- only because they were all the wrong choices -- I'd actually preferred if The Olympians Books 2-5 were compressed so that the Heroes of Olympus movies start sooner. But LOL SILLY RABBIT no one's going to do that just so I can get my Logan Lerman fix.

Winner: Oh my gods -- THE BOOK, obvi. (Book 2, Movie 0)

ACTION

Book:

Along Percy's journey to the Underworld, he gets sidetracked by all kinds of monsters: Furies, gorgons, chimeras -- just to name a few. Percy's adventure takes him all across the United States (apparently, demigods are very resourceful kids), and Riordan does a great job of incorporating details from each location.

Movie:

Unless it's some gargantuan BBC Pride and Prejudice production, it is a truth universally acknowledged that an adaptation is going to leave shizz out. So it'd make sense to keep book scenes that have both character development and action -- like in St. Louis, where Annabeth geeks out over the Gateway Arch and Percy, plummeting into the Mississippi River, has to rely on his absentee dad's protection.

OR! Or! Just write an entirely new storyline in Nashville, 'cause it's got a Parthenon and that's Greek, right? And never mind the fact that it actually shows up in later installments -- let's shove a hydra in there, 'cause that's Greek too! JUST IMAGINE THE CEE-GEE-EYES!

UGH maybe I should be grateful that no one released the Kraken.

Winner: Book (Book 3, Movie 0)

GODS (And Other Grownups)

Book:

Although the gods are a huge influence on the demigods' lives, they themselves don't show up too much in the books. But when they do, they've been reimagined in our modern world: Ares is a tough biker dude; Poseidon rocks beach shirts (well, as much as anyone can rock beach shirts anyway); and Zeus is all about the suit and tie.

And they're not the only ones that got an update. Mount Olympus is now in New York aka the centre of Western Civilization, while the entrance to the Underworld is located in a recording studio in L.A. Even side characters get a new backstory: the ferryman of the River Styx has been overworked due to population growth, and Cerberus is just a neglected pet with, y'know, three heads.

Riordan's clever take on mythology can serve both as a great introduction to Ancient Greek lore and a fresh spin for those who already had familiarity.

Movie:

Scroll up. JUST LOOK AT ALL THOSE FACES. (And that's not even all of them!) But looking beyond the actors who didn't have a chance to make it into the Harry Potter series, the movie doesn't even do well when it stacks the odds ever in its own favour.

Since the adult cast is a rare silver lining in the gray abyss that is this movie, it's understandable to want to use them more. BUT extending their glorified cameos means more scenery chewed than necessary (ahem, Uma), and also less screen time for severely needed plot development.

As for all that reimagining that I love: hmmm, not so much. The gods stay mostly in Ancient Greek attire (including FISH SCALE ARMOUR. It's fab.), except for Hades, who dresses like a washed up rock star/current day Johnny Depp. 

(This isn't this movie's fault, but when exactly did Hollywood decide that Greek gods had English accents? The gods here were similarly afflicted. All except Rosario Dawson, as the sassy disgruntled Persephone. And DONNEVEN with how Persephone is even in the Underworld during summer anyway.)

And then there's this weird edict from Zeus that forbids the gods from interacting with their children. Quoi the what? Is that just a stipulation so that the actors don't have to portray deadbeat deities? Plus, parental angst is actually a reoccurring theme in the books -- and OH LOOK, a segue!

Winner: Movie -- finally. But barely. And probably out of pity. (Book 3, Movie 1)

CONTINUITY

Book:

Riordan's attention to detail is crucial to creating Percy's world. There's a phenomenon known as the Mist that obscures the vision of us mortals and explains away our obliviousness. And there are magical workarounds to replace human technology, since monsters can use electronic frequencies to track down demigods -- meaning no gaming superstations and mid-battle Skyping, movie.

Plus, introducing prophecies and the overarching villain is kiiiiind of important for the whole friggin' series.

Movie:

HA.

Winner: If I could deduct points, I would (Book 4, Movie 1)

VERDICT

To the surprise of no one (except maybe the mothers of everyone involved in the movie), the book wins in a landslide. But the real winner is Thor Freudenthal, director of the upcoming Sea of Monsters! He has a stellar cast, a different screenplay writer*, source material that only gets better, and v. v. low expectations. At the very least, his name is freakin' Thor, so he'll always win at life.

*I feel bad for being so harsh, but c'mon, guy -- that was not good.

Mandy Wan's photo About the Author: Residing in Edmonton, AB, Mandy unabashedly loves YA lit, frozen desserts, and terrible puns.