cave canem

Cave Canem- Beware the Dog

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Adaptation Failure: The Lightning Thief

I sort of wanted to do another Adaptation Failure, since bad movie versions of books are one of my all-time favorite things to bitch about. And since this movie has a special place in my heart (or whatever organ represents hatred), I figured I'd give it a go. Hang in there, this is gonna be a long one.

Now, an Adaptation Failure, in my mind, is not just a bad adaptation of a book, or one that leaves a lot of stuff out- it's an adaptation that, through sheer force of shittiness, completely undermines or fails to represent the things that were good or appealing about the work upon which it is based. So to explain the failure of the movie, I first have to attempt to explain, in my opinion, the appeal of the books. For those of you not familiar with the book, here is the tvTropes page for the series. I will try to explain the more relevant details as I go.

Obviously, a lot of the appeal for the books, at least for young kids, was their accessibility, even for more reluctant readers. The protagonist was a witty, snarky kid who was constantly getting in trouble at school, had an asshole stepfather, didn't even like reading much himself due to his ADHD and dyslexia- basically, he was sort of relatable. He got in trouble, he wasn't the perfect kid, but he meant well. He was an outsider, but he found a place he fit in at Camp Half-Blood (more on that later). Plus, the story was exciting. It had gods, and monsters, and swords. Percy had superpowers, for Christ's sake. He was like Aquaman but actually cool. And yes, this is all, for the most part, represented in the movie. I include it here mostly for the sake of completeness.

Eat your heart out, Fishboy.

Now, remember what I said earlier about Camp Half-Blood? It was a place where Percy, along with all the other rejected, out-of-place demigod kids found solace and belonging. It was Percy's Hogwarts, the one place where he really learned to feel at home and safe. The kids reading it identified with Percy's love of the place, and grew to see it as a home as well. The summer camp feel, the orange t-shirts, the campfires and barbeque, the monsters and weapons training... It all melded into a strange, but unique and somehow loveable whole. Fans of the books had long discussions about who they would want their divine parents to be, which of the twelve cabins they would live in, how they would fit in at camp- so, of course, the movie let us have a good long look at the beloved camp, right? They at least gave us a quick look at the cabins, the half-circle of twelve cabins each lovingly decorated to identify the god it represented, as in the books? It would take up too much time to look at each one individually, of course, but it would still provide nice background color, and fans would have fun picking out each of the gods' cabins- so, let's see what Camp Half-Blood looks like in the movie, shall we?
...What, seriously? That doesn't look like a summer camp, it looks like a medieval village! It doesn't even look Greek, let alone anything that should be associated with Percy Jackson! It's not dangerous but fun and quirky Camp Half-Blood, it's dusty and severe and military! It's certainly nothing to capture the imagination, as evidenced by how damn hard it was to find that picture. What the hell? 
Okay, fine. I'll give them that one. After all, Camp Half-Blood may be important, but they can't linger there. They have to keep the plot going. Fine, then. Let's look at the story, shall we?

One nice thing about the Percy Jackson books is that the author knows his Greek mythology very well, not only educating kids on their classical gods and monsters, but gaining the appreciation of the particularly nerdy kids like yours truly who knew all the classic Greek stories and enjoyed the modern twists to them. One very clever thing that he did was in his handling of the first book's antagonist. He knew very well that modern Western culture tends to treat death gods like Hades as Satan analogs, and set things up to make us all believe that Hades was the titular lightning thief who had stolen Zeus's master bolt, only later pulling the rug to reveal first that Hades not only had not stolen it but was also the victim of a theft, and then that Ares was really responsible and had been manipulating Percy the entire time, and then that Ares himself had been manipulated by Kronos, and finally that Kronos had been working through a traitor, who turned out to be Annabeth's friend Luke. (What a tweest(s)). On top of that, Percy gets to have a climactic battle with the motherfucking god of war, significantly raising his badass levels just by surviving let alone winning.
In the movie, the bad guy? Yeah, it's totally Hades. Fuck staying true to the myths, fuck clever twists, fuck setting up for the rest of the series. We've got our bad guy. That final battle with the freakin' war god? Nah, we're just gonna let him fight Luke instead. That's almost as cool, right?

Aw hell no.

Two more things that bothered me:
The gods. The books had a sort of theme of parental abandonment. The gods were not the most attentive parents, often not even paying enough attention to their kids to bother claiming them as their own. It caused a lot of hurt feelings, and it played a massive part in Luke's decision to side with Kronos- he was tired of being ignored by his own father. In the movies, it's all on Zeus, who's just being kind of a humungous dick and not letting any of the gods talk to their kids because... Because fuck you, that's why. (Seriously, weren't they planning on adapting the other books too? Did they read the other ones? Because they didn't set up half of the necessary plot elements to... Oh, I see. They were too busy doing cocaine to give a crap. Understood.)

The secondary characters. Here, I'm mainly referring to Annabeth and Grover, since they're the Hermione and Ron to Percy's Harry and we're with them almost as long as we're with Percy. Now, in the books, Annabeth is the witty, prickly but loveable daughter of Athena. She's smart, but she's got issues with her parents. She and Percy have some chemistry, but she's totally got a crush on her old friend Luke. She's clever, charming, keeps her head in a fight... Oh, what's that, movie? She's just gonna be a generic love interest? Oh. That's cool, I guess. 
Now, on to Grover. In the books, Grover was a perpetually nervous loser of a satyr. He dreamed of finding the god Pan who had been lost for ages, but first he had to prove himself by protecting half-bloods. He'd messed up badly in the past, and Percy was his last chance. He was nerdy and a bit of a coward, but he was loyal, determined, loved him some enchiladas... Oh, he's the generic comic relief guy? Um, okay, I guess. (Also, I'm not going to raise any objection to a Greek creature being African-American, considering that satyrs are famous for having sex with anything that moves and it's not inconceivable for a black satyr to exist, but I do wish that he hadn't been turned into the Sassy Black Friend TM.)

So, anyway, I hate this movie, and maybe now you can understand why.

Give the book a try? It's awesome.

Thanks for reading! Valete!

1 comment:

  1. "...but I do wish that he hadn't been turned into the Sassy Black Friend."


    I'll be the first to admit that I haven't read the books, and prior to seeing the movie (at home, thankfully) I would have figured that they'd do a fair job adapting it. That said, Grover alone was MORE THAN ENOUGH to not only murder my interest in the books, but give me a headache so painful I nearly thought I'd taken a sledgehammer to the head.

    Now, I'm willing to accept that the books are superior. All things considered, they probably are. Nevertheless, if I had read the books and been a serious fan of them when I saw the movie, I would seriously want to hurt someone. Badly.