Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief — The Special Thing About You

Percy Jackson, a pale young man in a grey t-shirt and jacket holds a lightening bolt in his hands in a New York City Background.Every now and then a movie comes out and I get super excited about it because it sparks something form my childhood or youth that I love.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians did that. I loved Greek mythology in High School (even if I went a little cross-eyed reading The Odyssey and The Illiad). Hollywood is trying to make mythology cool again, and I was stoked about that.

I so wanted to see this movie…and because I think I live under a rock sometimes, I hadn’t heard it was a book series *scribbles a wish list*.

And then we went to the theater.

***Spoilers Ahead. Turn Back Now!***

Last Chance to Avoid Spoilers!My apologies to everyone reading in the Readers!

***

Dr. Hunt Kevin McKidd Poseidon comes storming out the ocean and makes himself all human looking so he can jaunt up the Empire State building to chat with his brother, Zeus, who has decided that you can apparently walk out of Mordor, because he is royally pissed that someone has bounced and taken his lightning bolt with them… but I guess maybe someone should have picked up his toys a little better, huh? But no, it isn’t Zeus’ fault, because obviously Poseidon has teamed up with his bastard to steal it and overthrow Zeus, because no one trusts anyone here, and we aren’t going to let a little fact that Poseidon’s secret son doesn’t know who he is or who Poseidon is or the fact that he probably skipped school that day distract Zeus from his tantrum… And, hey, isn’t Zeus supposed to wield a thunderbolt? I am not going to rain on their parade…I do not have book or movie deals. Anyhow, Zeus stomps about for a bit and declares that there will be big time trouble of Inconvenient Truth Proportions if someone doesn’t bring his toys back. NAO! Then, he takes the elevator back to Mordor Olympus, because I C WUT U DID THAR! New York is like, where Gods should be!

So, Percy Jackson goes to a really really special school for kids with “special needs”, because he is dyslexic. You can tell because every time he tries to read something on the board it looks all jumbly and it swirls around. It’s almost like it’s…Greek or something. That is also if he has been paying attention at all, because he obviously has AD D, and we all know that this means he can’t sit still or even look at his teacher. In fact, kids with ADD just give up and wander around with headphones on all the time. I don’t know…it all felt very forced LOOK I HAVE THIS PROBLEM1!!1

I do not have ADD, so I can do no more than call my brother to ask if this is an accurate portrayal. My brother does not write blogs. He should. He’s very funny. And also not a concise person.

Percy Jackson can also hold his breath under water for a wicked long time, and no one thinks it is odd that he likes to do this all the time. I have not read the books, so I do not know… does he swim? Is there a reason he is just drawn to the pool all the time that would make sense in the context of his childhood? It is funny that no one has questioned this rather troublesome to the outside observer who doesn’t realize that Percy might have a higher purpose that he doesn’t yet understand behavior. His buddy likes to time him … seven minutes ZOMCC! AMAZING PERCY! It’s almost like he’s BORN to be in the WATER!

So I thought, OK, cool, here is someone who is set up to be a main character who uses crutches, who is Percy’s buddy Grover. That is kind of new. And he’s a PoC. Rawk. A Person of Color who is also a MAIN CHARACTER!

So, let’s go home from school. O HAI! It’s Percy’s mom! She’s ironing her waitress uniform like a good sacrificial lamb! Because here comes Joe Pantoliano who I have only ever seen play someone other than a drunk Italian guy one time on a USA show or something. And he comes in and grabs Percy’s mom’s ass to seal the abused woman who gave up her whole life to become a martyr raise her man-child stereotype. I was pretty sure they were going to whip something out on the table over who was more in charge of taking care of Sally. Oh the price you pay for one night with that man who had the looks of a god! Oh…

So Percy gets to tell his mother that he is so frustrated with school, and she assures him that all of the problems that he is having will all make sense to him one day … because disability is just something we have to tough through until it results in our higher calling? FORESHADOWING!

Cut to Field Trip day to the local museum which just so happens to be having an exhibit on Greek Gods and such. Pierce Brosnan is rockin’ his wheelchair… HEY WAIT A MINUTE!

It is like a crip drag parade in here.

Percy still can’t pay attention even when Professor Brosnan leads him through the questions, so a new teacher leads him into the next room to give him the stern “pay attention” lecture, and it turns out she’s a HARPY ZOMCC PERCY LOOK OUT!

She attacks Percy, and Grover comes to his rescue because HA HA HE IS JUST PRETENDING TO BE DISABLED he can hide his satyr legs and follow Percy around and be his protector, and they run to Percy’s house to get his mother and they all run away to the Camp for Half Bloods, where all the other children who happen to be demigods hang after their secret identities have been revealed.

And they explain to Percy that his ADD is really this cool defense mechanism, meant to help keep him alive when he is attacked, because he is the Son of a God, and is supposed to be a hero. His dyslexia? It is just that his brain is really wired to read Ancient Greek, so it is just that he is in the wrong place. It’s because it is a super power! Sound familiar?

Percy gets to meet all the other demigods including Annabeth, who completes the two dudes one girl trope, although this girl is an awesome breath of fresh air, at least in the movie, in that as the daughter of Athena, she is a perfect combination of ass-kicker and friend, who isn’t having any of that “I’ve fallen in love with you at first sight” crap from Percy. Kudos screen writers! She is smart, she is brave, and I crushed on her a bit DO NOT JUDGE ME!!1! so there is that, and I am hoping that I will enjoy her character this much in the book as well. She was not your Heavenly Sword girl in a chainmail bikini who is cold and stomping everything in her way. She had depth and clothes and I liked her. She was my Ginny Weasley.

And it was all very awkward feeling to me. Because as much as I wanted to love this movie, to get all my fangirl for Greek mythology on and be ready for the next Epic Thing in movies (while not holding my breath for the first great Heroine Movie Series), the first half hour was very off putting for me. There were so many tropes that I couldn’t ink all of my cards and I couldn’t even enjoy the glory that was Pierce Brosnan prancing around half horse. Yes. He’s a centaur and not really disabled either…

However, after a rather chatty discussion with lauredhel about the book series, and having read the first 45 pages of the first book for myself before SOMEONE lost our copy (I would never name names but her initials are The Kid) which we had to ride the bus all the way to Osan to get, I decided that the luster of the story has been lost somewhere in the Big Screen Magic.

The rest of the movie, while veering wildly away from the story arc of the book series, was decent. If you liked the Harry Potter movies you may like this movie. If you like the Percy Jackson book series, you will probably mostly like this movie. If ableism, sexism, racism, and some slightly uncomfortable albeit possibly over the heads of young ones sex innuendos between characters that are supposed to be around 14 or so bother you, you may want to pass. I mean, how old is Grover supposed to be anyhow? And really, when are we going to stop hypersexualizing the PoC characters?

There was one scene that both amused me and slightly irritated me, involving Rosario Dawson’s portrayal of Persephone and Hades, but in the name of spoilers I won’t discuss it at length, but for anyone who has seen it, did it bother anyone else? On a race level or as a trigger for anything else?

In the end, I give Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief a good rating if I can get over the first half hour of aggravation, but maybe it might be enough to put me off altogether if these things are hurtful enough to me. Or maybe it was because SOMEONE ate all my popcorn before the second Lollipop commercial was over. *coughs* However, again, because of the discussion with lauredhel, I am willing to entertain that my perspective is not universal (try not to faint). So, I turn it over to you, gentle readers.

Photo from: Newark Library

Cross posted

11 Comments

  1. 1) The movie and the book series have some serious issues WRT race and disability. One thing that didn’t really translate into the movie was the idea that Western civilization is the pinnacle of all that is good about humanity. Yeah. I nearly threw that book across the room.

    There’s also the fact that it’s half-implied that all the gods are white* and the only POC I remember being mentioned is Grover. Who is half goat.

    The second book in the series features a Cyclops (Percy’s half-brother) who is “big, ugly, and not very bright”. This brings about equal cringe-worthy and interesting moments in turn but in the end I felt that it tipped a bit too far in the direction of disabled person ~teaches~ abled person things.

    OTO as an ADD person I kind of loved that it was really a battle reflex. Tropey as hell but sometimes I don’t mind.

    2) I am a fan of the book series (despite the above) because I’m a fan of mythology and love the little “ooooh” moments you get when you figure out how something connects. The movie was nothing like the books except for sharing character names. The characters were aged up, their quest went in a completely different order, the Lotus casino was sexualised and glammed up (it’s supposed to be something like a giant McDonald’s indoor playplace), Annabeth’s character was *massacred* (combined with another antagonistic character who is the daughter of Ares and bullies the crap out of Percy). One thing the author does very well is female characters, which I found kind of surprising given the amount of fail in intersecting areas. I adore his treatment of Artemis in the third book.

    3) Percy’s mom was also kinda butchered in the movie. I forget if they state this explicitly, but she marries Smelly Gabe because his smell keeps the monsters tracking Percy away (which I guess you caught if you read the first 45 pages? I don’t really know how far that goes). The Gabe-Percy dynamic that was so obnoxious was a good bit different in the books because Percy was younger and therefor not really in a position to do the “protectin’ my woman” thing so much as “stop abusing us you asshole.”

    Her Medusa-aided pwning in the books is much more satisfying, especially since she gets to sell the ‘statue’ for enough money to help the two of them out. She later gets a boyfriend, but I haven’t read far enough in that book to comment.

    4) I blocked out the Persephone parts. OH GOD WHY did they add that? She wasn’t there in the original at all and she served no purpose except to add a little sexy. But now I want to go back and re-watch to see what you mean.

    All in all I give this one a giant ‘SKIP.’ If you want a movie that does NOT fail and fail hard at disability-related issues, go see How to Train Your Dragon.

    *I haven’t read the last two books, I may be wrong.

  2. I – but – I – ANCIENT GREEK DYSLEXIA WHAT *keysmash*

  3. @lilpocketninja: having worked at casinos, that whole thing was very unrealistic to me…and groan-inducing. Very.

    Also, the quip Persephone makes at Hades made me LOL in RL. But other than that, it was just a little too over the top to being “let’s sexualize the PoC!”. I didn’t know that she wasn’t in the book until lauredhel told me.

    They do mention the smelly Gabe thing in the movie. I wish Joe could get less stereotyping roles.

  4. SPOILERS ABOUND

    awesome review of this movie.

    i, too, was super excited to see something about greek gods, because i was one of those kids always reading greek myths in middle school. i was very disappointed in the movie, for many of the same reasons. i’ll add to them, and add a few others.

    i thought the “explanations” for the disabilities were really…awful. oh he’s got goat legs, ah ha, this dude’s in a wheelchair to hide the fact that he’s a CENTAUR. seriously–how does one hide an entire horse-half of one’s body in a wheelchair? was it under the fleece blanket?

    i was conflicted when it came to Grover’s character–if it weren’t for him, i wouldn’t have enjoyed the film in the minuscule amount that i did. but that creates another problem: why does it always fall to the PoC (particularly the token black guy) to be the comic relief? and most of his funny moments were rooted in the stereotypical hypersexualization of black males. and when they left him to (presumably) fornicate with Persephone, yeah. i was wondering how old he was. but it’s cool, cuz boys who sleep with older women are even more studly, right? and seriously, the Charon burning money thing? it was funny, but disappointing, cuz only black men care about the benjamins, i guess.

    other minor loopholes/issues that irritated me:
    –why did Poseidon wait like 5 days before telling percy to get out of the lotus eaters casino? “hey we’re short on time, but i’ll let him and his buds be stoned a while longer…”
    –the really really pitiful explanation of why percy’s mom was with the douchebag: apparently his putrid smell concealed percy’s whereabouts. wait, what? really???? *that’s* what we’re going with????
    –as cool as swords and armor are, how practical are they really in this day and age? can demi-gods stop bullets?
    –why were all the demi-gods about the same age? are you telling me that all the gods decided to get it on with humans at roughly the same time, and then stop at apparently the same time? cuz reading those myths indicates that gods quite frequently reproduced with humans. is there a dry spell we don’t know about?

    i’ll probably think of more, but it’s been a few months since i saw it. i don’t think i’ll bother reading the books.

  5. FilthyGrandeur – maybe they’re all the same age on the outside because they’re demi-gods* and what’s the point of being half-immortal if you have to age?

    I haven’t read the books, but Greek mythology is so fun!

    *Don’t most demi-gods die? I really need to brush up. What happened after Heracles finished everything?

  6. yeah, i thought about the not aging part–but do they all stop aging at 17? seems sorta weird to me. lol.

  7. Only semi-related, but on the theme of recent movies – has anyone seen How to Train Your Dragon? I thought it had really interesting and largely very positive depictions of disability.

  8. I haven’t seen the movie, but I read the book a while back (a year or something, so my memory of it is probably not going to be the best). I remember it was just when I was really starting to identify as disabled and I was so excited to see so many disabled characters. OMG, the main character has ADHD and dyslexia and there’s a guy in a wheelchair and a guy who uses crutches!

    …I was not impressed by the turnaround. Not at all.

    One thing that I like, although I may be clutching at straws here, is that the halfblood’s “dyslexia” is shown as continuing to have negative effects – for instance, there’s a scene somewhere where Annabeth and Percy are in our world again and run into trouble because they can’t read something. I liked that the negative effects didn’t just vanish, but I wish wish wish the author hadn’t decided to appropriate dyslexia and ADHD for it. There is nothing wrong with making up your own disability, okay, and although there’d still be fail if it had been some unspecified or experts-have-never-seen-this-before reading disability it would have lacked the whole “I take this real problem that affects real people and twist it into what I’d like it to be because it’s not as if any of that *matters*” aspect.

    Also, seconding the “Western Civilisation is the pinnacle of human achievement!” being just painful.

  9. Huh, so in the movie he’s actually at a school students with disabilities? I don’t think he was in the books – just “yet another private school” – which did nothing to help him deal with his disabilities. I spent the first part of the book being angry that he wasn’t getting any kind of actual support or accommodations, just being told to “try harder.” In the end I think I cared more about that part than the rest of the story.

    I had someone in my original review tell me it was fantasy and I wasn’t supposed to worry so much about the disabilities being used to cover a super power… well gee… it’s kind of hard to ignore something that hits close to home.

  10. http://seeking-avalon.blogspot.com/2010/02/not-percy-jackson.html

    Just so many problems with Hollywood’s Production Of This Tale (which had its own problems but Oh Sweet Mercy Hollywood!)

  11. @Katie–

    i saw how to train your dragon and also felt it portrayed disability well. those with a disability had aids of some kind, but it didn’t seem to hinder how they functioned. there was a moment of “well, this sucks,” immediately followed by “oh wait, no it doesn’t.” that whole movie was just wonderfully done.