Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson book universe has been ongoing for quite some time now. And for me growing up, it was quite enjoyable to read the books and see these characters grow through multiple adventures. It also gave readers a great deal of knowledge on Greek Mythology. And although some characters are no longer with us, the series still proves to be engaging. Like most fantasy books, it eventually got its own movie. And the movie completely butchered the source material. While it’s understandable that what works in a book may not work in a movie (and vice-versa) it seemed that the creators only made changes just because they could. Thankfully, the first two books were adapted and were discontinued after. Now it is quite easy to spend this article simply comparing every detail of the movie to the book and there is no shortage to look at. But it’s best to look at the movies biggest deviations and its overall flaws outside of them.
The story of the first Percy Jackson movie involves the young titular hero learning that he is a demigod (half human and half god) son of Poseidon. When King of God Zeus’ lightning bolt is stolen, he believes Percy to be responsible thinking that Poseidon convinced him to do so since ancient laws prohibited gods from stealing from one another. Zeus warns that unless he gets his lightning bolt back in two weeks time, there will be war among the gods. Percy upon learning his heritage and this information arrives at Camp Half Blood a safe haven for demigods like him, learns his lineage and how to fight, and sets out on a quest to find the bolt with his satyr friend Grover and daughter of Athena Annabeth.
One of the main flaws with this story is the fact that it makes light of Percy being a child of the Big Three. In the book even though everyone knew Percy’s father was a god, they didn’t know which one and when they found out it was a pretty big deal and everyone was frightened of him making him an outcast. Due to an oath following World War 2 with the children of Zeus and Poseidon against the children of Hades, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades made a pact not to father any more children due to how powerful they were. Unfortunately Zeus and Poseidon were unable to keep their word and Hades was enraged by this and tormented his nieces and nephews by sending monsters on them. While Chiron does acknowledge the rarity of a child of the Big Three, it feels unimportant.
In both this movie and the sequel the demigods use technology time and again whereas the book very rarely has them do so as it could draw monsters towards them. While this is a change that doesn’t make much of an impact it’s bound to anger several fans of the book.
Another deviation the movie made involved having the three sneak out of camp to go on the quest. In the book they had Chiron’s permission. There was no reason for this change as it does absolutely nothing.
The movie also left out several characters and plot points including Ares’ daughter Clarisse, the exiled god of wine Dionysus (outside of a cameo towards the end with the other gods including Ares whose role is also cut out), and Annabeth’s backstory with Luke. The first two details can be understandable considering that these characters played rather smaller roles but the last one comes at a huge detriment to Luke’s character as it reduces him to nothing more than a power-hungry man. There’s no mention of him working for Kronos or his feelings of abandonment by his father. Similar to the book, Percy is given some flying shoes by Luke. In the book, Percy avoided wearing them because the sky was Zeus’ area of power and he had angered Zeus at the time thus making the use dangerous. Thus he gave the shoes to Grover who used them often. However the movie completely ignores any of this.
Finally there’s the depiction of the Underworld, which is pretty much portrayed as Christian hell. And while damned souls were seen in the Underworld, there were also heroic and neutral souls there who were sentenced to various areas accordingly. We also see Persephone in the Underworld despite it being summer and as per her story in Greek Mythology she spends six months (three of spring and three of summer) in the real world. It’s really questionable why every Greek mythology movie seeks to put Hades as a bad guy. Yes he wasn’t incredibly righteous but he was more of an anti-hero.
There are far more details that deviated from the book than the ones I listed and these among many others did the movie more harm than good. Looking at the movie without comparing it to the book some of the special effects were good and the fighting was well staged. In terms of casting they did well with the casting of Zeus, Poseidon, and Chiron. As far as the younger characters go, Percy, Annabeth, and Grover were supposed to be FAR younger than what they were here and considering they were planning on continuing this all the way during the time, this is not a good thing. On top of that they (along with Luke) lacked the depth that made them so interesting in the books. Jake Abel as Luke was particularly bad in his performance, as he sounded half asleep throughout the movie.
Despite the movie not being very good, it made enough money for a sequel and we got one three years later titled The Sea of Monsters. The story in this one involved a tree (never mentioned in the first movie) that protected Camp Half Blood from harm through the spirit of Zeus’ demigod daughter Thalia being poisoned by Luke. Thus Percy, Grover, Annabeth, and Percy’s new half-blood Cyclops brother Tyson set out to find an object called the Golden Fleece that can heal it. However, Luke is bent on taking the fleece for himself to revive Lord Kronos (a villain who was also not mentioned in the first movie). The movie does mention the past with Annabeth, Thalia, and Luke but it’s only during the prologue and there is no depth to it whatsoever that made it so interesting in the books. In fact the younger actors for the characters look enough to be the same age as in the books. The movie completely butchers the books once again through the concept of The Mist. In the books, the Mist was a magical force that prevented humans from seeing the mythical world. Here it is only a spray bottle. This not only contradicts the book but also the movie. Later on there’s a scene at a coffee shop where a barista appears as a normal barista to everyone else but Grover can see his hundred hands suggesting the Mist works relatively the same way as it does in the books.
The movie also brings in the Great Prophecy Percy is supposed to know when he is of age. But here he is already of age thus making this completely nonsensical. The scale of it is rather underwhelming considering that this is the first mention of Kronos and the fact that the movie establishes that Percy has not been through any quests since the first one.
In bringing in Percy’s Cyclops brother Tyson his one eye is done through some horrid CGI. And once again, the depth of their bond is completely gone. There’s no mention of how he grew up alone and unlike in the book where Tyson left Camp at the end to work in the forges, he stays in this one pretty much taking away the opportunity for him to grow.
In bringing Clarisse into the story they get her bully nature down but once again lacks depth when it comes to her character and her relationship to her father (who once again makes no appearance in this movie).
Finally this movie actually brings in Kronos (albeit briefly) who has a good design and Percy dispatches of him quite easily with Riptide. Kronos was the big bad of the original saga and seeing him just completely go down without a fight is rather anti-climactic.
When it comes to the cast Brandon T. Jackson still got a couple of laughs as Grover, Anthony Head as Chiron was decent, and Stanley Tucci captured the personality of Mr. D very well. If they ever do a reboot I would not mind them bringing him back. However Jake Abel as Luke was still weak and Logan Lerman took a huge step backwards as Percy.
The movie does follow the plot of the book a tad more closely it feels like the executives got a bunch of angry complaints about the previous movie deviating and yet had no idea how to execute the book properly and as a result there is almost no reason to feel for any of these characters.
Hollywood is doing many reboots and remakes these days but this franchise has been largely sidelined. And while it’s understandable considering that the franchise is still going, the books have a lot of adventure and interesting characters that would appeal to various audiences. These movies don’t capture that feeling and it’s rather disappointing. Hollywood writers out there, if you can find a way to create a good adaptation of at least one of the books, it’s best you come forth.