Adapting Percy Jackson: what went wrong

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By Maddy Raven, 2nd Year, Theatre and Film

Rick Riordan’s children’s book series Percy Jackson (2005 - 2009) is beloved all over the world, but the big-screen adaptation failed to capture the magic of the original novels. Maddy Raven looks at what went wrong.

Adapting the Percy Jackson series was always going to be difficult – it had a huge following and already had a lot riding on it, seeing as it was written with children with learning difficulties such as ADHD and dyslexia in mind.

The author of the books, Rick Riordan, has stated that he wrote the series in order to boost his own son’s self-esteem, as his difficulties at school made him feel like he didn’t belong. The series created a community and a sense of belonging for millions of children, many of whom had been able to build a strong sense of identity around their love of the books, so Disney had a tough job.

Logan Lerman was potentially miscast as the titular Percy Jackson | IMDb / Fox Film Corporation

That being said, no one expected it to be that bad.

Not even Riordan, who took it upon himself to beg the producers to not go ahead with the project as it was. He published some of the emails he sent to Disney producers from way back when the first film was in production, but has acknowledged that as he signed away the rights, he was really only consulted as a formality.

I was particularly disturbed by the ageing-up of the characters in the film because it allowed the writers and producers to sexualise them very early on

In one of his emails he explains very clearly that ageing-up the main characters to seventeen rather than twelve, as Percy, Annabeth and Grover all are in the first book, not only ruins the chance for there to be an ongoing franchise but it also alienates the core audience.

These books weren’t Young Adult – they were children’s books, written for middle school children (year seven to year nine) by a teacher who was familiar with them.

I agree with Riordan completely, but I also would like to point out that I was particularly disturbed by the ageing-up of the characters in the film Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) because it allowed the writers and producers to sexualise them very early on.

Pierce Brosnan played Mr. Brunner/Chiron in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief | IMDb / Fox 2000 Pictures

One of the things I still find very charming about the Percy Jackson book series now is that the romance which blooms throughout the books is well thought out, sweet, and rather more realistic for children of their ages than a lot of other books would have you believe.

In comparison, the sexual tension between Logan Lerman and Alexandra Daddario is palpable, which rather sends a lot of the plot between Percy and Annabeth down the toilet from the first film.

The tragedy is that Percy Jackson was genuinely funny, and Disney managed to suck so much of the life out of the film

And clearly, Disney producers figured, in true Hollywood style, that must mean that Annabeth was ultimately useless too as she was dreadful in the second film. I would almost describe her as useless. We’ve seen an increase in recent years in well-written, strong female characters, and Annabeth is one of them, but Hollywood producers still seem to really struggle with this concept.

Moving onto his second email, Riordan doesn’t mince his words: ‘the script as a whole is terrible’. Not only did it stray so far from the original story, a lot of which I will put down to the changes of the background stories, including the ages of the characters, it actually seemed to just take certain parts of the book and string them together in a slightly different order, creating a series of adventures which vaguely resembled the original quest in The Lightning Thief but lost so much of its character and personality.

Stanley Tucci and Logan Lerman behind-the-scenes of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters | IMDb / Murray Close

Now, the film feels rather pointless, especially as they gave up after the second film Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013) because it was even worse than the first. It destroyed any potential for a franchise, as Riordan pointed out, and it wasn’t even funny anymore.

The tragedy is that Percy Jackson was genuinely funny, and Disney managed to suck so much of the life out of the film, in order to stuff in smouldering glances and opportunities for Lerman to flex his brooding muscles, it just didn’t match up to the books.

It also managed to push the gods into the backseat, which I find baffling – most of the comedy comes from Percy’s interactions with the gods and the way in which Riordan gently teaches readers to question authority figures and the status quo.

The writing and marketing of Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) is vaguely reminiscent of The Hunger Games (2012) – they missed the point, made it all about petty romance and took out a lot of the core values of the books in order to make the films more marketable, but in the process, lost their core audience.

Yes, I’m still bitter.

Featured: IMDb / Doane Gregory


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