When the first Percy Jackson & The Olympians novel, The Lightning Thief, was originally published in 2005, I was still young enough to fall within the realm of a young adult, but for some reason I missed the boat on this one. Instead, my first introduction to the Percy Jackson world was through the 2010 adaptation of The Lightning Thief. But I think anyone who’s a fan of the Percy Jackson books can attest that The Lightning Thief film was absolutely horrible both as an adaptation and as a movie in general. I went into the theater with no knowledge of the Percy Jackson canon and I spent two hours mildly entertained, slightly confused, and wholly underwhelmed. So it’s possible–and entirely likely–that I subconsciously avoided the book series because the film was so awful.
However, I recently picked up The Lightning Thief novel and I loved it. I finished the book in a few days and flew through The Sea of Monsters as well. Modern day Greek mythology in a young adult novel with a cast of cool and relatable characters? Yeah, Rick Riordan’s series is right up my alley. (I may have been inspired to read the books because I wanted to watch the Sea of Monsters film for the sake of Nathan Fillion.) After finishing the two books, I rewatched The Lightning Thief, then saw Sea of Monsters. If there was one thing I noticed, it’s that the books, the first movie, and the second movie are all very different and I have a lot of opinions about each of them. So let’s discuss.
Now, I don’t know how many people are really familiar with Greek mythology, but my parents sort of raised me on it, both Greek and Roman. Plus it was assigned in a few of my English classes in high school. But, even if readers don’t have a vast knowledge of Greek mythology, Rick Riordan, Craig Titley (screenplay of The Lightning Thief,) and Marc Guggenheim (screenplay of Sea of Monsters) have a responsibility to stay true to the mythology on which these stories are based. As far as I can tell, both Riordan and Guggenheim paid very close attention to the myths and don’t stray from the original stories.
Titley on the other hand makes a glaring error and completely ignores the source material in which Riordan stuck true to the myths. I’m talking about, of course, the scene toward the end of The Lightning Thief in which Persephone is in the Underworld with her husband, Hades, during the summer. This scene blatantly goes against the mythology, which is that Persephone spends fall and winter in the Underworld, and spring and summer with her mother Demeter. Since the movie takes place in the days leading up to the summer solstice, Persephone should not be in the Underworld. I understand that movie adaptations can’t always stay true to the books, but in a series like this, the filmmakers really needed to at least pay attention to they mythology on which the books and movies are based.
One of the things I really like about the Percy Jackson and The Olympians book series is that Riordan doesn’t make light of the struggles that these kids deal with. Sure, it’s a young adult series so it will never be as dark or tortured as A Song of Ice and Fire, but it also stays true to keeping the characters grounded in the real world. Even though Percy Jackson lives a rather fantastical world, dodging mythic monsters and dealing with god-like daddy issues, he’s still relatable. Riordan did a very good job weaving realistic characters into an unrealistic world with equal parts humor and heartfelt emotion.
When Titley adapted The Lightning Thief to film, I think he lost a lot the realism that made the book work so well. The characters in the movie either took themselves too seriously, like Chiron, or not seriously enough, like Grover. The overall film then takes on a tone of one big joke, but not the kind of joke where the audience is laughing with the filmmakers and more like the kind of joke where the filmmakers are laughing at the audience, if that makes any sense. Guggenheim, however, captures the same–or at least similar–tone as the Sea of Monsters novel. It seems that he took the book series and the fans a little more seriously when he wrote the screenplay adaptation, which comes through in the final product of the film. Needless to say, I liked the Sea of Monsters adaptation a lot more than The Lightning Thief.
First off it has to be said, the Percy Jackson and The Olympians novels are not the easiest young adult books to adapt to film. Their plots are wild, all over the place (literally,) and layered. In a book that kind of plot is exciting and wonderful, but they don’t translate to a 2-hour-long movie. So of course, both movies leave out a lot from the books. However, again I’d have to say that The Lightning Thief failed to translate the plot in a way that would appeal to audience members that hadn’t read the books. Back when I saw The Lightning Thief before reading the books, I really had no idea what was going on. It was convoluted and confusing so that the entire time I felt like I had missed an important scene that explained everything that happened–which wasn’t the case because no such scene existed.
For Sea of Monsters, I might be a bit biased since I read the book before seeing the film, but I felt the second Percy Jackson movie did a better job of explaining what was happening and putting the events into context. This might be because Sea of Monsters had two important expository scenes: in the beginning when Percy tells the story of how Annabeth, Luke, and Thalia arrived at Camp Half-Blood, then the mythology behind Kronos, which was completely missing from The Lightning Thief. Overall, Guggenheim definitely adapted the story of Sea of Monsters better than Titley did so with The Lightning Thief.
I always judge any book, movie, or television show on the characters; to me, they are the glue that holds any story together. If I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care what happens to them. One of the big reasons I wasn’t interested in the Percy Jackson series after watching The Lightning Thief was because I didn’t care about the characters–except Luke, who was the only character with anything resembling a real emotion. Of course, as I said previously, Riordan actually creates wonderfully complex and realistic characters with which I fell in love while reading the books. From Grover to Annabeth, and Chiron to Tyson, I became invested in all of Riordan’s characters. The Lightning Thief had no character development and focused entirely on the action sequences that looked cool, but had no depth.
Sea of Monsters suffers a little bit from the same problem. There isn’t as much character development as I would have liked, but there is some. For instance, Percy and Tyson’s relationship in the beginning of the book and film is quite tense and one sided, but by the end they truly become brothers. I thought the transition was rushed in the movie, but I actually felt it was a little rushed in the book as well. There’s also some development of Percy and Luke’s relationship because they were so close before Luke revealed himself as the lightning thief. That relationship is certainly more complex within Sea of Monsters and I appreciated that. Overall, I really liked the characterization in Sea of Monsters.
Sea of Monsters also made more of an attempt to stay true to the books in regards to the characters. For instance: Annabeth’s hair is blonde in the books. In The Lightning Thief, the filmmakers didn’t even try to dye Alexandra Daddario’s hair, but in Sea of Monsters they at least attempted to make it blonde. It’s a pretty bad dye job but, gold star for trying! Also, can we talk about how much better Anthony Stewart Head is as Chiron? Sorry Pierce Brosnan, but Head will always be the best choice for any mentor-like character. And seeing Stanley Tucci as Mr. D was absolutely amazing. I’m almost happy Mr. D was left out of the first film because if Tucci hadn’t played him, I would have been disappointed. The casting and costuming for Sea of Monsters as much, much improved over The Lightning Thief.
Sea of Monsters was definitely a better film and a better adaptation of the Rick Riordan’s novels than The Lightning Thief, but it still left a lot to be desired. Maybe the next film will do better. That is, if The Titan’s Curse gets a movie at all. After both Sea of Monsters and The Lightning Thief failed to break even in terms of budget, I’ll be surprised if we see an adaptation of The Titan’s Curse. (Fingers crossed, though!)