An absent father, an abusive stepfather, and a boy with ADHD and Dyslexia. This is daily, real life stuff for child psychiatrists. However, with all respect to the author of the book series that gives life to what is likely to be the first in a series of movies about Percy Jackson, the conditions that are said to afflict this handsome and charming lead seem like thin, tacked on devices aimed at rounding out his mortal persona. Then again, the dialogue gets pretty thin at times as well.
Nevertheless, this clever story offers an engaging plot, though committed followers of the series will see many potentially disappointing departures from the literary version. The 'hat tips' to the book such as the scene with a character eating a can won't be enough to satisfy a real fan.
Percy Jackson is introduced holding his breath at the bottom of a swimming pool. He is unhappy in his rowdy, but hip high school, yet his loyal friend Grover, whom we later discover is a true character from mythology charged with protecting him, eases the experience. As the story unfolds we learn he is the son of Poseidon and a mortal woman, and is being blamed by Zeus for the theft of his lightning. This gets him in deep trouble, and gets the viewers some increasingly gnarly special effects as he flees and battles against the supernatural forces sent to hunt him down.
Along the way, his mother is captured by Hades in the underworld just before he escapes to the 'Camp Halfblood ,' where he is to train [in a spectacular setting probably within 100 miles of Vancouver, BC.]
Though the sensible advice is to go to Olympus and argue his innocence before Zeus, most particularly to avoid a war among the gods over the stolen lightning, he commits to rescuing his mother from Hades. Of course he succeeds on all counts and begins to develop what is likely to be a long term love interest with Annabeth, the sword wielding mortal daughter of Athena.
There are some particularly compelling scenes in this movie. Uma Thurman plays a very creepy Medusa [anyone with a snake phobia should close his eyes!], and a scene with the Hydra also pushes the boundary of violent scariness for a PG rating, though the movie is largely bloodless. Perhaps one of the best scenes, however, involves a stop at the Lotus Casino (remember The Odyssey?) The parallels to drug use are compelling and easy to draw as Percy and his friends succumb temporarily to the mind numbing effects of the tasty treats offered there. The actor playing Poseidon has a presence and decent enough lines to sustain this part of the story line, yet it is hard to say how useful such a story might be to a young person struggling with a real absent father. With the large number of 'trainees' inhabiting 'Camp Halfblood ' there seems to be an intention to make the plight of these characters useful somehow to fatherless or motherless children.
The weak lines that are wasted on the evil stepdad, played by Joe Pantoliano, made him cliche and unconvincing. Parents may find interesting discussion material in the late revealed reason Percy's mom stayed with such a 'pig,' though it is certainly not the strongest turn of this generally good plot.
As usual, I was struck by the many young children attending this intense PG movie. From my standpoint, a big screen viewing would be too stimulating for most nightmare prone or sensitive preadolescents. Yet indeed, it's hard to know who the target audience may be here. The book is about an eleven year old, and these stars are very attractive late adolescents. There was little or no offensive language, and sexual innuendo is mild, though the cheesecake factor was moderate in the casino segment.
In the end, Percy proves to be a good hero who goes into hell to rescue his mother, even if he seems to struggle minimally with the notion that this might conflict with a potential role for him in averting a war over the lightning. He wields his increasingly impressive powers with a modicum of humility (as well as good focus and follow through), and even graciously accepts his teacher's correction and authority after he has achieved greatness. Recommended then, but would avoid the big-screen version for sensitive children.
Norman Hale, MD