I want to say at the beginning that this article is, if I can help it, not going to be a rant against the Percy Jackson films as I don’t hate the films in any way, in fact I quite enjoyed them. However I do feel that as adaptations of the books they left a lot to be desired. I am a big fan of the books. I really like the way Rick Riordan modernises and adapts the Greek myths to keep them interesting and I enjoyed trying to spot the references to the different characters and events from the Greek myth books I read as a child. Some prime examples of this are when Charon, the boatman who takes souls to the Underworld, wants a pay rise so he can buy Italian designer suits or when Annabeth easily subdues Cerberus with a red rubber ball (turns out all three-headed dogs just want some love!). I won’t mention any others as they’re part of what makes the books so enjoyable but rest assured there are plenty.
The problem with the films actually lies not in the big things, although there are some glaring flaws, but in the little moments that they skipped over because they were considered unimportant or not necessary by the makers of the films. Personally I find it is often find that it’s the small scenes that tug at your heartstrings or develop the characters that I end up re-reading most often. I understand that to adapt books into films parts need to be cut out or ignored but how long would it have taken to include Charon’s Italian suits or Cerberus and the ball? I didn’t expect them to adapt every single bit of the books word for word but they could easily have used more of these amazing little scenes which had already been written. Even with the changes they made to the plot, especially in the second film, a scene like Ares (who’s apparently the god of leather biker jackets as well as war) telling Clarisse she’s a failure would have fitted perfectly well and explained why Clarisse acts like such an infuriating bully.
Most of the issues, both big and small, that the films have essentially lie with either a lack of respect for the source material or, sometimes it seems, a complete lack of knowledge of it. It’s made apparent in the very first book that Kronos is going to be a vital part of the series in the future but they don’t even mention him in the first film. I don’t understand how anyone who knows the books could have thought that it was OK to leave Kronos completely out of the film. Sadly they’ve shot themselves in the foot almost straight away with the film franchise thanks to nonsensical changes like that which will almost certainly make it nearly impossible for them to properly tell the rest of the story as anything vaguely resembling the plot of the books. And whose bright idea was it to use the prophecy from the last book in the second film? It makes absolutely no sense with regards to the rest of the film and they ended up ignoring large parts of the prophecy just to make it work. The full prophecy goes something like this:
“A half-blood of the eldest gods
Shall reach sixteen against all odds
And see the world in endless sleep
The hero’s soul, cursed blade shall reap
A single choice shall end his days
Olympus to preserve or raze”
In the book every single line is fulfilled, perhaps not in the most obvious way, but it all makes sense in the end. In the film though they completely ignore five of the lines and only the line “The hero’s soul, cursed blade shall reap” is even acknowledged again as far as I remember. As if that wasn’t enough in the final scenes of the film they then ditch “The hero’s soul” bit because they finally twigged that Kronos doesn’t count as a hero and only ended up using the “cursed blade shall reap” part because all that means is that Percy can kill stuff! And isn’t that all that matters? Why they didn’t use the perfectly good prophecy that was originally written for the second book I don’t know but there is no way they can make a fifth film as the entire fifth book focuses on that prophecy and how the different parts come to pass.
Since I think that little outburst covered the lack of knowledge part I’ll finish with the lack of respect for the source material that I mentioned earlier. My first point on this can be summarised with two seemingly strange and unimportant words; Annabeth’s hair. I bet you’re wondering how hair can have anything to do with the films showing a lack of respect for the books but bear with me. In the books Percy’s very first impression of Annabeth is this; “a pretty girl, her blonde hair curled like Cinderella’s”. And so you’d think they’d pick an actress with curly blonde hair to play her in the films right? To prove my point here’s a picture of Annabeth in the films:
I have absolutely nothing against Alexandra Daddario, I thought she played her part perfectly well, and I concede that the hair difference was less obvious after she dyed it blonde for the second film but was there really no one who looked more like the description? At least they got her eye colour right I guess.
My second point is that at times, at least to me, the films also show a lack of respect for the quality of the books. The fact that they cut out almost all of the more emotional scenes which focused on character development instead of action seems to show that they think people only read the books for the action. If they think that then they clearly don’t know the series’ fan base because those moments like just after Percy saves Annabeth from the Sirens are basically what made me read the books. Don’t get me wrong, I like the action and the main plot but the key plot moments wouldn’t have nearly as much power if I didn’t care about the characters that much. And in the films I found that happening. The way the story of how the Cylclops caused Thalia’s death was rushed through almost painfully quickly to provide a vague explanation for Luke’s comment to Annabeth about Cyclopes earlier in the film and could have been done so much better. I watched the Sea of Monsters film with my parents and when it finished I read out the passage from the book where Annabeth tells the same story to Percy, but it’s told in a detailed and engaging way that made my parents feel sorry for Annabeth instead of wanting to shout at her to get over herself like they probably did in the film. And I confess I did too, in fact the only reason I didn’t actually shout at the TV was because I knew the story from the book.
The blatant over dramatisation of scenes which were previously effective due to their simplicity is another case of lack of respect for the quality of the good stories they had to work from. I admit that I didn’t care in the film when the Manticore stung Annabeth and actually killed her because it was obvious they’d just use the Golden Fleece to bring her back to life. It was almost painful to watch them try to create heart-stopping suspense and end up making me wonder if they seriously thought anyone would believe she was really going to die. And don’t even get me started on their desperate need to pit Percy against Annabeth in capture the flag instead of having him on her team, as he was in the book, just as an excuse to include a supposedly “sexual tension filled” sword fight (probably why they made the main characters 16 in the films too) which was jarring to watch because it was so contrived.
In conclusion the film makers just don’t have the word “subtlety” in their dictionary. It’s like they had a beautiful sword so they melted it down and tried to make it even better but it ended up misshapen and mangled because they didn’t even try to understand or appreciate the understated nuances that made the original sword so beautiful. I’m not claiming that the Percy Jackson books are especially understated or nuanced, nor am I saying that they’ve got some deep, hidden philosophical message. My point is that they didn’t realise that it’s the little pieces that make the bigger picture. If you try to copy a painting you’ll see that it’s made up of lots of small, careful brush strokes, not haphazard swathes of paint which somehow end up looking vaguely like the original but lose the detail that you don’t notice until it’s gone.
The films were good, enjoyable action movies and as a standalone they weren’t at all bad but as versions of the books they just didn’t work. I think it’s a great shame that the films were so clumsily adapted because they could have been great re-tellings of already excellent stories. Perhaps one day the books will be adapted again and finally done properly by someone who appreciates the small moments and fine details that make up good books. I hope that will happen but sadly I think it’s a chance which has been and gone.