May 2010

Greetings and Salutations, True Believers!


Little buggers are still lurking about. Pay ’em no heed.

Now, where were we? Oh right, making up for lost time and all that.  Time for the 2nd of three currently slated reviews before the end of the weekend! Today’s subject: Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief.

Sweet, right?

PJ:TLT is the first of a book series written by Rick Riordan, based in Greek Mythology and following the adventures of Perseus Jackson, a young son of Poseidon living in a modern, dangerous world. It’s a truly amazing books series, and I recommend it to everyone I know.

This review isn’t about that though. This is about the movie adaptation of that wonderful, wonderful book. By proxie, it must be wonderful, right?

Ha! Nope! Let me put it this way: Never before have I come out of a theater feeling like I was actually physically violated. In case you haven’t read them, my brother Jon and I did some sketches on this little escapade awhile back, when the movie was first made.  Here’s the first, for your viewing pleasure:

To outline why I hated this movie so much, I’ll have to go into a bit of back story. As I said before, I loooove me some Rick Riordan novels. Greek Mythology is my personal poison, and nobody writes it better than Riordan. So I went in with high expectations. What I got was a list of discrepancies so long you could wrap Christmas presents in it. Speaking of which, I’d like to borrow a line from one of the greatest complaint letters ever. It’s wholly appropriate to me here that Rick is short for Richard, so I don’t even have to change the name in this quote: “I’ll try and explain how this felt. Imagine being a twelve year old boy Richard. Now imagine it’s Christmas morning and you’re sat their with your final present to open. It’s a big one, and you know what it is. It’s that Goodmans stereo you picked out the catalogue and wrote to Santa about.Only you open the present and it’s not in there. It’s your hamster Richard. It’s your hamster in the box and it’s not breathing.”

That’s EXACTLY how I felt at the end of this movie, and I’ll outline why here. The first thing is massive character discrepancies. I’m gonna address these character by character from what I can remember. Oh, and it goes without saying that there will be spoilers from here on out, so if you are still keen on watching this movie after the above descriptor, then you should probably skip this section.

Still here? Don’t say I didn’t warn you. The main discrepancy is the flash forward in age for all the main characters: While Percy was 12 in the books, and all the other campers were around that age. In fact, one of the things stated to bring the danger into focus was that most half-bloods don’t survive past 12 or 13 outside of the camp with no training. This gets tossed out the window pretty quickly, since at the start of the movie, Percy and his compatriots are now 16 and up(anyone who has read beyond the first book will know exactly why this is a problem.) However, while this is an issue, it’s not as glaring as the character specific issues that I’ll outline below.

We’ll start with Grover: In the books, Grover is this un-assuming cripple who turns out to be a satyr tasked with looking out for half-blood kids like Percy.  He’s a bit of a coward, but there when you need him, and also probably the shyest guy on the planet. In the movie, Grover turns into a “bodyguard” whose only act of defense is dropping the hammer on Percy’s sleazy step-father. Wow, scary stuff, right? He’s also the biggest player ever, and by the end of the movie his whole persona screams “I’m a pimp!” It’s pretty disturbing, and actually kinda racist considering Grover’s original character.

Moving on, we have Anna Beth: If you thought Grover was bad, wait till you get a load of Anna Beth. Anna Beth in the books was a calculating, logical, slightly impulsive little girl whose brains sometimes got ahead of her common sense. In the movie, they fold the character of Clarrise, a rough-n-tumble, take-no-prisoners daughter of Ares, into Anna Beth’s character, leaving her a strong, tactically-minded “woman” that is as emotionally deep as an ash-tray.  They try to shoe-horn her ability to fight in as “I’m the daughter of Athena, tactics are my specialty”, etc etc, but it really doesn’t work. As anyone whose studied combat can tell you, tactics most definitely does not equal skill. As the great Frank Gilbreth Sr. once said, “Let’s just say I can TEACH anyone how to do it.” Knowing tactics, the theory of battle( usually large scale battle) and knowing how to fight are two entirely different things, it’s like saying that Newton could manipulate gravity because he understood the theory of it. It simply doesn’t stand to logic, and that combined with her complete lack of relatability makes the whole character feel one-dimensional and forced.

Really, this can go on and on. Every character in this movie is incredibly messed up, even down to the one-shot side characters. They even managed to mess up the Medusa! Fox, are you paying attention? This is a monster that even Clash of Titans got right for crying out loud! What’s even worse is that on top of the characters being bad, the acting is down right shoddy. The first couple of scenes can be summed up as “Water dude stumbles on to Sky Scraper, drunk Boromir blows up a window.” They dump all of this information about half-bloods, Zeus’s lightning bolt, Olympian Politics, and a whole slew of other various and sundry details on you all at once, without any explanation of who or what or why. Unless you’ve read the books or studied Greek Mythology, you won’t get whats going on, which isn’t in itself a bad thing, but when after that it turns right around and takes a magnificent dump all over the books and Greek mythology in general, the whole thing feels schizophrenic at best.

This movie really is trying too hard to be taken seriously, and in the process makes itself even more ridiculous. From turning the Greek gods into a mystical U.N. (Zeus is Russia, Poseidon is the U.S., and Hades is…I don’t know, China or something, Hades isn’t really that important anyway in this movie) to trying to bring in all the teen angst that it took 5 books to develop into one movie, there’s just way too much going on that we are supposed to take seriously and care about, but when it comes down to it, there’s so much stuffed into this movie that it just leaves you feeling rather Meh. Shoddy Casting, Bad Writing, over-the-top special effects that leave me with the sneaking suspicion that Michael Bay was a consultant on this film, and truly terrible action. The irony here is that the final fight scene between *spoiler that you should have seen coming miles a way* between Percy and Luke is up for an award for best fight scene at the MTV movie Awards, and it’s not even that good! The climactic ending is Percy blowing up a few water towers and then taking 10-20 seconds while Luke, a man characterized in the books by his willingness to brutally murder Percy, sits and gawks while he twists the water into a mega trident, which he then throws into Luke’s neck, plunging him into the ocean. It sounds awesome, but it’s actually boring when you see it happen, and the fact that Luke had ample time to run Percy through the whole time takes you out of the scene. *end of spoiler you should have seen coming miles away*When it comes right down to it, not even the musical score in this movie is that great. Really, there is nothing redeeming here. This movie is like walking into Olive Garden and finding the inside has been replaced by Mcdonalds, and the Mcdonalds is in the middle of a Labyrinth. When it comes right down to it, it’ll still fill you up, but for the amount of work put into getting there, combined with the fact that it may just give you food poisoning will just leave you feeling confused, and if you are a fan of the books, a little bit betrayed.  There is nothing redeeming about this movie. 0/10 teacups.


Greetings and Salutations, True Believers.


Hmm. I seem to have lost all my True Believers, and I really can’t say I blame ’em.  It’s been what, two months since I wrote anything? So much for that whole “regular reviews” thing I was going for. What can I say? Debate is a harsh mistress. But, I find myself with a bit more time now, so time for movie reviews! I’m going to start with what I have been told is a classic: Labyrinth

This guy? You don't mess with this guy.

Let’s make one thing clear: Until about 17 hours ago, I’d never even HEARD of this movie. Get all the cries of “Communist” “Blasphemer” and “Infidel” out of your system now, please, I’ m aware that it’s apparently a cult classic. Normally, “cult classics” aren’t really what they are cracked up to be, so I ignore them. But since a good friend insisted that I watch this movie, I went ahead with it anyway.

For those of you who, like me, have no idea what this movie is, let me sum it up:  Spoiled girl(Sarah) lives a tortured spoiled existence, and despite having a pretty darn good life from all we can tell, she wishes she lived in a fantasy world. That…doesn’t happen. However, her much more specific wish that goblins would show up and steal her baby brother? That happens pretty quickly. So, after she has a brief chat with the Goblin King Jareth(David Bowie), she gets transported into his magical kingdom, where she has roughly 13 hours to go fetch her baby brother from the inside of his castle. The trick? His castle is in the center of a labyrinth! Betcha didn’t see that coming, eh?

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk shop: Labyrinth is good. There, I said it. It’s good! But not great. It has so much going for it, but there are a few things that ultimately bring it down from being the smash it could be. Let’s get those out of the way right now so I can focus on the good for the rest of the interview:

Poor Character Development: Now, I know what you are thinking. “How can he say that! Look at Hoggle, the coward who becomes brave for his friends! Look at Luddo, look at the numerous other side characters!” This is all well and good, but there is one glaring problem: Sarah. You know, the main character? She starts out throwing temper tantrums and generally being a jerk to EVERY PERSON SHE COMES INTO CONTACT WITH. She wishes away an innocent baby who is so darn cute he even gets the Goblin King on his side. She is a general Ice Queen, right up until she actually is in the fantasy world. She spends the next hour and a half selflessly devoting herself to this quest for a baby she supposedly hates, for parents she supposedly hates, all the while being kind and gentle to a weird little man who repeatedly stabs her in the back. Can you say schizophrenic? How does she justify this? There is no reason given for her frostiness towards her own family, or for the sudden change into utter concern and care for every stray creature that happens across her path. I don’t know, maybe I’m just putting too much thought into this, but it really took me out of the movie trying to justify her personality.

Rip-offs galore: The Wikipedia article states: “The filmmakers acknowledged several influences, including Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the works ofMaurice Sendak (the plot mirrors that of his story “Outside Over There”), and M. C. Escher.” Influences, eh? Right. The entire final scene, with the messed up stair-cases and geography? Meet Escher’s painting, Relativity:

There were influences involved, alright.

Look familiar? We also catch a nice Sleeping Beauty “influence” half-way through, as well as quite a few other “borrowed” ideas.

Now, I know this has been a critical review thus far, but remember what I said before: Labyrinth is good. Let’s talk about that now:

Killer supporting cast:  From Luddo( A big, orangutan style goblin who can SUMMON ROCKS!) to the lowliest comic relief goblin, there is nothing greater in this film than it’s supporting cast, brought to life by Jim Henson himself. Seriously, these folks stole the show to the point of which I was actually bored during the “final confrontation”, only because they weren’t around. But don’t get me wrong, even though he would be nothing without his supporting cast,

Bowie makes a great villain: David Bowie really pulls this role off well. He takes advantage of Jareth’s whimsical nature and uses it to his full extent. I went into this movie prepared for him to be my least favorite character, but really, he did a fantastic job pulling it together.

Excellent special effects: This movie showed you don’t need lens flares and a trillion dollar budget to do good special effects, because it did them where they have always been done best: The people.  The costumes and puppets Henson puts together are more convincing than the best and brightest of CG animators in today’s market. That’s not a knock on CG, but you just can’t compete with Jim Henson.

So, there you have it. Labyrinth scores a solid 7 teacups in my book.

As a hint for whats to come over the weekend, let me put it this way: Don Cheadle is most definitely NOT the Lightning Thief.