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Book Nook: The infamous and upcoming Percy Jackson adaptations

I recently watched the 2005 film “Pride and Prejudice,” based on Jane Austen’s 1813 novel of the same name. It was excellent. Many movie adaptations of books struggle to convey their lengthy events in a completely different medium, but this is not the case with “Pride and Prejudice.” The writing succeeds in staying true to the book and creating an enjoyable movie. Readers of the novel will appreciate the actors’ interpretations of their respective characters. However, you could watch the film without reading the book and immensely enjoy it.

This made me think back to my days of watching the Percy Jackson film adaptations, which were terrible. They were incredibly loose adaptations, and the antithesis of everything the “Pride and Prejudice” film did well.

The novel series Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan is about a 12-year-old half-human son of the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon, who goes on adventures with his demigod friends and saves the world multiple times. It consists of five books covering Percy’s life over a few years at a magical camp for demigods on Long Island.

I loved the book series. It was a staple of my middle school experience. I would stay up extremely late to read about how Percy and his friends defeated monsters. I would read the series at the dinner table with my family, which was admittedly rude. But I was so absorbed in the writing, I physically could not put them down until I was finished. The characters had so much depth, the plot was fast-paced and the references to Greek mythology were incredibly interesting.

The film adaptations of the first two books in the series, “The Lightning Thief” and “Sea of Monsters,” were a disappointment. They changed key elements of the original Percy Jackson we know and love, like the characters’ personalities and the monsters they encounter. Reading the series and knowing how badly the movie portrayed the storyline was painful. But the films don’t just fail as adaptations, they fail to be good movies. Even for people who didn’t read the books, the movies were just plain unenjoyable. They could not stand on their own if they were not tied to the Percy Jackson series.

The pacing in the movies was jarring and the emotional development of the characters felt awkward and forced. Although the acting was decent, the characters felt one-dimensional at times. The focus of the films rested much more on the action and fight scenes than anything else.

Disney+ plans to release a television series adaptation of Percy Jackson. The good news is that Rick Riordan is on the writing team for the show. Hopefully, his influence will result in a series that stays true to the books, only deviating from the original plot in ways that are entertaining, improve upon the novels and translate their events for the silver screen.

The episodic format is also promising for the upcoming Percy Jackson release. TV shows typically can better adapt their source material because they have a longer runtime compared to movies. “Pride and Prejudice,” similarly, had a TV series adaptation on the BBC that was much more faithful to the original story. 

Despite this, I am still scared of how it will turn out. The Percy Jackson movies have permanently lowered my expectations.

Contact Caitlin Brannigan at cbrannig@nd.edu.