Is Percy Jackson’s mythology too close to Harry Potter’s magic?
Here at the Hero Complex, we’ve circled “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” as a project to watch next year, so we’ll be bringing you lots of coverage of its odyssey as a Hollywood venture. Today, Rachel Abramowitz has a report on the similarities between two magical youngsters, one named Percy and the other named Harry. — Geoff Boucher
In February, moviegoers will get a chance to meet a character who is already a titan of the bookshelves: Percy Jackson, the rebellious 12-year-old hero of Rick Riordan’s bestselling novels, who discovers that he is the demigod son of the Greek sea god Poseidon. But will newcomers to the saga find themselves thinking of a certain boy wizard who discovered his own supernatural heritage within the walls of Hogwarts?
The first Riordan novel, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” was published four years ago, but it remains a hot gift for youngsters this holiday season. It starts off the tale of young Percy, a kid with a flair for sarcasm, getting in trouble and bouncing among schools. He also has been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia and has a somewhat defeated attitude about his future. It turns out, though, that his brain is wired differently because of his secret heritage: In this story, the Greek gods are alive and well and living on Mt. Olympus, which is now located on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building.
Instead of Hogwarts, this boy hero is shuttled off to Camp Half Blood on Long Island, where he communes with other young demigods. Once there, he’s wrongly accused of stealing the thunderbolt of Zeus, and if he doesn’t find it, there will be a bloodbath among the famously quarrelsome clan of immortals. In the odyssey that follows, Percy discovers his own powers and faces down a bevy of beasties from Greek mythology. The studio executives working with the film are prepared for comparisons to “Potter,” but they say they’re confident that this adventure hero has plenty of his own unique magic to offer.
“We found it was a fresh arena,” says Fox 2000 President Elizabeth Gabler, whose division is releasing the film. “It also deals with a lot of issues that kids and young people go through. Self-realization, breaking with the family, becoming more independent, finding out what your parents are, feeling a bit like an outcast and making yourself strong. There’s also an element of this which is a monster movie. The [kids] come up against Medusa, the Hydra, the Minotaur, Hades – people who are wild and extreme.”
Young Logan Lerman plays Percy, while Kevin McKidd (“Rome,” “Grey’s Anatomy“) stars as Poseidon. The cast also includes Uma Thurman (“Kill Bill,” “Pulp Fiction“) as Medusa and Sean Bean (“The Lord of the Rings” films, “Troy“) as Zeus, the king of the gods. The centaur Chiron, played by former James Bond star Pierce Brosnan, runs the activities at Camp Half Blood. Catherine Keener (“Capote,” “Being John Malkovich“) plays Percy’s mortal mom, Sally, whom he must rescue from the clutches of Hades, played by Steve Coogan, whom many moviegoers will remember as Octavius in the popular “Night of the Museum” films.
As the trailer makes clear, this film is directed by Chris Columbus, the director of the first two “Harry Potter” films and a producer of the third. Gabler said Columbus first heard about the books from his kids and then approached the studio, which owned the rights.
“He of all people was aware that there are some similarities to ‘Harry Potter,’ ” Gabler said. “Who better than Chris to keep it away from that. He’s very sensitive to not repeat what they did in those films, and to bringing out the best of what these stories can be.”
– Rachel Abramowitz