Bad Movies II

film 4 of 5

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 17, 2015

Chris Columbus is a terrible director. He insults us in the dramatic or relational parts, and disorients us utterly whenever there’s action. (Is it insult, or is he just utterly lacking in perception and feeling? “If you see my dad on the way to hell, kick his ass for me.” Cut, cue AC/DC on the soundtrack. Who stole that lightning? asks Steve Coogan. Cut directly and immediately to the culprit.) Worse than that, he’s immoral. I mean that in a very particular sense. As far as I can tell, at least when he’s in blockbuster mode, all of his characters act in two ways, either with empty bravado, or reacting to empty bravado with stupid sarcasm. It’s not just his melodrama, either; figures on both sides of the ledger behave in this same way. As a parent I find this to be more insidious and inappropriate than any naturalism could possibly be.

What I’m talking about that McCauley Culkin problem, the idealization and exaltation of spank-worthy brattiness. This situation is similar to the debased manner in which young people these days communicate. It’s George Orwell’s point (“Politics and the English Language,” 1946; in George Orwell: a Collection of Essays). When you talk that way you can’t explore or articulate any but the most elementary or platitudinous of ideas. If things don’t improve then eventually you’ll be the product of your debased speech. In other words, you’ll be stupid.

So it is here, and in this universe. Sure, real kids beat their chests and roll there eyes. (By the way, these same things apply in pretty well all of his other movies—the John Hughes projects, the Harry Potters, etc.) But if you don’t critique it or oppose it, this coping, junior-high Darwin affectation will become habitual, so rooted as to be irreversible. Adults beat their chests and roll their eyes too. And what follows? This director is singly responsible for the loss of civility and degradation of political  discourse in modern western democracies.

The star is okay. The noise the substitute teacher makes is okay. Brosnan aquits himself well. The dialogue is terrible. The dramatic situation is laughable, but I’m wondering if that’s in the source. Which I don’t intend to read. (One of our kids likes them, a lot. And I like him. So there’s that to think of.) The evolution of Percy’s water awareness is only adequately handled, but the water effects are kind of cool.

Uma Thurman is kind of Amazonian, isn’t she? The whole Medusa thing is more or less effective. Did anyone notice that they severed that hysterical victim’s hand, and then pulverized everyone else with that vehicle? Not everyone has to be C.S. Lewis, and lots of people don’t want to be C.S. Lewis. That’s fine. But as I was saying, C.S. Lewis found a way to redeem his antagonistic characters.

There’s a lotus sequence that’s pretty good, even in a didactic sense. Yes, this rank stuff, but let’s give credit where it’s due. On the other hand! That double entendre of Persephone’s is not only really inappropriate in this PG setting, it’s also witless and inelegant. That’s why the double entendres in The Three Musketeers are all okay. It’s all in how you do it.

Finally, this is the guy who made Mrs. Doubtfire. Notice that speech from the absentee father, claiming that he’s always been there after all? Actually, this isn’t going to be a complaint. It may be implausible in this setting, but it’s part of a bigger set of pictures. Divorce happens, and people try to do their best, and movies should reflect the whole thing. Still, Chris Columbus!