It is common knowledge that when books are adapted into movies or series, the details are not always taken and adapted verbatim. The makers resort to making changes either to fit the storyline in a specific time frame, or they make some creative changes based on what would look good on screen as compared to on the pages.
Sometimes these changes can benefit the storytelling and make the movie-viewing experience satisfying, without offending the canon. Sometimes the changes are small, and don’t have that big of an impact on the storyline or the essence of the source work.
For instance, the Harry Potter movies never introduced the poltergeist Peeves from the books, and while that took away the chance to view some comedic moments, the story progressed smoothly as it did in the books.
However, sometimes the makers can get some of the details horribly wrong. These details can include character motivations, character appearances, an important arc from the story, and so on and so forth. When it comes to what the makers of the Percy Jackson movies got wrong, well, let’s just say: EVERYTHING.
That is no exaggeration. The movies got everything wrong aside from the names of the characters. To begin with, the plot is oversimplified and dumbed down. One of the things that absolutely charmed the readers of Percy Jackson books was the unpredictable nature of the adventures of the main characters as they encounter many elements of the Greek myths while attempting to fulfil a quest. The sheer randomness and slightly whimsical components paired up with the modernization of the Ancient Greek gods and monsters made for a fun read and a thrilling ride.
But what the movies did is omit about seventy percent of the events of the book, loosely adapt some and add some of their own- leading to the invention of a concoction that can cause consumers a great deal of indigestion, especially if you’ve read the books. And if you haven’t, well, what are you waiting for?
Percy Jackson: Book vs Movie
In the first book, ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians : The Lightning Thief’, Percy is a twelve year old demigod unaware of his godly lineage. He lives with his mom and his smelly, abusive stepfather named Gabe. When Percy kills his pre-algebra teacher Mrs.Dodds after she reveals herself to be a Fury and attacks him, his life changes.
Him and his mom Sally are attacked by the Minotaur and flee to Camp Half-Blood, a safe haven for demigods, along with Grover. Sally is grabbed by the Minotaur at the entrance of Camp Half-Blood and disappears into gold dust, which Percy initially believes is her demise (later revealed to be untrue).
At least this much the movies got right, but not without making slight necessary and some major, evidently unnecessary changes. Let’s take for instance this situation- In the books, Grover is a satyr who knows Percy is a demigod, but has no idea who his godly parent is. Him and Chiron the centaur, who is disguised as Percy’s history professor under the alias Mr.Brunner, only have a suspicion that Percy may be the harbinger or the trigger of something big.
When it is later revealed that Percy is the son of Poseidon (god of the sea), it creates a lot of buzz as the Big Three (Zeus, Poseidon, Hades) were forbidden to have children after a big prophecy. The prophecy itself is never revealed until the last book of the series- “Percy Jackson and The Last Olympian”. Moreover, Percy is attacked by the Minotaur when he is on holiday with his mother in Montauk, not right after the fury attack in New York.
In the movie, Percy Jackson is sixteen years old and not twelve, which already alters a major character trait. Grover and Chiron are already aware of Percy’s lineage, as shown in the very start of the movie when Grover watches Percy spend a couple of minutes at the bottom of a swimming pool.
Both Chiron and Grover seem absolutely fine with this fact, and show no dread of the consequences that Percy’s lineage could cause. This in itself has simplified the story, in the first few minutes at that, as not only does it take away from the mystery of ‘Who is Percy’s father?’ but also diminishes what is considered a grave situation in the books.
It is understandable that the Montauk vacation was never shown in order to fit the story into a time frame, but it makes absolutely no sense that both Chiron and Grover knew who Percy was but still waited until a Fury attack to reveal the truth to him. The son of Poseidon was right under their noses, and they decided to continue playing pretend until it was literally a matter of life and death. Real smart.
This is but the tip of a gigantic iceberg. In the book, Percy is accused of stealing Zeus’s lightning bolt, and is sent on a quest to find the real thief, who everyone suspects is Hades (God of the Underworld), in order to prove himself innocent.
This weaves an adventure which leads to Percy, Grover and Annabeth (daughter of Athena) going on a quest and having to deal with the three Furies in a moving bus, fight a Chimera at the Gateway Arc, travel in a truck whilst seated between a caged lion and zebra (separate cages obviously), reluctantly sit through the Thrill Ride O’ Love in order to complete a quest for Ares ( God of War), outsmart the Greek figure Procrustes-who now sells waterbeds and calls himself Crusty, almost gets dragged into the doomed pits of Tartarus, among other things.
The movie makers decided none of these events held any significance to the story and completely cut them out. The two incidents that they did include- the trio’s encounter with Medusa and their stay at the Lotus hotel- were modified to such an extent that the charm was replaced by a lot of cliché.
But the changes that can be deemed nothing short of unforgivable, are the ones made at the conclusion of the movie. What left readers shocked at the end of ‘The Lightning Thief’ were the several unexpected turns in the story. What started out as a simple task of retrieving the bolt from Hades, soon is revealed to be not all that simple. Hades is not the thief, and in fact suspects Percy to have stolen his Helm of Darkness as well as the bolt.
Ares (God of War) is revealed to be the one who was behind the theft of both items and duels Percy on the beach (Which in my opinion was a bad idea. Hello? Son of Poseidon?). Percy manages to wound Ares, and the god retreats abruptly after being asked to by an unseen force, which is later revealed to be Kronos. Hades releases Percy’s mom, who was alive and was being held captive, after finding out he’s not the thief.
Luke, one of the campers that had initially befriended Percy, reveals to him after his return to camp that he’s the one who stole both items and handed them to Ares. He also reveals that both him and Ares are following the orders of Kronos, the Titan lord. He asks Percy to join him, and sets a scorpion on him after Percy refuses.
The movie took away the thrill of this reveal from it’s audience, a grave injustice for sure. In the movies, Hades is in fact evil and wanted to keep the lightning bolt when he got a hold of it, even if he hadn’t stolen it.
The makers probably were stuck in the same inflexible Hollywood notion that Hades equals the Devil, which couldn’t be more untrue. In the books and in the original myths, Hades is the god of the Underworld and not the god of evil. He’s actually quite decent compared to some other gods, even if he has his dark moments. Additionally, Luke’s betrayal was shown as an individual act of rebellion, not the start of Kronos’ plan that comes to fruition later in the series. Ares, a major element in the story, is not even granted a mention in the movies.
The Movie Culture Synopsis
The book was a perfect blueprint for what could have been a masterpiece of a movie, but the makers made it fit into the constructs of a generic, teen movie with cheesy dialogues and a predictable plot. And that’s just the first movie. We could also address the second book- ‘ Percy Jackson and The Sea Of Monsters‘ and it’s adaptation, but then that would take us forever and I’m out of frustrated tears to shed.
When it comes to commenting on the movies, no one does it better than the author, Rick Riordan himself. When asked about his favourite Percy Jackson movie, Uncle Rick responded with- “Any one they don’t make is my favourite.”
Same here, Uncle Rick. Same here.