Justice For ‘Percy Jackson’

The year is 2010. Lady Gaga is wearing a meat dress, “Airplanes” by B.o.B is playing on loop on the radio, and my tiny 10- year-old heart knows no deeper emotional investment than the book series “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.” An American “Harry Potter,” the books had a pure, timeless and childlike quality that still evokes nostalgia to this day. They were absolutely beloved by a generation of young readers. Reading about the new adaptation suddenly takes me back to childhood, my obsession with this series, and how it completely captured my young heart and mind.

As many other people my age know, there was no heartbreak like seeing the book’s completely unfaithful original live-action adaptation. The 2010 movie “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” bastardized the source material for the sake of appealing to a wider audience. The Hollywood version of the children’s story aged up the protagonists by several years. An essential feature of the books is their target audience being children. The hero is 12-years-old in the first book which translates into “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” serving as a classic bildungsroman. It teaches children that what makes them different makes them powerful — through relatable, distinctly pre-teen characters. Their age inspires the unique tone and subject matter of the books, appropriate for children aged 9-12. The only thing the film might teach children is that at age seventeen, they should look like 12-year-old Alexandra Daddario. The plot was also chopped up to make senseless compromises due to logistics and budgeting. Aging the characters from the start meant that the franchise was never going to make it to the fifth installment. They were only ever going to make two movies, the second of which was even worse than the original.

Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), Percy (Logan Lerman), and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario). Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

The adaption represents the epitome of Hollywood, the worst and most commercial that the film industry has to offer: watered down, sexed-up, and taking a popular name for the sole use of profit at the expense of any artistic integrity. In a medium that balances art and entertainment, the 2010 movie is purely the latter.

If fans are frustrated, it’s hard to imagine how author Rick Riordan truly felt when he read the first script. The writer has been open on his personal website about his complete disappointment with the films. He emailed the producers in 2009, “When I first read the script I’ll admit I was plunged into despair at just how bad it was. If I were intentionally trying to sabotage this project, I doubt I could have done a better job than this script.” He sold the rights to a film adaption as part of a publishing deal after the first book came out. It gave him enough money to quit his job and focus on writing, but zero rights to creative control when the film was eventually produced. His main concern was the age of the protagonists. Rick Riordan was inspired to write the story by his son, who has ADHD and dyslexia, traits that became Percy’s strengths as a hero. He has a touching sense of loyalty to the young fans of the series, for whom he wrote the books. He was incredibly heartbroken to see the film produced in the way it was.

A decade later, there is justice. A television series by Disney+ was announced in May of 2020, with Riordan on board as a writer and producer. Twelve years has widened Hollywood’s scope of what makes successful viewing content. A TV series is the perfect form with which to adapt the novels. The characters and ideas have time to be well-rounded and complete. A cinematic adaptation of any novel requires many compromises; it’s just a different medium. With a book series of this nature, with such an involved fanbase, maybe a film could never do it justice. True to ancient Greek myth, the first book tells of the character’s long odyssey, with many stops and encounters along the way. Every small detail is important, a setup for a more complete narrative spanning five books. A TV series will allow the adaption to be true to the source material and to the author’s wishes. It is also certain to be successful. The first book came out seventeen years ago, so the series will be watched by children and adults alike who read the novels.

Logan Lerman as Percy Jackson and Alexandra Daddario as Annabeth. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

20th Century Fox and Disney+ have distinct modus operandi (although both are owned by Disney). Fox is a traditional movie studio. Its only goal is to profit, with widely appealing, digestible blockbusters that will sell as much as possible to moviegoers. They have made some of the most generic and commercially successful films of all time, with the same consumable quality that made the original PJO movies so horrible. The advent of streaming seen in the last decade has opened the door for more niche interests to be actualized on the small screen. It’s easy to see how a better adaptation may come to fruition after the release of the “Mandalorian,” “Eternals,” and other successful, elaborate fantasy series from Disney+.

Finally, on April 11, Riordan announced the casting of 13-year-old Walker Scobell to play the series’ hero. “Walker is also a super-fan of the books, having read everything through ‘The Trials of Apollo.’ He already owns a Camp Half-Blood T-shirt… The shirt was just him repping his love for the series, and that look of surprise is totally genuine.” This wholesome message alone made up for the original movie. Original fans of the series are incredibly excited to see young Scobell and the rest of the ensemble cast, soon to be announced, age with the characters, in a live-action series written by Riordan and true to the heart of the original books.

Production begins this summer on “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” and it will be streaming on Disney+ in late 2022 or early 2023.

By Georgia Riddle

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