When I watch a movie based on a book I like, I try to be fair. There are things books can do which movies are simply incapable of, and movies can be capable of showing things more swiftly than books. So I try to evaluate movie adaptations with consideration for the strengths and weakness of film as a storytelling medium.
Since books can contain a lot more plot than you can successfully convey in a 1.5-2 hour time period and no one is willing to put intermissions in movies, the plots of book to film adaptations must be boiled down. If the plot is fairly straightforward, this works. For a more epic story which takes multiple books to build to its finale, though, it’s a death sentence. Take Harry Potter, for instance. They’re making the 7th book into two movies because they have to fill in a lot of blanks they created by cutting pertinent information out of the second through fifth books.
That said, in the past 24 hours I’ve watched Twilight: New Moon and Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Neither were good adaptations.
Spoilers below for books and movies.
What if all the old Greek myths were true stories? What if the Greek gods were still up to their old tricks, keeping the world going and occasionally having trysts with mortals? What if their demigod children were still fighting to save the world from monsters? And what if, between a magical veil that keeps most mortals from seeing what’s really going on and the fact that magical items and beings have had their looks updated to fit the modern world, all of this were happening right under our noses?
That’s the world the Percy Jackson books take place in. It’s very true to the Greek myths, and while Percy somehow manages to find himself having one-on-one conversations with all of the Greek gods and reliving many of the myths over the course of the series, all of these events wind through a new, epic plot which is entirely the books’ own. It’s one of the best book series I’ve read, and the first movie ruins it.
While I’m curious to find out if there’s any possibility of recovering the main story arc after the first movie’s failure to lay any groundwork for it… I have better things to do with my time than watch the other movies.
- No big prophecy about demigod children of Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Everyone knows from the outset that Percy is Poseidon’s son, and no one thinks anything of it.
- Instead, to justify Percy’s ignorance of his heritage, Zeus forbade the gods to interact with their children directly. This turned Poseidon into a whiny fellow.
- Percy doesn’t leave camp with an officially assigned quest — he leaves against orders, in the middle of the night. No oracle visit, so no little prophecy here.
- No oracle at all, in fact. How are they gonna make up for that later, considering how important the oracle’s existence and current state are to Luke’s character development?
- Many of the characters who are instrumental later on are totally absent.
- The books don’t start indicating romance between Percy and Annabeth until book 3, if I recall correctly. There was no need to start it up in the first movie, and I can think of several better uses for the time spent on romantic exposition.
- Speaking of Annabeth, where’s her Yankees baseball cap of invisibility? Oh yeah — they took out almost all of the magical items disguised as mundane things. The one they did keep, Percy’s sword, went unnamed and looked like a fancy gold pen instead of a cheap plastic Bic. This, combined with the fact that the gods almost never look as described in the books and the total absence of Camp Half-Blood T-shirts, serves to make the movie look “cooler” and reduce its uniqueness.
- Annabeth is to the Percy Jackson movie as Uhura is to the new Star Trek movie. They had to make the token female a visibly “strong” character, so they ruined her personality. (On a minor note, why are Annabeth’s eyes blue?)
- It’s established early on in the books that Zeus dislikes Percy, and as such Percy had better stay out of the sky. That’s why they didn’t just fly to California. He never puts Luke’s winged shoes on, a fact that saves him in Hades’ realm.
- Persephone. Big, fat WTF here. She’s not even in this book, anyway, ’cause it takes place during summer, when she’s not in the underworld.
- What about Hades’ helm?
- I doubt they’re gonna cut out the duel between Ares and Percy later. But what reason are they going to have to fight each other? Their relationship starts out rocky in the books because Ares gives Percy the lightning bolt at the diner.
- There’s no hydra in this book. They hydra comes in later. And it’s not nearly as cool here, because Annabeth doesn’t explain that another Starbucks pops up every time a hydra grows a new head.
- The Mist, which hides all these crazy, modern-day, mythical happenings from the eyes of mere mortals, is never mentioned in the movie. While that’s okay for the first movie, there’s a rampaging Titan coming up later whose real nature can only be covered by the Mist.
- Percy Jackson’s first appearance in the film is at the bottom of a pool. He sits there while some credits roll by, and when he comes up, Grover tells him he’s been down there for 7 minutes. Good way to indicate his affinity for water early on.
- I’m unsure why they kept Percy’s fugitive status in the movie at all, since they made finding the pearls (a gift from Poseidon, in the books) the driving force behind their movement across the country.
- Grover Underwood is the new Neville Longbottom. By making him badass in the movie, they left a lot less room for him to grow. However, I suspect that the finding Pan subplot is going to be left out of the movies.
- Annabeth dishes out a couple of mythical tidbits that I don’t recall her mentioning in the books.
- Grover on crutches is an excellent alternative to zooming in on Grover’s legs with a narrative voice-over from Percy about how he walks funny, which would have been the obvious way to make sure the audience noticed something was off about his legs.
- Grover ate an aluminum can, and they zoomed in on his face while he did it. I don’t know if they fashioned an aluminum can out of candy or what, but it looked realistic and I loved it. I just wish they’d had him eat more. His aluminum can diet was always good for a giggle in the books.
- Annabeth still has her knife! Why is that a good thing? Just ’cause I would feel dirty plugging it into the understandable/interesting category. Her knife is needed later, and the way they made her a badass with a sword would have made it so easy to just kind of leave the knife out.
- The only thing that made me laugh in the film was the scene where they get high on the lotus flowers. That was hilarious. And they did a good job of representing different time periods with peoples’ dress.
Twilight: New Moon
The Twilight books are horrible material for film adaptation. Mostly talking heads, especially in the first two books. Hollywood would have done us all a favor to just leave them as a best-selling book fad, but that’s not how money cow ranchers roll. The first movie was a reasonable adaptation of the book, having had only one change I found truly distasteful. (I’m not saying anything about the acting, here; just the adaptation.) New Moon, on the other hand, was rubbish.
- In the movie, Bella doesn’t figure out that Jacob’s a werewolf — she sees him transform when Paul loses control and shifts. I classify this as bad instead of interesting/understandable because it makes an already unlovable character worse by taking away what brain power she had. This also put several scenes out of order.
- The wolves are too small. They’re supposed to be big enough for people to think they’re bears. The movie makers may have chosen this size because Jacob’s wolf form is supposed to get bigger, eventually overtaking Sam in size, but even Sam’s wolf just looks like a big dog.
- Harry Clearwater’s mundane death in the middle of all the paranormal madness was one of my favorite part of the books. To this day, I still wonder: did he have a heart attack when Seth and/or Leah changed shape in front of him for the first time? Or did his heart attack prompt one or both of his children to change for the first time? Handing his death over to Victoria was just wrong.
- Edward fought the Volturi in the heart of Volturi territory. He should have been dead within seconds, even with the ability to read minds. There should have been twenty vampires bat-piling him as soon as he took his first swing.
- The religion conversation between Bella and Carlisle was shortened for the movie. I kinda wish they’d kept the whole thing in, but cutting it short makes sense for pacing reasons. We’d have spent way more time either watching Carlisle sew, or watching Carlisle sew and then clean, if they’d kept the whole thing in. And they did a good job of keeping the point of the conversation intact.
- October… November… December… January. Seeing how they accomplished this, one of the most interesting things Meyer did with the writing of the books, was one of my main reasons for watching the movie in the first place. And I like it. So simple, so elegant. Much better than how I’d imagined I would do it. I do think they still should have had Charlie deliver his “You’re going to Jacksonville” ultimatum over the breakfast table, though — switch from showing Bella staring out the window to a top-down view of a bowl of cereal with a hand poking a spoon in and out of it, which vibrates madly when Charlie pounds his fist on the table, followed by a quick cut to Charlie’s face.