Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Harryhausen Homage on Blu-ray Disc
By Jim Bray
Harryhausen fans, rejoice! Just in time to celebrate the great fantasy movie creator's 90th birthday, the spirit of his films is given a nice homage on in Percy Jackson (etc.), a "Greek Mythology-compatible" tale of a young demigod who must face the wrath of the Gods in order to save his mother and the world.
Well, he's doing it more for his mother than the world, but that's okay.
Chris Columbus, whose track record in the field of cinefantastique needs no apology thanks to such flicks as the first two Harry Potter movies, Adventures in Babysitting, Bicentennial Man and more, helms this modern day Greek myth and, though it's a tad silly and tries too hard to be relevant to today's kids, it generally works quite well.
Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is your average New York City kid. He's full of angst, dyslexic, with ADD – you get the picture. The only thing he doesn't have, it seems, is zits. He doesn't fit in – and for some reason he has the bizarre ability to stay underwater for long periods of time. His home life sucks, too, thanks to a boorish stepfather who makes his mother's life miserable.
Percy has a good friend named Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), a boy forced to use crutches for a reason that becomes obvious once we find out that he's far more than he appears.
Percy's a lot more than he seems, too. It turns out he's the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) who, as Greek Gods were apparently wont to do, had come down to earth and "hooked up" with a mortal woman. Percy doesn't know any of this, of course, just that all of a sudden his life goes from teen trauma to life and death struggle as he's tasked with finding and returning Zeus' (Sean Bean) lightning bolt before the deadline the King of the Gods has given to prevent the war he'll wage against the Olympians, catching modern day Earth in the crossfile.
He doesn't have to go it alone, fortunately. He's aided in his quest by his buddy Grover and by Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), the luscious daughter of Athena.
It's an interesting blend of present day teen action flick with classic Greek mythology film of the type the great Mr. Harryhausen used to make so well, even though it now takes hundreds of people to do what he used to do on his own. And if you always thought Pierce Brosnan had the acting skills of a Clydesdale, this is the movie for you!
The script, by Craig Titley and based on the novel by Richard Riordan, does seem to try a little hard to be cool and, perhaps, relevant to today's youth, via such devices as Grover's near-constant stream of modern day/pop culture references, but they don't beat you over the head with them.
The special effects are state-of-the-art CG, but they have "Harryhausen" written all over them. I had just watched the Blu-ray of Mr. Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts, and it was great seeing all the homages – at least I hope they were homages, as opposed to rip-offs - to Harryhausen in them, from the gigantic Gods in the Mount Olympus home to the Medusa and the seven headed Hydra (though they moved so quickly I couldn't actually count them). The only thing missing was an army of skeletons!
I don't know if these apparent homages were deliberate tributes to the master, though I suspect a lot of the special effects people got their original inspiration from Harryhausen's movies – just watch the supplements of the Jason Blu-ray to see the esteem in which the effects industy appears to hold Mr. Harryhausen, and with good reason. But I did find myself thinking "Harryhausen" repeatedly throughout the movie.
The Blu-ray (which is bundled with a DVD and digital copy) looks and sounds great, but for some reason it refused to play past the initial 20th Century Fox logo on my Oppo Blu-ray player, despite repeated attempts. That really rubbed me the wrong way, because this movie deserves to be seen on as big a screen as you can manage and the Oppo is hooked into a 106 inch home theater.
It worked just fine in my PlayStation 3, though, which was weird, and the 1080p picture it sent to my 50 inch plasma was excellent, with rich colors, excellent detail and wonderful blacks that help cause the picture to nearly leap off the screen with that 3D-like look so many good non-3D Blu-rays have. It left me pining for my 106 screen…
The audio is presented in dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 and it's powerful and immersive. All of the channels get a good workout, as do all of the drivers in each channel, from deep bass to the really high stuff. It's a wonderful soundtrack.
Extras abound, including 10 extended and/or deleted scenes, though there's nothing really major here. But there is a number of featurettes, too, including the interactive "Secrets of the Gods", "The Book Comes To Life," "Inside Camp Half-Blood", "On Set With Brandon T. Jackson" and "Meet The Demigods." You also get a "Discover Your Powers Quiz", which lets you learn from which God you may be descended if you were, indeed, a demigod like those in the movie.
It's pretty standard fare. I'd have liked to hear a director's commentary, but such was not to be.
Fox is also promoting its "exciting content" through Internet-connect Blu-ray players, via the BD-Live feature that's often a waste of time – at least in my never humble opinion. Universal uses Internet-enabling to offer new trailers for its BD titles, which is kind of neat, and Fox is now offering "exclusive never-before-seen clips" via BD-Live, along with "all-new content through the LIVE EXTRAS program".
These LIVE EXTRAS are easy to use and, in the case of Percy Jackson (and…) offer a selection of trailers you can either stream or, if you want better quality, download. I was delighted to find a trailer for The Sound of Music Blu-ray, promised for Christmas, and downloaded it. It's more of a teaser than a real trailer, and it's only in 720p, but it looks and sounds good and has me salivating in anticipation of reviewing that classic title later in the year.
Fox says this is only the beginning and it plans to expand the BD-Live experience throughout the year with extras for some of their classic horror, action and comedy titles.
Percy's stuff includes a featurette: "Demigods At Work & Play: Inside the Lotus Land Casino", an inside look at the lavish set design with the film’s young cast. There's also an IMBD-connected feature that lets you bring up cast and other infomration as the movie unfolds, which is probably good if you either have a really short attention span or are great at multi-tasking. I found it obtrusive when it came up over top of the movie, but there's nothing preventing you from going back and accessing it later.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief is hardly a masterpiece, but if nothing else it's a nifty guilty pleasure. It doesn't have the sense of wonder of the old Harryhausen films, but maybe it'll encourage some movie fans to go back and visit the Ray Harryhausen library to see how such films used to be done.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.