The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan is nothing short of amazing. Yes a bit formulaic, but excellently written and intelligent, warping, re-weaving and re-inventing classical mythology in interesting ways. If you haven’t been introduced to Perseus ‘Seaweed Brain’ Jackson or his friends Annabeth, Grover, and a whole cohort of gods and demigods, creatures and monsters, you are in for a treat when you inevitably run down to the book stores to see if they’ve got any copies in. May I be the first to say: Welcome to Camp Half Blood. (Anybody else in the Apollo cabin?)
In 2005 the first of the books, The Lightning Thief, was adapted by Mrs Doubtfire and Harry Potter director Chris Columbus into something that is best described as generic. The films mostly got the casting right – Logan Lerman was a perfect Percy – but the film was devoid of everything that made the books so brilliant. They couldn’t even manage to keep the relatively simple plot intact. A second film, Sea Of Monsters, was an even bigger monstrosity. In trying to course-correct from the failures of the first film it was somehow worse – a chimera of unspeakable horror which sent the film series to Tartarus.
At this year’s D23 Expo, Disney unveiled a short teaser for their upcoming reboot series, Percy Jackson And The Olympians. Walker Scobell (The Adam Project) will play Percy. Whilst Scobell was one of the best things about The Adam Project, and I’m sure he’ll do our hero justice, I remain generally apprehensive about the whole thing. Yes, author Rick Riordan is involved this time, but that’s no guarantee that the finished product will be any good. Authors being involved in their own adaptations doesn’t always end as well as we might hope it will.
The teaser trailer featured Scobell (as Percy) reciting a paraphrased version of the first book’s opening lines, alongside a few flashes that were no doubt intended to excite and attract book fans. The teaser didn’t show us anything of the series proper, and no accompanying clips have been released to give us an idea of the quality. We don’t know how intelligent the series will be. We don’t know how well written or well directed it will be. For all we know it may end up as yet another generic, throw away piece of ephemera, like Amazon’s Rings Of Power or the first movie of the same source material.
Disney does not have a great track record when it comes to science fiction and fantasy. Since it took over the Star Wars franchise, its output in that area has ranged from ‘Urgh’ to ‘Emperor Palpatine being alive for some reason.’ Disney has been bleeding Star Wars dry, consistently targeting fan nostalgia to keep people coming back. Going back in time, in 1986 the company managed to mess up Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles Of Prydain series (another great YA/Kids fantasy series) so badly that they nearly tanked the whole studio. Though the result, The Black Cauldron, is good in itself, it is not a good adaptation.
I also don’t trust Disney given the way they have treated their own back catalogue in the last fifteen years -an endless and tired parade of ‘live action’ remakes which have done little but remind us how good the originals were. There has been a lack of understanding about what made the originals work and why the remakes are so colourless.
I fear that the same attitude, the same lack of understanding, will be present with PJ and friends. Already we’ve seen the same type of appeal to the fans which has been used time and again with Star Wars. As mentioned, Riordan is on board so we probably won’t end up with a Black Cauldron of catastrophe, but again that doesn’t mean the end result won’t be bland or generic. Don’t forget, we’ve been burned before. Zeus knows that lightning can strike twice!
I sincerely expect to be proven wrong on this matter, however. Maybe this will be good after all. Let us remain optimistic and make burnt offerings to the gods that it will actually be fantastic. I want it to be fantastic.