Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Marc Guggenheim (Novel: Rick Riordan)
Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Douglas Smith, Leven Ramblin, Brandon T. Jackson, Jake Abel, Anthony Head, Stanley Tucci
PG for fantasy action violence, some scary images and mild language
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As much as I love the Percy Jackson books, and how impressed I was with the first film and my mostly-entertained feelings towards this second film, the best way to prevent it from reaching a wider audience is to put children’s directors and minor television writers in charge.
In 2010, Chris Columbus attempted to turn this tween-targeted novel series into a big screen blockbuster. The end result, though pleasing, didn’t quite catch on with audiences. However, Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief was apparently popular enough at the international box office and on DVD that a sequel was green-lighted and three years later, Sea of Monsters is the result. With a lengthier, though unimpressive, list of credits, Craig Titley (the big screen version of Scooby Doo, Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel) turned out a competent though divergent screenplay for the first film. Chris Columbus had successfully spawned the Harry Potter franchise, so he was more than up to the task.
This time around, they chose director Thor Freudenthal to helm the sequel. Having a very limited career behind the camera and that career focused mainly on short films and movies for kids (Hotel for Dogs and Diary of a Wimpy Kid), Freudenthal lacks the gravitas to tackle a bigger film, but fits sufficiently within the Percy Jackson framework. he brings nothing in the way of visual panache or creativity to the production, but his journeyman-like work keeps the film from feeling overwhelmed by the material. That he struggles to make these characters more exciting may be thanks to the weak job Marc Guggenheim did adapting Rick Riordan’s novel to the screen.
Riordan’s novel is light fare, not particularly forward-thinking in terms of literary brilliance, but it’s an engaging page-turner that envelops the reader in his mystical world where the Greek gods still exist and face an increasing danger from the long-destroyed titans they pushed into Tartarus. This time around, the minions of the underworld are growing stronger and it’s up to Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) and his friends to save Camp Halfblood from the encroaching dangers by healing Thalia’s tree which acts as a barrier protection from the camp.
Lerman is still an engaging presence, though his co-horts are less interesting, owing to the fact that their characters are underwritten. Performances aside, the film is about the adventure and it’s an entertaining 106 minutes that could have been spiced up by some more compelling material left out of the novel. Having re-written much of the interior of the first film, it’s no surprise that the second also excises critical details.
The film’s visual effects are chaper than the previous film, but hold up pretty well compared to other movies in the cineplexes this summr. The production design takes a back seat to the festivities, limiting the scope of the visually unusual settings in which the film takes place. It’s no surprise considering 20th Century Fox threw less money at this installment than its predecessor. And while a decrease of $5 million may not seem like much, when you consider how much effects and production work has increased in the last three years, it’s quite a deficit.
Being a fan of the first film and especially the novels, I’m still entranced by the storyline and execution, though less so than I might have been had they kept Chris Columbus on as director or found someone with a bit more experienced in the realm of fantasy storytelling. And for all the problems the film faces, the fact that it got made at all makes me happy. With so many tween-targeted films failing to launch franchises, it’s good to know that even modest performance can result in future success. We’ll just hope that the continued strong performance the film is seeing at the box office will encourage a larger budget next time and perhaps a significantly better director and screenwriter.
September 16, 2013