Medusa (Uma Thurman) is about to get a headache from Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) in the new film 'Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief,' in theaters today.
Credit: 20th Century Fox
Before you read this review, you may want to refer to the opening paragraphs of my Chris Columbus interview for some personal disclosure. If you choose not to take my word on this one, I'll refer you instead to the always-articulate James Rocchi, whose feelings fairly closely mirror my own, and who has no connection to the filmmakers at all.
Let's start with a simple statement: nothing is going to be "the next 'Harry Potter.'"
When Jo Rowling wrote the first few books in the "Harry Potter" series, she wasn't breaking bold new ground. She didn't invent a genre. She didn't come up with the idea of magic wands or wizards or even a Chosen One having to learn his role in a larger destiny with the help of various mentors.
Allow me to restate Joseph Campbell's definition of the monomyth:
"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."
Sounds familiar, right? It should, since it has basically swallowed pop culture whole. I'd argue that George Lucas (who also didn't create a genre or a storyline or his character archetypes) was the one who started us down that path in terms of modern pop culture. The success of "Star Wars" changed things in much the same way that the success of "Harry Potter" has impacted the past decade. All Rowling did was tell her story well, invest some genuine feeling into her characters, and perfectly tap a loneliness and a desire to be special that spoke to a generation of kids who were ready for her message. What she did was singular, and it was a commercial force that will not be matched in this genre. Since the explosion of popularity for "Potter," there have been many pretenders to the throne, many book series cranked out trying to capture the same market, and some of them have done well enough to make it to the screen.
I'm not surprised 20th Century Fox purchased the "Percy Jackson" books. The idea of doing a "Harry Potter" riff with Greek myths is simple and potentially rich enough in source material to run for many, many books, and Rick Riordan, who created the books, came by it honestly. He started writing the first book well before there was a Harry Potter, well before Rowling published anything, even if he wasn't able to find a home for the idea until her success kicked the door open. He was a teacher of Greek mythology whose own son was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, characteristics that he incorporated into Percy Jackson, his hero. I haven't read the five books, but I have a general sense of what they are, and they certainly have an active fanbase that has taken to the world that Riordan brought to life. Are they "Harry Potter" big? No. But nothing is. The next thing that becomes a phenomenon like that will come out of left field, and even if it also plays with familiar tropes (which I can almost guarantee it will), it will do so in a way we haven't seen in a while, and it will spawn its own army of imitators.