Chris Columbus—Destroyer of Dreams
March 10, 2010

(Was going to post this after seeing this movie in preview, but then decided that would be a bit of a spoiler. Lots of people probably wanted to see this movie as much as I had; no reason to kill their joy early. So I drafted it and set it aside til now, when it appears that Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief will be lucky to gross a hundred million dollars. Effectively, this film franchise is already over.)


The wretchedness of some bad movies is forgivable.You know the ones I mean: There is an artistic vision of some kind behind the mess, a storyteller who got terribly lost. And even though the end result is painful to behold, it still feels like it came from someone who cared. About the wrong things, sure; or about a story no one in their right mind could be bothered to give a damn about, maybe—but whatever the case, you sense someone behind the shambles. The unwatchable hot mess that is Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus falls under this category. As does John Boorman's Zardoz, and Boorman's Exorcist II: The Heretic, and—well, a lot of Boorman. You get the picture.And then there are movies made by witless mediocrities such as Chris Columbus.His refrigerated blandness has been with us since the eighties, when he wrote the screenplays for Gremlins, The Goonies, and Young Sherlock Holmes; later he directed Mrs. Doubtfire and Nine Months and lots of other stuff that is memorable only in how unmemorable the movies were. His work is distinguished by a glib commerciality, a lack of any real sense of the world: Divorced from anything genuine, their only touchstones are other movies.Even if you don't know those movies, you know well the bland stamp of his work. Before steamrolling the joy out of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, he brought his leaden touch to the first two installments in the Harry Potter franchise.I remember well watching the first one in the theater and muttering aloud, "Cut. Cut. CUT, damnit!" when he'd hold long, long shots on Harry's face as Harry registered wonder. Or joy. Or dismay. Or indigestion. God only knows. I stopped believing in the characters in such moments and started sensing the director behind the camera saying, "Okay, Daniel, now show me SENSE OF WONDER! Come on, raise your eyebrows higher! That's it! Oh, God, yes!" Overacting in close-up is never the fault of the actor, but of the person who is guiding him.And I know Chris Columbus is to blame because there are similar moments in Percy Jackson. Not as many and nowhere near as egregious—because the actors here are older, more experienced, doubtless confident enough to shrug off the insecurities of a director who has no idea how real people look and act when they feel emotion.But the sins of the filmmaking extend beyond even that. The fight scenes are wholly unconvincing. The interplay between the leads feels underscripted and false. The whole enterprise feels undertaken by someone who didn't have the decency to treat the material as a serious source. Instead, this feels like hackwork plain and simple. The movie's biggest sin? It's witless. The novels are very witty—that's part of the great pleasure of reading them—but this movie is about as clever as an old David and Goliath cartoon. Which is a damn shame, because the series of novels is pretty great.What about you, what did you all think of it?.