Sea of Monsters…Broken Rules of the Universe

Diana Beebe's Blog, Diana Beebe, science fiction, middle grade fantasy, fantasy, Mermaids Don't Do WindowsIf you read Rick Riordan’s Sea of Monsters, you know about Percy Jackson and the rules of the universe that determine how the characters must act. The rules are like our own laws of physics–hard to break them without causing some kind of catastrophe.

Note: Rick Riordan is one of our favorite authors (not just because he’s a Texan), and his Percy Jackson books are some of our favorites. You should check out his website (link above), because it’s filled with fantabulousness.

Mockingbird and I used to read the books out loud together every night (something we don’t do so much any more–I need to fix that). They are comfy books that get read and re-read just because. The Hoover Dam scene is priceless.

So, when it was announced that the first Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief, was going to be a movie, there was much squeeing and excitement around here. For about five minutes.

Mockingbird and her friends, all still in elementary school at the time, were all abuzz about the casting choices and how NONE of them looked like the character descriptions.

Diana Beebe's Blog, Diana Beebe, science fiction, middle grade fantasy, fantasy, Mermaids Don't Do Windows
The shirt we made so Mockingbird could be Annabeth for Halloween before the official shirts were sold in stores.
  • They weren’t 12-year-olds.
  • Annabeth wasn’t blonde, even though it’s her heritage as Athena’s daughter.
  • No Clarisse (Percy’s nemesis in Camp Half-Blood). Annabeth was more like Clarisse than Annabeth.
  • No orange Camp Half-Blood shirts. (A couple of Camp Half-Blood shirts on a couple of extras wouldn’t have killed them though. Just sayin’….)

That’s the short list.

It was a movie about a parallel universe where the characters were older and not all the same rules of the universe applied. The rules were broken beyond recognition for adaptation to the silver screen. Even with the understanding that a movie must compress the story, the book fans I knew were heartbroken.

These young readers adore the books and have read them so many times that Percy, Annabeth, and Grover are people they want to be friends with. They imagine being demigods and think about who their godly parent would be. Having read the books multiple times, they know the Percy Jackson universe. They know the rules, the laws, the mythology, the parentage of the characters, the map of Camp Half-Blood.

Dudes, they KNOW.

Fast forward a few years to the Sea of Monsters movie. There is a population of readers who will not go watch or buy the DVDs (my nieces and nephew and a friend’s son, in my very non-scientific survey), and other readers who did go see the movie out of a yearning hope that this one is better than the first one (lots of my friends and their kids belong in this category).

None of my friends who have seen it gave it a rave review. Yes, it was better than the first but still disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong. I love parallel universes. The parallel world can look a lot like the original (whichever one that is), but with different rules. Remember the TV show Sliders? The first time Quinn slid in the wormhole, he found himself in oppositeland San Francisco. Green lights meant stop, not go. Different parallel universe, different rules, infinite possibilities.

The Percy Jackson movies–different universe and different rules–appeal to many people who didn’t read the books. That’s totally OK. That’s a different audience. They may read the books later and not like them because they are too different from the movies. Maybe that’s why I still haven’t read Hunger Games. Fear of rule breaking.

For the readers I know, they want the book series’ rules of the universe that are already established and beloved in their heads. Therefore, they can’t even enjoy the movie’s special effects, according to my nephew and nieces.

Diana Beebe's Blog, Diana Beebe, science fiction, middle grade fantasy, fantasy, Mermaids Don't Do Windows
Don’t judge me by my handwriting. It was dark.

Mockingbird told me that she wanted to see the movie after a few weeks of soul searching. She asked me to take her and a friend (my daughter from other parents) as long as I promised not to “geek out” with her friend. (No promises.)

The movie started, and I was prepared to take notes of the things (good and bad) that I noticed and that Mockingbird and her friend reacted to. I just hoped I could read my handwriting later. I took sloppy notes on four pages. I’ll start with the redeeming qualities of the movie:

  • Anthony Stewart Head as Chiron
  • Nathan Fillion as Hermes
  • Stanley Tucci as Mr. D. (Dionysus)
  • The hippocampus

That is the list.

The adult roles were great, and their parts were too small. Even the teenagers agreed thanks to shows like Buffy, Merlin, Dr. Who, Hunger Games, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, Firefly, and others. These girls are well trained.

Forget all the plot points didn’t follow the book (because that’s a huge list, and this post is already long). These are some of the key broken rules of the universe:

  • The nectar of the gods is for healing halfbloods. Take too much and they might spontaneously combust. It is not a casual or celebratory drink, because it’s dangerous.
  • Percy’s sword, Riptide, belonged to a different hero in a different time. It was never Poseidon’s sword, nor did Poseidon use it against his father when Kronos tried to eat him.
  • Mist is what the regular humans see so their minds aren’t blown by the real mythology all around them. It doesn’t come in a spray can. The movie got it right with the barista in the coffee shop, but it was an epic fail with Tyson.

That’s the short list.

Sadly, Sea of Monsters is another disappointment that won’t make it into our DVD collection. The books, however, will be read and read again until the hardback covers fall off.

Have you ever been disappointed by a movie adaptation of a beloved book? Have you ever read a book after watching the movie version?

24 comments on… “Sea of Monsters…Broken Rules of the Universe”

  1. It drives me bonkers when they take perfectly good books and change them for the big screen. If the books were good enough to get a movie, why try to change the magic of the book? That’s just messing with fire AND the fans. I’ll never understand them. I totally feel you.

  2. Fascinating, Diana! And it strikes me that you’ve also managed to weave in a terrific reminder, intentionally or not, of the lifelong beneficial outcomes of children reading together with their parents…a launchpad to a love of reading and the exponential gifts that flow from that one joyful activity (as one example, the seedlings of critical thought). Oops, I’ve gone all heavy/geeky …

    • Diana Beebe

      That wasn’t heavy/geeky. That was thoughtful and sweet. 😀

      Reading with the girls is one of my favorite activities. We laugh, use silly voices, and stay up way too late.

  3. I have to admit that I didn’t start reading Rick Riordan’s books until after I’d seen The Lightning Thief. My daughters are grown, so a lot of the YA/MG books kind of slide past my radar until everyone else has read them. But my husband and I came across the movie on HBO or something one Saturday afternoon, watched it, and enjoyed it. When I discovered it was based on a book, I bought it and read it, and never watched the movie again.

    My family knows full well not to go with me to a movie adaptation of a book I love since I will spend the whole time muttering under my breath how they’ve ruined the story. My youngest daughter didn’t read the Harry Potter books until after she and I had seen the fourth movie. I guess her interest was piqued as I groused out of the theatre saying, “What was that? What the hell was that??” A week later, she stormed out of her bedroom, the fourth book open in her hands, and stated, “Yeah, that movie sucked!” then stomped back into her room to finish reading. 🙂

    Yeah, I totally despise movies “based” on books.

    And, Diana, you NEED to read The Hunger Games! There’s so much more to the whole Peeta giving Katniss the bread part that explains a lot about how she feels about him.

    • Diana Beebe

      Oh my gosh, yes! I have to admit though that we were able to watch all theHarry Potter movies with minimal grumbling, except the fourth book. That one does gets more.

      You just sold me on finally reading Hunger Games. No one has given me a good enough reason to read it. Thank you!

      • My work here is done. 😉

        I was totally disappointed in how the movie depicted the bread thing. That one instance affected everything else in Katniss’ life! Let us know what you thought of the book. Inquiring minds wanna know!

    • Diana Beebe

      True. I think most people understand that a book can’t fit exactly in a movie, but younger kids don’t. Keep the heart of the story at least.

  4. That was what was so good about the Harry Potter movies. Even though little details changed, the world was authentic to the books. The characters were the people we loved. Movie makers need to focus on capturing the heart. Some things change but the heart of the book is why we’ll show up at the theater.

  5. OMG, I love the Hoover Dam scene!

    Sorry the movies continue to be disappointing, although I might go see it purely for the adult actors – that is a stellar line up!

    • Diana Beebe

      That Hoover Dam scene is the best! Sometimes we read it out loud just for laughs. See, we’re already set up for disappointment in the next one. I don’t see that humor translating well with 17-year-olds. Sigh.

      If you’re going just to see Chiron, Mr. D, and Hermes, you’ll be wanting more. I didn’t get enough of the adults in the movie. The special effects were well done. That gives you a second reason. 😉

  6. This will probably get me roasted but Lord of the Rings. I loved the scene setting, most of the people they picked for the parts. Wanted to cry over the changes they made to those characters, particularly to Aragorn. He was such a great character. He knew exactly who he was and what he had to do. And then he did it. Not all the angst and hand wringing they give him in the movie. And Treebeard? Really? Even the tree has to have his, er, branch wringing moment? I know why they did it. I’ve written scripts and read the books. But not every character needs to have a will-I-or-won’t-I moment. And Frodo would never have turned on Sam.

    So yeah, been there, felt that. I agree about the fourth Harry Potter, too. It just falls flat in movie version. It is kind of interesting, because all the elements are there. But I think they spent their minutes on some of the wrong moments in the story. That was a big book and the movie needed to focus on building to the big, black moment. But they went for effects. IMHO.

  7. I’m so sorry about the huge disappointment, and I definitely agree – the movie is almost never as good (or even close to as good) as the book. There have been a few exceptions – for instance, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” I thought they did a great job on the movie and would be hard-pressed to say which version I liked better. And “Starship Troopers” book versus movie are completely different stories, but I honestly like the cheesy, terrible movie much better than the book. I love that movie!

    For Harry Potter 4, I think the main reason the movie felt so flat was because they gave Fleur and Viktor absolutely no personality at all. None. Oh, and I just started reading “The Lightning Thief” for the first time this week…sounds like I’m in for a treat! 🙂

    • Diana Beebe

      Sometimes the cheesy terrible version of a movie is brilliant in its, well, um, cheesiness. Starship Troopers is a great example. I haven’t read or seen Perks, but it’s on my list. I’m glad to hear that both are good.

      You’re so right about Fleur and Krum. They were props, not real people. I can’t imagine how hard it is to turn the many layers and details of a large book into 2 hours of film. Those characters probably had lots on the cutting room floor. Sadly.

      The humor in the Percy Jackson books is a perfect balance with the continuous string of obstacles. You are indeed in for a treat! Please, let me know what you think. 🙂

  8. I think the huge factor with this second Percy Jackson movie is whether you’ve read the books. My kids have read the books, and they were put off by all of the changes. I haven’t read them, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. But I probably would have enjoyed the movie if they had kept more of the story than the title, too. Just goes to show that man’s greatest desire truly is to edit another’s copy.

    • Diana Beebe

      LOL. There was LOTS of editing going on there. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the movies.

  9. You’ve just clarified why I haven’t read several books in my library. I know the movies will be coming out in the next year or so and know, just KNOW, I’ll be going to see them. Do I want to read those books and risk the disappointment or go in blind and have a better chance of finding pleasure in the final product? Tough decision.

    It’s a bummer about Percy, although I can’t say I’m surprised. 🙁

    • Diana Beebe

      It’s so hard to know, right? Sometimes reading first helps fill in holes in some movies, but we never know how much will be changed. :-

    • Diana Beebe

      I love the Harry Potter books. I’ve gotten over the movie differences (well, the fourth one…), because the books are so rich in detail and the movies stayed true to the spirit and magic of the universe. The books fill in gaps that the movies just couldn’t cover. Maybe try reading the first one and see if you like it.

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