DVD Release Date:  June 29, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  February 12, 2010
Rating:  PG (for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material and mild language)
Genre:  Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time:  119 min.
Director:  Chris Columbus
Actors:  Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Abel, Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, Melina Kanakaredes, Catherine Keener, Uma Thurman, Kevin McKidd, Joe Pantoliano 

At first blush, it's probably tempting to simply dismiss Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief as a poor man's Harry Potter

After all, the three protagonists are a destined-for-greatness guy, a whip-smart, know-it-all girl and a goofy, loyal sidekick just like Harry, Hermione and of course, Ron Weasley. But aside from the obvious (like director Chris Columbus' involvement, the man behind the lens of the first two Harry Potter films and Home Alone), the story, which is based on the first of author Rick Riordan's best-selling books for kids, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, definitely has its own action-adventure thing going on. 

Instead of wizards, witchcraft and duking it out with He Who Must Not Be Named, Percy Jackson & the Olympians is the story of a misfit kid (he's got dyslexia, suffers from ADHD and is more comfortable in the swimming pool than anywhere else) who just happens to be a demigod living in New York City. 

Raised by a loving mother who cared enough to spare him the truth about his father (Catherine Keener, essentially reprising her recent role in Where the Wild Things Are) and his obnoxious, abusive stepfather (Joe Pantoliano), Percy (Logan Lerman from 3:10 to Yuma, My One and Only) isn't exactly loving his life right now. 

Not only is school difficult because of his aforementioned maladies, but he can't figure out why his mom would stay with a man who's so cruel. Thankfully, he's got a great friend in Grover and an outlet in swimming, otherwise the day-to-day would be downright unbearable.

But then on a school field trip, everything changes when one of Percy's teachers turns out to be a fury, which his basically a scary, shrieking flying monster. Accusing him of stealing the lightning bolt, something he knows nothing about, of course, a new life is eventually set into motion for his protection.

Turns out, many of the people in Percy's life aren't quite who he thought they were. His wheelchair-bound teacher (Pierce Brosnan) is a centaur (half man, half horse) and his BFF Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) who's always walked with crutches is really a satyr (human with goat legs) who's been assigned to protect him. And before long, he's no longer safe going to his regular school, so it's off to Half-Blood Camp, the Hogwarts of the demigod set.

Before heading to Half-Blood Camp, Percy's mom finally ‘fesses up about his real father Poseidon. Not only does that help explain Percy's fascination with water, but provides a reason for why he's never been allowed to meet his real dad. Since the gods aren't allowed to interact with their human children, Percy's mom felt she needed to shield him from that reality (and coincidentally, it's the reason she's living with such an ogre, to protect Percy).

Only minutes later, Percy's mom is kidnapped, which ends up being a bargaining chip in the story later on. In the meantime, Percy begins his demigod boot camp for a mission involving that mysterious lighting bolt. Apparently someone has stolen it from Zeus (Sean Bean) and it needs to be returned to Olympus before the summer solstice—or the fate of the world is at stake, naturally.

While the movie's set-up is effective, it's the madcap journey where things really get interesting. Thanks to some great chemistry between the actors, you can't help rooting for them to succeed. Whether it's the run-in with Medusa (a terrific Uma Thurman, but it's the cool special effects that really steal the show) in New Jersey, a wild jaunt through Nashville's Parthenon (complete with winged Converse sneakers to help Percy fly) or the dangerous trek to meet Hades in the underworld (the portal is just below the Hollywood sign, a funny slice of serendipity, no?), Percy Jackson & the Olympians is an exhilarating adventure.

Unlike Harry Potter, it's considerably lighter, too. While similar themes of friendship, bravery and honesty emerge, there's a decidedly playful feel to the proceedings, even with the scary images and a few intense action scenes, the hallmark of a director who knows (and understands) his target audience.

And with the Harry Potter series winding down, the timing for Percy Jackson & the Olympians couldn't be better. Thankfully, these new kids (sure to be gracing the pages of Tiger Beat along with Zac Efron, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner soon) fill Harry, Hermione and Ron's action-adventure shoes convincingly—and without a magic wand or spells to boot.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Percy's stepdad orders his mom to get him a beer. In Las Vegas, the lotus flower lulls Percy, Grover and Annabeth into a hypnotic trance meant to trap them. Before they're in danger too much, they're warned of the flowers' powers. 
  • Language/Profanity:  Three mild profanities (a--, dam-, he--) plus a couple of exclamations of God's name. 
  • Sex/Nudity:  There's a couple of shots of girls in skimpy bikinis at Camp Half Blood. The cocktail waitresses in Vegas also sport revealing attire. While in the underworld, Hades' wife Persephone, who amuses herself by having sexual flings with outsiders, sets her sights on Grover. 
  • Violence:  Early on, Percy believes his mother died when she's attacked and disappears (she was taken to the underworld). As Percy, Grover and Annabeth make their journey to Olympus, there are countless perilous situations that involve the sword fights, car chases, trying to swamp out the opponent with an impromptu flood, cutting off Medusa's head and running away from monsters that sprout two heads when you cut one off. 
  • Scary Images:  This movie is definitely for kids 10 and up, unless your younger children don't scare very easily. There are several scary creatures (one dragon-like creature that appears at Percy's school, Medusa with snakes springing forth from her head and an icy stare that turns people to stone, not to mention Hades' frightening transformation into the stereotypical devil-like character.  

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.