Monday, July 13, 2020
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The Curse of Adaptations

Adaptations have never been a thing of ease for most beloved, iconic pop culture phenomenons. It may be an actual curse that exists for most producers looking to adapt in Hollywood, or possibly the blatant cash grabs take the sensitivity out of how directors and writers treat popular source material. But for the “Percy Jackson & the Olympians” series, the road of adaptation has been a brutal one. One thing is for certain, the track record of Percy Jackson has not been one of golden standards, and I’d be surprised to see the latest Disney+ adaptation go unscathed.

The Percy Jackson book series has long been dubbed as one of the most popular children’s fantasy series of the last decade. The first book in the series, “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” sold more than 20 million copies and stayed on the New York Times’s best-seller list for 357 weeks. It should come as no surprise then that my friends were ecstatic to see the show, especially being musical theater majors. 

Let me set the scene for you. It is February 2019. 26 students from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts land at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, officially commencing their four-week theatrical study abroad. Upon arriving, a small portion of the group receives word that “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” starts previews the first week of the trip. To say that we were excited is a massive understatement. 

However, the fate of the musical was a devastating one. The New York Times even coined it, “a musical adaptation of the popular fantasy novel that came to Broadway, and went straight to Hades.” The classmates of mine who did see the show could testament to this statement. They claimed that the show failed to hold a depth that the subject matter both expected and needed to relate to audience members. They also claimed that the technical production failed to live up to the hype. With lightning bolt-like obstructions malfunctioning during key numbers and moments where audience members were — quite literally — left in the dark, it’s no wonder that my classmate left during intermission. The New York Times expanded on these issues, stating that the show’s script and substance, “doubled its length, and added a clutch of unnecessary songs, generally inflating the material so hard that it exploded whatever mild pleasures made the book worth adapting in the first place.”

Hollywood’s previous adaptations of the book series haven’t had much success, like that of the musical. The two films of the franchise both received mixed reviews, primarily for the deviations from original book details. Though they did fairly well from a box-office standpoint, any hopes that a third film would be produced quickly vanished. Many believed that this would be the end of the Percy Jackson adaptation cycle. That is, until now.

Still, with an adaptation history known for being less than adequate, why does the book series keep being resurrected? The answer might be simple. Since the book series was so popular amongst young adults, the new adaptation and its gross might be exactly what Hollywood needs after the pandemic. It also might be the fact that the news of a new, relatively affordable and accessible adaptation might give the public something to look forward to during this time of social distancing. No updates have been made as to when the show will start production, and perhaps filming won’t even begin until after social distancing protocols end. Still, I believe it may just be third time’s the charm when it comes to the Jackson series. Let the people relish in the hope that this time around, one of their most beloved, childhood addictions might just live up to their expectations. Though it provides little hope, the hope that remains is mighty. If anyone is going to re-re-reboot the series, I think Disney is a good corporation for the job.

Emily Abeles is an Opinion Intern for the 2020 spring quarter. She can be reached at eabeles@uci.edu