Streaming services have changed the entertainment industry. What started as a way for audiences to find and watch new shows without the need for cable has turned into a battle between corporations all pushing their own unique content. One of these platforms, Disney+, has been rising through the ranks. Opening up their vault of television shows and movies was just the beginning for the company. With Marvel Entertainment and “Star Wars” joining the platform come accompanying shows that expand their universes, such as “WandaVision” and “The Mandalorian.”
The platform, however, has picked up a new IP, one that can bring in a new group of viewers with the promise of a second chance. What started as whispers in a shareholder meeting with author Rick Riordan in 2020 grew louder as the years went on. Eventually, on Jan. 25, it was announced that a television show based on the five Percy Jackson books would soon come to the streaming service. Fans are elated, but even with a big name like Disney attached to the project and the author heavily involved in the production, can the show redeem the series from the sins of its past adaptation?
At one point, Riordan’s books ruled the world. Once greenlit for a movie adaptation, the series was considered to be “the next Harry Potter.” The first film to be adapted in the series, “The Lightning Thief” (2010), followed the first book of the same name. The book introduces Percy Jackson as he finds out his father is the Greek god Poseidon, who left him and his mother before he was born. Because of this, Percy begins to gain new abilities but is struck with the accusation that he stole the lightning bolt of Zeus.
With the help of his two friends, they journey across America to find it in order to prevent a war between the gods. Fans initially took issue with the fact that the characters were aged up from 12-13 to 16-18 for the film but went in with high hopes. What they received included, in Riordan’s words, a story that “deviates from the book … to the point of being almost unrecognizable as the same story.” As it turns out, the lack of consultation with the author of the source material led to a diced-up plot and poor reception.
Although an attempt was made to adapt a sequel to “Lightning Thief” with the second book, “The Sea of Monsters” (2013), the problems of the first movie, such as rearranging or even omitting entire plot points, came back in full swing. In the books, there was the looming threat of an all-out war between the main characters and the Greek Titans. The second film begins with the pacing of its book counterpart but compresses the final three books into its final hour by having Percy Jackson fight Kronos the Titan at the end of the film. The result disappointed not just fans of the series but author Rick Riordan, who referred to the production as his “life’s work going through a meat grinder.” After what should have been a redemption for the series, the third, fourth and fifth books were shut off from adaptation.
While the films were a box office failure, fans would still try to see the flakes of good in what they received. For example, Logan Lerman starred as Percy Jackson throughout the two films, which has made him a fan favorite, despite being older than his book counterpart. The chemistry between him and his on-screen best friends, Annabeth Chase (Alexandra Daddario) and Grover Underwood (Brandon T. Jackson), also provides some memorable moments throughout the first and second films. The three even found forgiveness from Riordan, who wrote, “I certainly have nothing against the very talented actors. Not their fault. I’m just sorry they got dragged into that mess.” But to ensure history is not repeated, Disney has already begun to take steps toward a more faithful adaptation.
One of the main things that has offered relief to fans is Riordan and his wife’s heavy involvement in the production of the series, from casting to scripts to direction. This means the author will have a heavier hand in adapting his work than he did during the run of films. Riordan even announced the series on his own website, detailing how he will be a part of every step of the process. Additionally, the choice to adapt “Percy Jackson” into a television show rather than a reboot film series may be precisely what is needed for such a long story. According to Riordan, the first season of the show will faithfully cover the entire first book, “The Lightning Thief.” Riordan also mentioned the show will include “a lot of interesting nuances, depth, Easter eggs and backstory that will keep the story fresh and fun.” The story and source material seem to be in good hands, and the casting has followed suit.
Ever since the show was greenlit, fans hoped for its casting to be just as faithful to the books as the rest of the show is going to be. On April 11, Rick Riordan published the first casting of the show on his website. Known for his charismatic and witty role alongside Ryan Reynolds in “The Adam Project,” Walker Scobell was reported to have been cast as Percy Jackson. Riordan continued to praise Scobell with the mention of his audition months before “The Adam Project” and noted the boy had the perfect amount of “comedic timing, sweetness, rebelliousness, snark, and heroism to embody our hero Percy Jackson.” Despite being the only casting news thus far, fans have only commended the differences from the previous adaptations.
— Logan Lerman (@LoganLerman) May 14, 2020
Even before the deal to transfer the rights to Percy Jackson to Disney was finalized, the standards for the property’s eventual remake were high. At least, fans wanted something more faithful to the source material than what they got in the early 2010s. In its hands, the company now has the golden goose to create a franchise on the scale of “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings,” something they have attempted before. The company has all of the money and resources to continue to cast young, talented actors and put them in front of adequately produced television sets. So, could they redeem Percy Jackson? They could, but only time will tell if they succeed.