Most fans agree that the Percy Jackson movies starring Logan Lerman can really only be accurately described as loosely based on Rick Riordan's book series, despite seeming to attempt to be an adaptation.
Riordan himself has said before that he thoroughly disapproved of the script for Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, and that to him, "it's my life's work going through a meat grinder when I pleaded with [the studios] not to do it."
Fans will sometimes jokingly call the movies the Peter Johnson films. This comes from a long-running gag in the books wherein Dionysus, who tends to misremember campers' names, often calls Percy Jackson some variation of the almost-accurate Peter Johnson name. It's a relatively apt metaphor for how the movies handled the source material — the films are very clearly based on the books, but in most ways are entirely wrong.
Percy Jackson Movies and Show Differences Informing the Products
After the Percy Jackson and the Olympians New York Comic Con panel, the team behind the show sat down with The Direct and others to discuss the new show — including what makes the show different from its infamous cinematic predecessor.
Episodes 1 and 2 director James Bobin, also an executive producer on the show, explained that with the Disney+ adaptation they "have the advantage of time," adding that he "quite like[s]" the once-a-week installment format being used:
"I mean, we have the- we have the advantage of time, I guess, you know. Charles Dickens used to write books in chapters and then publish once a week, and that's a good format 150 years ago, so I quite like the idea."
Bodin discussed that having multiple hours of time to fill with Percy Jackson and the Olympians' eight-episode format is "to [the show's] advantage," since the movie's "90 minutes is not a long time to tell this quite complicated story." He added that there were "no lessons to draw," explaining "that film was what it was and this is what this is, and it's just a different thing:"
"And I think we had the advantage of, if you have eight ... half-hour or 40-minute or whatever it is to tell the story of the chapter book itself, that's to our advantage for sure. You know, the movie — 90 minutes is not a long time to tell this quite complicated story. But no, not really no lessons to draw. And I think that that film was what it was and this is what this is, and it's just a different thing."
Executive producer/showrunner Dan Shotz echoed the importance of the extended amount of time the show offers for telling this "long, complicated ... story" He explained that they "were able to really take the time" to focus in on individual parts of the story:
"There were some benefits of doing a series. You have eight episodes. So it is a long, complicated journey — story. So we were able to really take the time with each one of those pieces and delivering them and that's the benefit of it being an ongoing series, for sure."
Jon Steinberg, also an executive producer and showrunner on Percy Jackson and the Olympians, said, "I don't think there was anything we did because the movies did it differently," but admitted that even before his involvement in the show, "there was a sense of some choices I might have made differently:"
"I think I don't think there was anything we did because the movie did it differently. I think that even when I saw the movie, before we had anything to do with this, there was a sense of some choices I might have made differently."
Steinberg said he knew that there were "some choices that ... some fans weren't in love with," but that it was more important to focus on "the right choices" instead of attempting to "fix" what the movie may have done wrong:
"Coming into this, we were, on the one hand, aware of some choices that I think some fans weren't in love with. On the other hand, I think we were just really committed to what feels right — What are the right choices rather than trying to correct the wrong ones? — and really kind of work through them and test them and stress them, and then commit to them. And ... the result, I think, hopefully feels more like, you know, something that we deeply believed in than something that we're trying to fix."
"The Right Choices" for Disney+ Percy Jackson
As Steinberg said, there's a difference between asking "What are the right choices?" and "trying to correct the wrong ones." So, what "right choices" can fans expect?
For one, the books are being used not as a loose set of guidelines, but more like blueprints. The team worked with the tools offered to them in the books, and enhanced rather than diminish.
And they did this without rejecting the movies all together. The Percy Jackson movies weren't just a beta test that they learned from — they were those creators' interpretations of the stories and characters. Sure, they didn't go over well, and that's likely why the movies never made it past Sea of Monsters, but they were the visions of that creative team.
The show will not be trying to be the movies but better — and that's good, particularly for fans disappointed by the movies. It not only will offer fans the chance to see many of their favorite parts of the book that were omitted from the movies (or changed beyond recognition), but will be a fresh start.
The first two episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians hit Disney+ on December 20.