Page last updated at 08:45 GMT, Thursday, 11 February 2010

Percy Jackson: 'It's not Harry Potter', says Columbus

Logan Lerman as Percy Jackson
Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) discovers his father is the sea god Poseidon

By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News

He's a boy who discovers he has supernatural powers. He goes to a special school, and he embarks on a quest with his two best friends to defeat the dark lord.

But hold on. This isn't Harry Potter. This is Percy Jackson - the hero of a fantasy film that shows all the signs of turning into a franchise like that of J K Rowling's boy wizard.

At the London launch of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief it is remarkable how many times the name "Harry Potter" comes up.

Chris Columbus
The fact you are dealing with Greek mythology in a contemporary setting is exciting to me.
Chris Columbus

Within seconds of taking his seat at a packed press conference, director Chris Columbus sets the ball rolling:

"I'm very happy with the film, very happy with the visual effects and very happy to say it's nothing like Harry Potter. I just wanted to get that off my chest immediately."

Percy Jackson is the big screen adaptation of the first of Rick Riordan's best-selling books about a boy with dyslexia and ADHD who discovers he is the son of Greek god of the sea Poseidon.

In fact it turns at that all the Greek gods of Olympus are alive and squabbling in 21st-Century America.

The starry cast includes Sean Bean as Zeus, Uma Thurman as the snake-haired Medusa, Grey's Anatomy star Kevin McKidd as Poseidon, Steve Coogan as Hades and Pierce Brosnan as a centaur.

That Columbus should want to create some distance between his new film and the Potter franchise is not surprising.

Columbus directed the first two Potter movies, The Philosopher's Stone (2001) and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) - something which is trumpeted from the top of the Percy Jackson movie posters.

"I was so actively trying not to make it like Harry Potter from the beginning, by upping the age of the leads," Columbus tells the BBC after the press conference.

'Complex and dark'

Grover (Brandon T Jackson), Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and Percy (Logan Lerman)
Percy (right) is joined on his quest by his friends Grover (Brandon T Jackson) and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario)

"I thought that to start with 11-year-old leads it didn't feel strong or edgy enough. In one odd way it was probably a good choice for me to do it, so I could avoid those particular pitfalls."

Percy Jackson contains several elements that seem to echo from the Potter-verse: a school for demi-gods called the Half Blood Camp, an animated map and multi-headed beasts.

Columbus says: "Inevitably there are going to be certain comparisons, but those comparisons I truly believe exist in all elements of fantasy films.

"I really haven't seen this particular version of a fantasy film before. The fact you are dealing with Greek mythology in a contemporary setting is exciting to me."

The depiction of the Greek pantheon may baffle some academics [Steve Coogan plays Hades as a preening rock star], but Columbus hopes his film will spark some interest in Greek mythology amongst children.

"If you know about Greek mythology, there's a certain element that's very complex and dark and NC-17-rated [US adult film rating].

"And then there's the Classics Illustrated version that we all learn at school when are about 13 years old, and I think we're tapping into that version of it.

"It's certainly not an educational film. It will hopefully develop some sort of interest in Greek mythology."

Uma Thurman as Medusa
Uma Thurman plays snake-haired Medusa

Columbus points out that when Uma Thurman's Medusa says to Percy "I used to date your daddy", it is a reference to a "very dark chapter" in mythology.

There are more Olympian gods on the movie menu this year when the 3D remake of Clash of the Titans arrives in April.

It too follows the legend of Perseus, and features many of the same gods as Percy Jackson.

Columbus says he would have preferred Percy Jackson to have a summer release, but wanted to beat Clash of the Titans into cinemas.

"It didn't bother me that there would be the same characters. The thing I was concerned about was that I don't want to be second in line," he admits.

"I was well aware of Clash of the Titans, and that's why we're coming out on 12 February."

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