'Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters' Director Promises Loyalty to Books With Added Humor (Q&A)
"If we could lean a little bit more on the humor and try to deepen the emotional stakes, I felt that that would make the sequel live on its own," says Thor Freudenthal.
Percy Jackson and his mythological adventures return to the big screen on Wednesday in the sequel Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.
The film, which will see the return of Logan Lerman as the titular character, brings on a new director, Thor Freudenthal.
"I generally like the kind of world creation that seems to make reality collide with fantasy," Freudenthal tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The 2010 film, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, was considered successful enough to warrant a sequel, but drew some heat for its departure from Rick Riordan's popular YA book series. It grossed most of its money overseas, earning $137.7 million abroad and $88.8 domestically.
Freudenthal, whose past work includes 2009's Hotel for Dogs and 2010's Diary of a Wimpy Kid, was tasked with making a sequel about the half-god son of Poseidon that would appeal to fans of the books, so he made sure to do his homework.
"The books, I thought, were highly inventive, sort of tongue-in-cheek. They had an irreverence about them," says the Germany-born director, adding that the first person narrative from a teen made the story funny, but never at the expense of the father-son emotional theme.
"If we could lean a little bit more on the humor and try to deepen the emotional stakes, I felt that that would make the sequel live on its own," he adds.
Ahead of the 20th Century Fox film's release, THR spoke with Freudenthal about the film's loyalty to the books, why they went with older actors and comparisons to another YA franchise -- Harry Potter.
The Hollywood Reporter: Your first two films were a different genre than this film. What sort of challenges did you face with the special effects?
Freudenthal: I have a background in animation, so I went to animation school before I ever rolled film in a camera live on a stage. So, the idea of pre-planning your shots and visualizing as you do with a movie of this size and working with effects artists, I'm fairly familiar with from my education. The thing you do is you break down every sequence very diligently and look at all the components that make the sequence and try to arrange them in a way that serves you and the story. That's something you do in animated films all the time. The most challenging part of a process that's this technical is that you have to keep reminding yourself that this is about the actors. They can't be swallowed up by the visual effects.
THR: The first film got a bit of heat for not being completely faithful to the book. How aware were you of that issue?
Freudenthal: I was aware. I read through some of the issues hardcore fans of the book had with the movie. While I sort of saw the issues here and there, I also felt that the movie has to restructure and re-think a lot of things in order to work as a movie, as opposed to a book, which is a sprawling, maybe at times episodic, adventure. The book can obviously afford the luxury to do that, whereas a movie has one straight through-line you have to follow. What was important to me in making it was there's some central elements in the mythology of Percy Jackson that our story wouldn't work without. It's all a big part of the first book in the series. I thought this story we're telling gave us the opportunity to bring those elements that were missing the first time around into this movie.
THR: In the books, the characters are younger, about 11 or 12 years old. Are you glad that the film has older characters?
Freudenthal: That was a decision that [Lightning Thief director] Chris [Columbus] made, and, think of it what you will, I fully understand it because I've done a couple films with young actors, with kids, and as much as it's really gratifying to work with young performers, there's limitations to the physical abilities, to what you can do with action. I find it fully understandable that Chris wanted to go with older actors and I'm thrilled that he picked the actors he did. To me, it's definitely different from the book, but I felt it helped me in my day-to-day work in trying to create action with young people. Even though the actors are older, I think they embody the youthful spirit that the characters have.
THR: There were a lot of comparisons to the Harry Potter franchise when Lightning Thief came out, due in part to the fact that Chris Columbus was involved with both. What do you think of that comparison?
Freudenthal: Harry Potter is a phenomenon that is unsurpassed. It's a story that will live on for a long time. But that doesn't happen very often. So I understand the comparison in that you have a young person in their formative years being shoved into extraordinary circumstances and having to prove himself and to rise to the task of being able to fill the shoes that are put in front of him, which is basically an amplified coming of age story, if you will, under supernatural circumstances. That for me is where the comparison ends because the Percy Jackson books are much lighter. I think they have a bounce in their step.
THR: Have you had any talks about directing the next film in the series? Are you interested in that?
Freudenthal: I have not talked to people about it, but generally, yes, sure, I'd be interested. I think it's a fun world to visit. I think that the books series continues to explore different worlds. In the movie alone we went from Camp Half-Blood to the open ocean to surrealistic environments such as Hermes' house. It feels like you were in so many different places exploring so many different worlds. I'd be attracted to continuing down that road to explore different worlds. Obviously it depends on how people like this movie and how well it does.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters opens in theaters on Aug. 7.
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