When "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" came out in 2010, it was met with angry fans and disappointed critics. Moviegoers were upset that the story veered from the bestselling novel by author Rick Riordan, and critics deemed the Christopher Columbus-directed film a "Harry Potter" knock-off.
Yet the special-effects-laden movie, which stars
It was profitable enough, with a loyal enough fan base, that the studio decided to embark on a sequel, but not before it made some key changes, specifically hiring
"Tonally, Thor is much different than
The Percy Jackson series, which started in 2005 and has sold 33 million books, is rife with teenagers in peril. It centers on a group of young half-bloods (half human/half gods) who have been abandoned by their immortal parents, forced to navigate adolescence on their own.
Yet Riordan cuts much of the danger in the story lines with a wry sense of humor and cheeky commentary. For example, his protagonist's half-blood status is the reason he is
In "The Sea of Monsters," Percy and his two loyal friends, Grover Underwood the Satyr and Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena, embark on a quest to find the Golden Fleece, which will heal the ailing magical tree that protects their camp from intruders.
"The tone of the books are very modern. It knows when not to take itself so seriously," Freudenthal said. "I wanted to do that. Give it a spring in its step, so to speak, hopefully never at the cost of the emotional journey of Percy."
Columbus, who directed the first two "Harry Potter" films and understood the similarities between the franchises, chose to age his protagonists up (Lerman was 17 when Percy bowed, compared to
According to his producer, Michael Barnathan, the veteran director behind such family classics as
"It's more difficult to put an 11-year-old on screen, swinging a sword fighting a beast," said Barnathan, who produced the sequel with Columbus. But making the characters older "caused a bit of collateral damage with the fans. It's the danger of adapting books. Always."
Still, the first "Percy," at a budget of $110 million, was a success, especially in home video and international. Said Fox 2000 President Elizabeth Gabler, "The first movie was very profitable for us, so we are not coming at this like, 'Oh, we have to do OK with this one.' "
Freudenthal, 40, has a boyish charm about him. Dressed in sneakers and jeans, the German immigrant with a degree from Cal Arts and an animation background takes his visitor through some of his favorite scenes of the movie — an action-packed taxi ride the three protagonists embark on with a trio of blind witches, and a quieter one with
"He's an embarrassment of riches," said Freudenthal, gushing over Fillion's performance like a Comic-Con bound fan boy. "Those are the reasons you do this kind of thing."
Freudenthal also brought back Dionysus, played by
While Freudenthal hewed closely to the book, he couldn't look to the book's author directly for advice. Though Riordan came to set once during the original "Percy," he didn't see the first film and stayed away from the production during its second go-around.
"Rick is terrific about supporting the films," Gabler said. "But he's an industry in his own right, and he keeps it pretty separate. He's one of those authors that just focuses on the books."
The filmmakers are hoping that the three-year break between the movies will help at the box office. In that time, a new crop of readers have emerged in the 8-12 age range, and a loyal cadre of young teens who saw the first film have been eagerly waiting for the second.
That group, Barnathan said, seem to be particularly drawn to Lerman.
Plus, with the "Harry Potter" series concluded and few fantastical, kid-driven films in the marketplace, "Percy" shouldn't suffer the same comparisons as it did in 2010. Early tracking suggests that the movie, which marks one of the last family live-action films of the summer, could open to $35 million for its first five days of release.
"This summer there has really not been anything that plays to the young teenager. Not much for the 8- to 12-year-old either," Barnathan said. "It's their movie, and I'm just hoping we are in the chase."