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'Percy Jackson' sequel hopes to lure in bigger U.S. audience

By Zorianna Kit

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When the first "Percy Jackson" film came out in 2010, the comparisons with "Harry Potter" were inevitable: the two were based on novels about kids with powers and the first films in both franchises were directed by Chris Columbus.

But "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" fell short of "Harry Potter"-like success, particularly in the United States. Now, with "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" opening this week, Columbus gets a new chance to show that Percy can be like Harry, both in box office and fan appeal.

The contemporary fantasy film from 20th Century Fox, a unit of Twenty-First Century Fox, stars Logan Lerman as the son of the Greek god Poseidon. It is based on the five-part book series of the same name by Rick Riordan, with more than 33 million books sold in the United States. It also has been translated into 37 languages across the world.

"Thankfully, the international audience (on the first film) was so huge that we realized there's an appetite for a sequel," said Columbus, who produces the franchise, but has handed the director's chair to Germany's Thor Freudenthal for the second installment.

"Lightning Thief," made for an estimated $95 million, fell short of expectations at the North American box office with $88.7 million, but fared better overseas with a $137.7 million gross. "Sea of Monsters" cost about $90 million, according to a person close to the production of the film.

"I'd be playing a guessing game if I tried to figure that out," Columbus, 54, said when asked why the U.S. market had not been as strong.

"But the U.S. audience is extremely important. I'm very concerned about the American audience," he said.

Columbus helped launch the "Potter" series by directing its first two installments, "Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone" and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." The eight films combined have made more than $7.7 billion at the worldwide box office, according to figures at BoxOfficeMojo.com.

The parallels between his old franchise and his new one are easy to see: Potter was wizard; Jackson a demi-god. Both lived at a school (Potter) or a camp (Jackson) alongside others like themselves, working with elders to develop their powers, eventually battling forces of evil.

A TEEN RATHER THAN A TWEEN

Columbus is encouraged by what happened to "Percy Jackson" after the theater run: over 60 million people saw the first film in the home entertainment window and 17 million units sold across physical and digital platforms worldwide.

He also said fans of the book needed time to accept the cinematic license that was taken in bringing the first book to the screen.

"On the first film, we got a little bit of heat from some of the fans because we weren't completely faithful to the book," he explained. "But the initial book didn't lend itself in terms of faithfulness to making a strong film."

The biggest change was that in the first book, Percy and his demi-god friends were 11 years old, while in the film they were 17. Columbus said he felt what Percy was going through in terms of discovering his identity and realizing who his father was "felt more poignant" at that teen stage.

"Sea of Monsters" will see Percy and his friends join forces on a quest for a golden fleece that will save their home, Camp Half Blood.

By making the characters older and casting rising stars Lerman, Alexandra Daddario and Brandon T. Jackson, both Columbus and the studio are hoping to tap into the young adult audience currently being enticed by big screen adaptations of "The Hunger Games," "Divergent" and "The Mortal Instruments."

"I think the audience now understands the characters are older, and will be much more open in going along for the ride on the sequel," Columbus said.

(Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy and Lisa Richwine; Editing by Mary Milliken and Paul Simao)

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