Get ready for Percy Jackson.
He's a regular kid stunned to discover that the mythological Greek gods he studies in school are alive and living in America. Oh, and that he's a half-god himself - his mom is human, but his father is Poseidon, the trident-wielding god of the sea.
And so begins our hero's PG movie adventure, as he is spirited to Camp Half Blood, where demigods are trained, and then embarks on a cross-country quest to recover Zeus' powerful lightning bolt and prevent a war among the Greek gods.
"Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" opens in theaters Friday. We ask the burning "Percy Jackson" questions. Actors Logan Lerman (Percy), Alexandra Daddario (Annabeth) and Kevin McKidd (Poseidon) and director Chris Columbus answer:
WHO DREAMED UP THIS TALE?
Percy is the main character in a five-book series by former San Antonio middle-school teacher Rick Riordan. The following books are: "The Sea of Monsters," "The Titan's Curse," "The Battle of the Labyrinth" and "The Last Olympian" (published last May). While the books were targeted at kids ages 8 to 12, the movie audience is expected to be broader, Columbus says.
HOW TRUE TO THE BOOK IS THE MOVIE?
It follows the story arc, with plenty of creepy-as-heck monsters and swordfighting. But there are changes. Percy is 12 and in sixth grade in the book, but in the movie he's 17 and in high school. In the book, Percy and his cohorts Annabeth and Grover wreak havoc at St. Louis' arch; in the movie, they do it in Nashville. The folks at Apple will love how the movie turned out - an iPod Touch is used as a mirror by Percy, so he can see a monster in its reflection; Annabeth uses a MacBook to communicate with another demigod back at Camp Half Blood.
WHICH SCENES SHOULD WE HOLD OUR BREATH FOR?
"I wanted this film to be a nonstop roller-coaster ride," Columbus says. That said, everyone has favorite peaks. For Lerman, it's the New York City flying scene, in which he wears winged sneakers. For McKidd, it's the scene when his brother Zeus blows the door off the Empire State Building, exhibiting his godly powers. Daddario likes the scene where she, Percy and Grover fight the hydra, a five-headed, fire-breathing dragon. Columbus loves Uma Thurman as Medusa. The actress wore a blue shower cap with orange dots during the filming, and the snakes that swarm as her hair in the movie were added by computer technology afterward. Columbus also favors the scene at the end of the movie, when Percy controls water from various water towers around Manhattan (this scene isn't in the book).
IS THERE A MESSAGE FOR KIDS IN THE MOVIE?
Yes. Columbus emphasizes that Percy finds out his dyslexia helps him read ancient Greek, and his attention deficit makes him battle-ready. "I just thought that was a great role model for kids," says Columbus, whose daughter, 12, has dyslexia. "Percy has problems like anyone else," Lerman agrees. "All of his weaknesses become his greatest strengths."
WHAT'S IN THE MOVIE FOR PARENTS?
"There's a wit in the movie," McKidd says. "The fact that the gateway to hell is in the 'H' of the Hollywood sign." That's the famous Hollywood sign in the hills of Los Angeles. Also, McKidd essentially plays a father who is estranged from his teenage son, but at the end of the movie begins to build a relationship with him, he says.
WILL WE SEE BOOK TWO ON THE BIG SCREEN?
"God willing - gods willing," Columbus joked. The decision will be made based on how big a blockbuster the first film is. "They've got to get there the first weekend," Columbus says. "Forget about 'Valentine's Day.'"
THE LONG ISLAND CONNECTION
In the book, Camp Half Blood is on Long Island's North Fork, disguised as a strawberry farm. Percy's parents romanced in Montauk when his human mom was renting a cabin there, and the sea god emerged from the ocean. The young heroes take the Long Island Rail Road to get to Manhattan and Mount Olympus, which is reached through a magical elevator in the Empire State Building.
But don't look for all that Long Island detail in the movie.
"We never mention where Camp Half Blood is," Columbus says. "You could assume the camp is potentially on Long Island. We weren't able to shoot in New York because of the tax breaks. Most of it was shot in Vancouver." If you want to pretend Camp Half Blood is on Long Island in the flick, you'll have to ignore the mountain range on the distant shore.
THE HARRY POTTER CONNECTION
Percy's story has been compared to Harry Potter's, with two boys and a girl on a quest. The book echoes Potter in that it has horses with wings, warnings not to utter a name of an evil creature and prophecy. What's with that?
Both epics have what Columbus says is at the "heart and soul of good fantasy storytelling." Columbus, who directed the first two Harry Potter movies, says he's the perfect director for the Percy Jackson movies because he pruned anything he thought was too reminiscent of Harry Potter.
"Potter is very British," Columbus says. "This is much more of an American road trip across the country - Las Vegas, Nashville, the Empire State Building."