Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

Director: Chris Columbus

Soundtrack on the Fox Music (Amico) label, 0324-2

Clip 1: Track 1. Prelude (opening) - magic in the air
Clip 2: Track 2. The Minotaur (midpoint) - loud and scary
Clip 3: Track 8. Medusa (midpoint) - creepy scary
Clip 4: Track 18. Homecoming (end) - the big flick bombast fanfare


The only thing more intimidating than following Harry Potter in child fantasy must surely be following John Williams's score for the first movie adaptation. Percy Jackson and the Olypians: the lightning thief is a film based, with some tinkering and tidying, on the book of the same name, the first in a series following a demi-god straight out of Greek mythology spliced with 21st century American teenage life. The plot and indeed the basic category of character follows J K Rowling's mould too close for comfort, but happily it is one that can bear immitation at least for a young audience perhaps not satisfied with the more complex and adult nature of the later Potter books. Also there's monsters and Uma Thurman with a bad hair day. Rick Riordan's dialogue lacks Rowling's flair and humour, but the mythic powers, quest plotting and iconic settings were made for film adaptation in the CGI era. Director Chris Columbus is a safe but unimatinative choice, and the combination of these elements with likeable, pretty, but bland and stereotypical teen heros (boy, girl, black; heroic, intelligent, comedic.. check the boxes), will ensure that this film is loved by early teens and bravely suffered by adults for the vaguely family oriented message.


Into this maelstrom steps composer Christophe Beck, a logical enough choice after scoring The Seeker and various teen flicks, and perhaps the latest in a line of composers to attack such films as an alternative to the old (and expensive?) favourites Williams, James Horner and the late Jerry Goldsmith. Also notable is his involvement in a previous Columbus movie, I love you Beth Cooper. Perhaps this opportunity was payback for suffrance? Was the swashbuckling section of the CD suite for that film an unofficial audition?

In any case Beck is not the newcomer to scoring fantasy that he might at first seem, and this time round he channels further the influences of Don Davis's seminal score for The Matrix for the wilder scenes. Oddly, however, the film's opening prelude is somewhat muted, giving the themes little chance to set into the memory. This is a serious mis-step which unbalances the score's influence and there is some argument to be made that this lack of traction contributes to the lack of engagement with some of the rushed plotting early in the film (one might blame the director here but in fact the novel is similarly disinclined to involve the reader with the characters before the adventures begin). It is therefore not until the more major 'static' sequences such as Medusa and the hydra that the music does more than fill the cracks in the narrative. With the pacing more even and the music given space, Beck's themes gradually permeate through the experience and exert their influence on the momentum of the plot and the way one reacts to the perils of the characters.

Beck's melodic instincts aren't quite as distinctive as Williams's but the lower profile his score has within the mix of the film's elements doesn't discredit the way it helps keep the tone darkly mysterious, sympathetically underscores the more toe-curling character scenes, and effectively bolsters and magnifies the major fantasy-action sequences. His scoring is epic, but, in tune with what we have come to expect and respect from this composer, the orchestration is amazingly clean and can jump from intimate (e.g. the achingly beautiful flute solo that opens the Prelude) to bombastic (whipping the orchestra into a frenzy for The Minotaur) without loss of textural definition. On film this is lost, and it is the general blare and big themes that stick in the mind, but it is on disc that that Beck trumps Williams. His principal melody and smaller themes prove supple and are treated with imagination beyond simple reorchestration. Some agreement must have been made to avoid cuteness and overt humour, but within the restrictions of what must have been 'scary fantasy', 'epic nobility' and 'mystery' there is more than adequate scope, and the unity of tone meshes the score into a very satisfying hour on disc. This reviewer generally favours brevity on disc where the material on film is necessarily repetitious, but in this case there is no real need to pare down since cues are treated with a care beyond the requirement of the film. However one might instinctively react to Percy Jackson, the score is a distinctive calling card from a talented composer on form.


1. Prelude (2'29")
2. Minotaur (5'09")
3. Chiron (2'02")
4. Victory (1'32")
5. The Fury (2'16")
6. Dyslexia (1'02")
7. The Hydra (6'54")
8. Medusa (2'43")
9. Son of Poseidon (1'57")
10. The Parthenon (3'42")
11. Hollywood (2'32"
12. Lost souls (2' 35")
13. Fighting Luke, part one (3'54")
14. Fighting Luke, part two (2'47")
15. Hades (2'47")
16. Mount Olympus (1'27")
17. Poseidon (3'07")
18. Homecoming (3'06")
19. End credits (7'12")


Score recorded and mixed by Casey Stone
Orchestra conducted by Tim Davies
Orchestrated by Kevin Kleisch
Additional orchestrations by Tim Davies and Jake Monaco
'End credits' arranged by Tim Davies
Additional arrangements: Douglas Romayne, Joe Trapanese and Thomas Bergersen
Score recorded at The Newman Stage, Twentieth Century Fox Studios

Orchestra performers listed: violins (30), violas (12), cellos (10), double basses (8), flutes (3), clarinets (3), oboes (3), bassoons (3), horns (8), trumpets (4), trombones (5), tuba, percussion (6 performers), keyboard (Randy Kerber), harp. N.B. This listing does not automatically imply a single orchestral ensemble of this size, although triple woodwind etc. suggests it.

Choir members listed: sopranos (16), contraltos (16), tenors (12) [no basses] apparently