ARTEMIS FOWL / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: KENNETH BRANAGH / SCREENPLAY: CONOR MCPHERSON, HAMISH MCCOLL / STARRING: FERDIA SHAW, JUDI DENCH, JOSH GAD, LARA MCDONNELL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (DISNEY PLUS)
There is something of a mixed history in harnessing successful novels for movies, some make a magical transition, some alter the story for their own means but induce some interesting (if polarising) results all the same, and others fall down a pit of no return. Sadly, for this long time coming big screen (well, small screen now) outing for Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl, the latter is the likeliest result.
Young child prodigy Artemis Fowl II (Ferdia Shaw) must hunt down a legendary artefact from a secret world of fairies, in order to save his kidnapped father (Colin Farrell). Already fans’ hairs may be raising at the tone of this synopsis and make no mistake about it, lovers of the books may well be left absolutely fuming by director Kenneth Branagh (amazingly) and screenwriters Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl’s far more fanciful and toothless take.
Inspired (very very) loosely by the first two books in Colfer’s series, it reminds of Men in Black International in how it throws ideas at the screen, that start feeling more and more removed from what inspired it in the first place. Artemis Fowl takes some of the books celebrated and challenging themes of morality and greed and massively sanitises them to condense the story quicker and likely in an attempt to not risk audiences being turned off by the young title criminal(?) protagonist. Yet, ironically, this results ultimately in another well meaning but jumbled tale of magical worlds, legends and characters with names you’ll struggle to recall afterwards - much like some of the plot.
Visually well dressed at points and with some soulful scoring notes from Patrick Doyle, Artemis Fowl does have some (Disney) plus points but in spite of the cast being in on the silliness (Josh Gad especially, as an oversized dwarf), it feels like it was always destined to be one of ‘those’ films. Those with high hopes, even ending with sequel bait, but which early on you realise will be another bestseller-based aspiring YA fantasy franchise that’ll probably never be heard from again.
Taken as an individual piece of movie making, Artemis Fowl and its rollerball lottery of fantasy elements (magic, trolls, dwarves, fairies) has some diverting moments for younger viewers but taken as an adaptation of its source material it’s a disappointingly severed limb of Colfer’s story. Even if it is fun seeing Judi Dench as a militant fairy commander and so soon after playing a cat-human hybrid. What a world!