No end of spinning has proven a particularly convincing argument that Disney hasn’t lost faith in Artemis Fowl. Indeed, was the writing not on the wall when those high up announced its shift to a digital only release? And this following trailers so dispiriting that fans of the beloved Eoin Colfer book series from which the film originated screeched blasphemy. The result is predictably bland fantasy inaction. What should have been ‘Die Hard with fairies’ hits the ground heavily as National Treasure with tweens.
Perhaps the most criminal failing of Artemis Fowl – bar the inherent lack of criminality to be found in its realisation of the titular boy antihero – is the obviousness with which the film falls flat. In a handbook of how not to adapt best-selling franchise novels, Artemis Fowl joins The Golden Compass and Stormbreaker in failing to translate the essence of its source. How Hollywood can continue its abject failure to recognise the faithfulness that drove the successes of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and even Twilight boggles the mind. As far as tweaking is concerned, film and literature are different medias and so demand adaptation. When it comes to re-writing the law, bravery meets lunacy.
Working from a script by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl, director Kenneth Branagh presents an Artemis Fowl so far removed from the original text that one might go so far as to assume that they adapt only the blurb. Colfer’s edges are blunted with remarkable abandon, his first two novels mashed into a mush of over produced picture porridge. What’s left can only alienate Fowl’s long term following but hardly creates an alternative worth jumping on to for newcomers. Precious little here stands apart from the overcrowded sea that it fantasy filmmaking for juniors these days. Less still remains to show what it was that made Colfer’s books so successful in the first place.
For balance, fresh talent Ferda Shaw makes for an engaging enough lead. He plays a rather hirsute Artemis brought up on the Irish fairy tales of his namesake father (Colin Farrell, wasted once again). When Fowl Sr. is snatched from his own boat, whilst simultaneously facing accusations of theft from the world’s most prominent purveyors of priceless artefacts, Artemis is called upon by his kidnapper to recover one in particular: the Aculos. Deep below the Earth’s surface, the hidden world of the fairies is stirring. They, too, seek this acorn shaped MacGuffin.
Said Aculos is not, of course, in Colfer’s books. Other inexplicable shifts include a back story for Lara McDonnell’s Lower Elements Police: Reconnaissance fairy Holly, a gender switch for Judi Dench’s gravely Commander Root and loose framing arc, courtesy of a dire Josh Gad. And yet, all that said, a re-write of the source isn’t where the buck ends for the faults of Branagh’s film. Risible dialogue strands even the strongest of performers here into a mire of embarrassment – ‘Get the four-leaf-clover out of here’ – whilst the weight of computer generated backdrops removes any sense of meaning.
Characters so sharply hewn on the page – Artemis most prominently – merge into stock territory and almost entirely disappear into Haris Zambarloukos’ bland colourscape. Weirdly, Artemis almost never leaves the same three rooms in Fowl Manor, zapping energy from his scenes, The city of Haven, meanwhile, proves oddly forgettable in design. Of the set pieces, battles and exchanges, a measly handful could be said to escape the melee of boredom. The film peaks early with a time-frozen, Matrix-esque escapade amid an Italian wedding only to offer up a reprise in its climax. Unsuccessfully.
With the world still facing varying degrees of lockdown, and Disney Plus wooing subscribers like a dog on heat, the one genuine curiosity of Artemis Fowl may well be in its future. Poor reviews may stem a cinematic release and yet a boring film can seem less so when there is so little else on the cards.