Having been stuck in development hell for the better part of 20 years, Artemis Fowl has finally been brought to life on the silver screen. Sadly, for a movie that was in the works for so long, neither fans of the books nor a mainstream audience will find much to enjoy in this adaptation.
Based on Eoin Colfer’s book series of the same name, Artemis Fowl follows the titular Artemis, an Irish 12-year-old criminal mastermind who discovers a secret world of high-tech fairies living underground who are desperate to stay hidden from humanity. Artemis plans to manipulate them into helping him get his kidnapped father back.
No book can ever be translated perfectly to film format, but this version takes significant storytelling liberties, diverging sharply from the book’s characterization of Artemis. Director Kenneth Branagh wished to make Artemis more heroic and thus relatable to audiences, he told an IGN reporter, despite the fact that Artemis is intended to be the villain of the novel. This narrative quirk is a source of the story’s unique charm that goes unrealized in the film version.
It would perhaps be more accurate to say that Artemis Fowl was inspired by the series rather than calling it a direct adaptation. The film’s plot leaves out numerous key scenes and events, contradicts events from the series, and changes major character personalities and motivations. A book adaption is usually made with the readers as the target market in mind, but this movie will leave readers disappointed. Not only does Artemis Fowl have a drastically different plot, but characters also behave in ways radically different from their novel counterparts, the characters that readers were drawn to in the first place.
Contemporary audiences will not garner much enjoyment from the movie, either. Artemis Fowl barely clocks in at over an hour and a half, and the movie could have used extra time to give more context to its world and flesh the characters out further. As a consequence, the entire movie feels very rushed, a drawback most obvious when it comes to dialogue-heavy scenes and character development. When not rushed, such scenes are full of generic clichéd lines.
Evidently, the film went through an extensive editing process later in its production. Major scenes that appeared in the trailers are conspicuously absent, and actors listed in the film’s cast—such as Miranda Raison and Laurence Kinlan—are nowhere to be found. What makes this rushed narrative even worse is that many of the scenes that the movie does include, such as an opening scene of Artemis surfing, do not even add anything to the narrative.
Artemis Fowl’s main strength lies in its acting. Ferdia Shaw plays the titular Artemis, and Laura McDonnell takes on the role of his enemy-turned-best friend Holly Short. The two child actors deliver strong performances for what little they have to work with. Branagh surrounds them with the amazing Judi Dench as Holly’s boss, commander Root; Colin Farrell as Artemis’ father; and Josh Gad as the kleptomaniac dwarf and narrator of the film Mulch Diggums.
Cinematography is another area in which the movie absolutely shines. Haris Zambarloukos’ mesmerizingly smooth shots and transitions are an absolute feast for the eye. Unfortunately, even his cinematography is kept from reaching its full potential on account of the film’s lackluster CGI, which seems better suited for a video game than a $125 million Disney production. Artemis Fowl’s soundtrack also helps elevate the film. Patrick Doyle’s spectacular score reworks traditional Irish music with modern panache.
Despite the few kernels of talent and design hidden beneath its surface, Artemis Fowl will likely join the ranks of Aragon and Percy Jackson as another beloved book adaptation gone wrong, one that will satisfy neither fans of the books nor the average movie viewer.
Featured Image by Walt Disney Pictures TriBeCa Productions Marzano Films