Dear Disney Studio Executives,
I’m writing this review as an opportunity to remind you exactly how this adaptation thing works, as you seem to have forgotten. The rules are very simple: either stick to the essence of the novel and what made us fall in love with it in the first place, or – if you really want to try for the hard six – replace it with something just as good. I know you are capable of this, as in the past you have done both with excellent results (20,000 Leagues under the Sea being an example of the former, and Mary Poppins being an example of the latter). What you absolutely cannot do under any circumstances, is replace the source material with something bland, toothless, generic, and utterly uninspiring. With Artemis Fowl, you have well and truly rolled a snake-eyes.
Your first mistake was trying to adapt the first two books, and thus shoehorn in characters and situations that don’t appear until later. Why didn’t you just stick to the first? The dangerous antics of rich Irish twelve-year old criminal genius Artemis Fowl, and his agreeably lethal bodyguard Butler, have great cinematic potential. Their plan to capture a fairy – in this case, Holly Short from the lower elements police reconnaissance division (LEP RECON, see what author Eoin Colfer did there?) – leads to an inspired, Die Hard style siege. The fairies prove to be technologically superior, armed to the teeth, and deadly. A colourful cast of supporting magical characters, including flatulent kleptomaniac dwarf Mulch Diggums, tech genius centaur Foaly, and a rampaging troll, just add to the witty, action-packed fun.
It would be all too easy to blame director Kenneth Branagh for this mess, but given his track record and obvious talent, I suspect he found he was in over his head, and did all he could to make the best of a bad situation, as you interfered at every turn. Your determination to eliminate all dark edges and thereby the essence of Artemis Fowl – his self-reliance, status as a master criminal, and so on – is depressingly evident from the overstuffed screenplay. All the interesting character dynamics, including the antagonism between Holly and Artemis – an essential component of this first adventure – are watered down to the point of utter indifference.
Likewise, it would be foolish to lay too much blame on the shoulders of Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, or Nonso Anozie (as Artemis, Holly Short, and Butler respectively), given the material they had to work with. Or the fact that they are simply swamped by increasingly numbing, weightless CGI. Even the big names in the supporting cast – including an underused Colin Farrell as Artemis’s father, and an amusingly deadpan Judi Dench as gender switched LEP RECON Commander Root – fail to make any kind of impact. Josh Gad’s narration (as Mulch Diggums) is equally uninspired, providing neither witty counterpoint nor clarity, but rather confusion and a pointless framing device.
No, in this case, I place the blame fully and completely on you; the timid, unimaginative, risk-adverse, bean-counting, machine-tooling overlords at Disney. Not so much Artemis Fowl as Artemis Foul, this time you utterly blew it. Eoin Colfer deserved better.
UK Certificate: PG
US Certificate: PG