THE MODERN ALCHEMIST

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IN MEMORIAM: Artemis Fowl

Look how Disney+ massacred my boy!

I’m not even going to bother giving spoiler warnings here. Trust me, don’t watch this garbage — you’re doing yourself a massive favour.

Picture the scene: a short 11 year old sprints up 3 flights of stairs to her school library so that she can claim her usual cosy spot. While shuffling past the fiction section, a sparkling golden spine twinkles in the corner of her eye invitingly. Compelled to stop, she scoops up the sparkly paperback novel and (while juggling it with her enormous backpack and packed lunch) tows it along to her corner booth. She would then spend the last 30 minutes of her lunch break sucked into a world of chock full of gun toting fairies, schemes and cutting wit, devouring chapter after chapter and completely forgetting to eat her pre-prepared lunch.

Pre-teen me would later go on to collect the entire series along with all the graphic novels — firmly staking my place as an avid fan of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl & the many, many shenanigans he got himself into.

It wasn’t just the mix of tech, hidden magic, fantasy races and derring-do  —  a trope that I adore even to this day.

It was the narrator’s wit, the dry jokes and spunky banter from Artemis, Agent Holly Short & others, the sheer ruthlessness from a boy of twelve who was willing to lie, cheat, kidnap and rob his way to victory. In his own encrypted diary, Arty admitted that he’d “sold the Pyramids to a Western businessman”, and “forged and auctioned the Lost Diaries of Leonardo da Vinci”. Artemis Fowl the Second is definitely not a young man who shies away from manipulating the system to his best advantage.

So when I first heard that Artemis Fowl would finally be making his way to the silver screen in 2018, I was both nervous and excited.
“It’s set in modern times”, “we have the technical knowhow to properly do it justice”, “surely they’ll handle it with care” was what I thought to myself. Then I heard that the film was being handled by Disney and I cringed. But somehow, there was still a smidge of optimism left. Then on the 27th of October, 2018 — the official Teaser Trailer dropped.

I watched it on the 28th. You can see my reaction to the mess right here:

I promptly attempted to wipe my memory & actually managed to somehow forget that this adaptation was a thing. Right up until last night when the film dropped straight onto Disney+. And like a glutton for punishment, I decided to watch it.

It was TERRIBLE. I’ve seen some truly sinful cinematic adaptations but this was somehow worse than all of them. Yes, even worse than the racially insensitive & cringey The Last Airbender. Far worse than Percy Jackson, which while heinously divorced from the canon & terribly cast is mildly amusing at some points. And yes, worse than the overly hammy Eragon, who’s actors had all the chemistry of dead, mouldering fish when sharing the screen, along with bad special effects to boot.
The more of the Artemis Fowl books you know, the worse this adaptation is — but even to a person who has never encountered Artemis before, this film just falls flat.

And I’m not alone — it’s pretty much receiving universal scorn and has been rated at just 10% on Rotten Tomatoes, which sounds about right. No one will be able to even suggest taking on the Artemis Fowl series for at least the next 10 years without getting suplexed or laughed out of the boardroom. And that is a crying shame considering the excellent source material.

Kenneth Branagh, what were you thinking while directing this?

Turning the books into an animated film series in the same art style as the brilliant graphic novels (originally illustrated by Andrew Donkin) would have been perfect. Instead of smashing together multiple books, letting each tale stand alone in the series would have not only given this series longevity for Disney, but would also have allowed us to witness Artemis’ personal growth while retaining the core of what makes him engaging as a character.

Everything from the plot, to the characters themselves, and even the tone of the tale has been chopped and changed to form this scattered caricature of Artemis that doesn’t even bear passing resemblance to the original.

The 8 books that make up Eoin Colfer’s original Artemis Fowl series.

Holly Short has been whitewashed and rendered into a spritely supporting character, in addition to losing her status as the only female captain in LEPrecon. The complete removal of all her character development turns Holly into a forgettable presence on screen that you can’t really relate to. Even in the new plotline, her importance as “the daughter of the elf who stole the Aculos” (the all powerful MacGuffin that everyone and their nan’s after) is unnatural compared with the relationships she develops in the novels with her enemies, co-workers & friends.

Mulch Diggums — the kleptomaniac dwarf is conspicuously tall with a voice that sounds like he’s highly congested and gargling with chunks of concrete. Mr Diggums has also been granted the role of narrator — Varric Tethras style — as he’s arrested by British Intelligence and is shown narrating the first half of the story during his interrogation.

Left to Right — Butler (Nonso Anonzie), Holly Short (Lara McDonnell), Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) and Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw)

Mr Call-me-Domovoi Butler has been gifted obnoxiously blue eyes and is considerably less stoically imposing. Also his iconic Sig Sauer has been swapped out for a magical bow?

Commander Root has been gender-swapped and apparently Dame Judy Dench was nominated for the dubious honour of portraying the gruff commander. Ironically, her “top of the morning” line is probably the funniest moment in this disaster.

Our vampiric, physically feeble, whip smart and brutally aware Arty has been transmuted into a fit, bright-eyed boy “genius”. Who is somehow smart enough to hack government servers in his sleep but simultaneously dumb enough to not notice that his father is a criminal — MAKE IT MAKE SENSE DISNEY?

His mother Angeline Fowl is killed off within the first 10 minutes of the film and his alive, non-missing father Artemis Fowl Senior (played by Colin Farrell) is still pretty much absentee until he gets kidnapped by Opal Koboi, at which point he really is AWOL.

But worst of all, he is NOT a criminal. Artemis Fowl the Second doesn’t commit a crime during the entire film, so him being titled as a criminal mastermind” is the biggest crock of shite I have ever had to swallow.
That along with the mythical Aculos that’s mentioned approximately eleventy billion times throughout the course of the film, almost as if we’d forget how important it is without the constant reiteration.

promotional image of Ferdia Shaw as Artemis Fowl in the 2020 Disney+ film.

The changes completely negate the charm of this series, skimming it down into yet another run of the mill kid-is-introduced-to-the-world-of-magic-wide-eyed-and-bushy-tailed narrative. It’s a heist without any real tension or suspense, especially with Mulch Diggums having to explain what’s happening all the time.
The slivers of the original canon slotted in here and there: the time freeze, the blue rinse bomb on Fowl Manor, the troll attacks, etc, don’t lift the plot or gift it any bonus nostalgia points. It’s a confusing mess that jumps from scene to scene, and I’m not really interested in trying to untangle it all. The gritty, witty magic is nowhere to be found, and the film is all the sadder for the loss.

Ferdia Shaw’s Artemis was wide-eyed with wonder when introduced to the world of monsters and magic.

The original character’s first thought upon his induction was how magic could benefit him.

And I think I can confidently speak for the majority when I say we greatly prefer the latter.

In conclusion — give this movie a wide berth and go read (or reread) the original novels or the graphic novels! Disney should have left this film on the shelf.

They fumbled the bag big time.

For anyone watching this film who hasn’t met Arty before, I’d rate this at:

1/5

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an awful film, but you might be able to find some small entertainment with the action scenes.

For everyone who was familiar with the series before this:

0/5

This is joining Dragonball Evolution, Percy Jackson, Eragon, Maximum Ride & The Last Airbender on the list of franchise enders.

Forget that this film exists.

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