***Artemis Fowl Spoilers***
Artemis Fowl. I remember the very first time I opened the mysterious green vellum-like hardcover of that incredible first book, covered with its mysterious symbols that one would later come to discover is the fiendishly difficult to learn language, Gnommish. Opening the books, and reading the first words of the psychologists who had made it their mission to diagnose and define the titular character. Of course, these psychologists would also turn out to be not quite of our human world, yet even they had a sense of humility and the understanding that Artemis Fowl was truly an individual capable of extraordinary fetes of the mind.
I remember that first chapter, when Artemis meets his prey for the very first time; the words of Eoin Colfer filling my nostrils with the dusty scent of the Saigon street, and my eyes with the vision of that scaly hand, giving over the Book that would change the Fairy world forever. As the story unfolds, one is treated to the gradually emerging tale of a child genius who is the master of all he surveys; in his pre-teen years, he is an individual who has the mental capacity to take on not only the human race, but every other intelligent species on, over, and under the planet at the same time. As a reader, you are treated to a gradual unveiling of the most incredibly intricate plans, laid in painstaking detail by an intelligence beyond what most of us can grasp. Artemis is cold, calm, calculating, and in control of every situation; he even takes control of the chaos.
But as the epic tome unravels, the icy persona begins to slip. Chinks in the armour appear, and the true reason for Artemis’s actions are revealed. He may maintain the glacial calmness of an iceberg, but beneath the surface exists a young boy, desperate to recover his lost mother and father.
Yes, the book has its issues. Mulch Diggums burps in the first half of the book, and in the second we are told that trolls can’t burp. It’s adjectival selection is not particularly advanced. And… well, actually that is pretty much it. But Artemis Fowl appealed to me, and to other children around the world in a way that the likes of Harry Potter never could. Sure, it did not sell enough copies to fell a small rainforest, but in many ways it was the better story. Every young person wants to be a wizard – and they will seek out literature that allows them the escapism of imagining that they are a part of a world in which that is possible. But deep down, every young person knows that in reality, it is simply not possible. For that reason, there will always exist a schism between the child reader and Harry, or Hermione, or Ron. But Artemis, for all of his incredible power of the mind, is just a little boy. He is far more relatable, and his life is far more attainable than that of the Potterverse. Well, to the extent that any child-prodigy-billionaire’s life can be. But you get the point.
So when I heard that there was to be an Artemis Fowl film, bring to life the character whom was idolised by myself and so many other children, I may have gotten a little over-excited. It felt like it was in the making for decades. But finally, on the Twelfth of June, 2020, with the help of Disney, the Artemis Fowl blockbuster landed. As I settled down, scrolling through the Apple TV menu, I could hardly contain my excitement.
And then I watched it.
Oh my. Oh my, oh my, oh my.
From the opening of the film, I knew I was in for something that would not sit well on the stomach. In the office of Artemis’s school is the psychologist. Human, not fairy. Ah! Thinks I. Artemis is about to run rings around this fool of a man. And for a moment, it appears he will. Until the psychologist mentions the death of Artemis’s mother. Hang on a moment… what? Isn’t she alive but seriously unwell in the book? Isn’t that one of the driving influences for the entire motivation of the character’s actions; to heal his mother? Oh dear. As Artemis began to get angry and upset, running out of the office, I could not help but pause the film, with a hand raising slowly up to my forehead.
It would be difficult for me to detail every way in which this film systematically dismantled the intelligence, wit, humour, and magic of the books without feeling a huge sense of sadness. Magic! From a book in which fairies can do everything from disappear to control the human mind, heal those on their deathbed, and grant impossible wishes, to a film in which we see a couple of colourful sparkles. How can a film about fairies have such a dearth of magical feeling? Enormous plot points from the book, such as the time-stops and bio bomb, are cast aside or treated as unimportant and throwaway. In a tale about magic, magic is replaced entirely with sci-fi inspired technological trickery. Fairies do not to complete the ritual in order to replenish their gift, thus entirely missing the point about how Butler… sorry, Dom (?!?) manage to capture one in the first place. And an integral part of the story, that fairies cannot enter a dwelling without permission, is sidestepped almost entirely, removing one of Artemis’s most ingenious ace cards in dealing with the LEP. It is a crying shame. I could go on to mention the plethora of questionable Irish accents, but I feel at this stage, you are getting the point.
That is not to say that there are no redeeming features of the film. I chuckled at a couple of moments, including the sight of a troll being flown across the moon. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous, and although many of the locations did not meet my vision as a child, they were beautifully crafted by the design team. And Judy Dench. Who knew a dainty English rose of a woman could play a gruff Irish man with quite so much authenticity. She really is a wonderful actor.
Artemis Fowl has been broken by this film. The film about magic has lost its magic. It has suffered the same fate as the latest Maleficent film, in that style has entirely won out over substance. It seems Eoin Colfer’s vision of the world he so carefully crafted around his beloved character has been systematically dismantled and replaced with, well, it is hard to say, in all honesty.
But what makes me the most sad, is that there is a current generation of children who will watch this film, and be disappointed. They will not go on to read the book from which it is loosely derived. They will never experience the wonder and magic created in the original Artemis Fowl books.
To Eoin, you are a genius and I am sorry for what has happened to your book, but to everyone else, please, for the love of God, go read the incredible books. Leave this film well alone.