When I review the first book in the Artemis Fowl series, I mentioned that wanted to read it before watching the film. It’s always tricky when it comes to book adaptations that you care about. Especially when you care about it for nostalgic reasons. You obviously want to it be as good as possible, but you also know that there will have to be changes. You can’t get everything into a film version without the runtime being uncomfortably long. Which is why I don’t normally reread books just before I watch a film. Otherwise, you’re too close to it to be objective. But with Artemis Fowl, it had been too long since I’d read the series for me to be happy to watch it. I needed to refamiliarise myself a little more first. But would it be my undoing? I was already going in with low expectations thanks to the criticism the film garnered. Would my recent reread cause even more problems? I had to find out.
I know a lot of people are critical about the lack of originality and creativity in Hollywood these days, but I do appreciate one thing about contemporary film making. They do make it really easy to spot a bad film early on. In this film, you suspect there’s no hope from pretty much the beginning. Mainly thanks to the film’s structure and that really out-of-place surfing scene. Yet, you could still be hopeful that it will get better. Of course, the idea that this won’t turn out well is confirmed once the following exchange takes place:
Artemis Fowl Senior: Well, you used to believe in magic. You believed in the goblins and you believed in the trolls. You believed in everything I told you about the Hill of Tara.
Artemis Fowl Junior: All I really want is to believe in you.
And that was the moment when I almost vomited everywhere. I mean that dialogue is disgusting. Who let that go? It might just be me, but every time Colin Farrell was on screen, I got the sense that he was regretting every decision that had led to him agreeing to be in this film. Poor guy.
As far as adaptations go, this is a truly terrible way to tell this story. It has changed the characters and the story far too much. I don’t know who this was made for. It doesn’t appeal to fans because of the awful decisions the studio made, and it doesn’t do a good job of introducing newcomers into this world. It’s just the most ill-judged film adaptation I’ve ever seen. It tries to play up the Irish thing but, at the same time, it’s a very Hollywood version of Ireland. Making it seem kind of insensitive at the same time as it feels really patriotic. It was difficult to know what to think. Of course, the problems mostly come down to the absurd decision to mix together strands of books 1 and 2 in the series. An obvious choice. When you’ve got quite a unique literary world to set up, the best thing to do is make things more complicated by adding unnecessary storylines to the pot. It just means that there’s no time to do either of the books justice. You never get to see just how brilliant these characters are. And don’t get me started on the insane decision to make Commander Root a woman. I get it, Judi Dench but all it actually does is destroy Holly’s personal arc. Why?
Now it would be kind of acceptable if this was just a terrible film adaption but it’s not. This is just a generally bad film. It doesn’t take any time to develop the characters or the relationships. The pacing and the editing just make things too confusing. The CGI is quite bad in certain places (I mean what the hell happened to Foley?) and you don’t learn enough about this magical world. Then there’s the actual storytelling. We all remember it’s “show don’t tell”, right? Well, the people who made Artemis Fowl have clearly forgotten that because the entire plot is told through clunky and, frankly, embarrassing exposition. The film opens with the classic “character gets arrested and then reveals the whole narrative while being interrogated” cliche. Something that is not only lazy and overdone but also means you have to put up with Josh Gad’s awful Christian Bale as Batman voice for the entire film.
I was so angry with so much of this film. I almost turned it off the second Gad started talking and this desire didn’t pass for the rest of the run. There’s just no thought here and it’s clearly just style over substance. Disney must have thought that bagging Judi Dench, Colin Farrell, Josh Gad and Kenny B would be enough to distract everyone from the fact that nobody bothered to read the books before making it. It’s hard to say who the actual star of this film is. You’d think, given the title, that it was Artemis himself but he’s such a non-character. Everything that made him so interesting and fun in the books has been taken away. Probably because Disney were worried about parental reaction to a 12-year-old criminal mastermind. Then there’s Holly Short who doesn’t get an awful lot to do besides just being there. The fact is, you don’t care about any of these characters because they don’t give you time to get to know them. When one of the major players gets involved in a life-threatening accident, it doesn’t register because it wouldn’t matter if they lived or died. They haven’t been present enough to have any impact on the film anyway.
And the ending? The film just doesn’t end. Once Artemis and co. have tracked down the Aculos (feel free to replace with random move MacGuffin that is never explained), they just never really resolve the story. The underdeveloped villain remains underdeveloped and there is no showdown at all. They all just walk away. It’s not even a cliff-hanger. It’s end of The Sopranos level of frustrating. It might as well have just cut to black in the middle of a sentence at some random point in the film. I never expected this to be good but to find out just how bad it is was quite an experience. It’s not as if I’ve never hated a film before but it’s been a while since one has left me shaking with rage. I don’t want to suggest that this is Kenny B’s fault as this has definite Disney stank on it. Yet, it’s hard to ignore the fact that so many of his recent big budget films have been less than favourable. Maybe stop letting him direct things like this? I mean once you’ve done the dirty to Hercule Poirot, you really shouldn’t be trusted with anything else.