Artemis Fowl

ON SCREEN: ‘It’s energised, full of new characters, and a new kind of world’

Gemma Dunn

Reporter:

Gemma Dunn

Kilkenny teenager Ferdia shaw in the lead role of new Disney film,  Artemis Fowl

Ferdia Shaw

When Eoin Colfer released Artemis Fowl – the first in an eight-part run of fantasy novels – back in 2001, he had no idea of just what would follow.
The series, if you’re yet to be introduced, follows the tale of 12-year-old devil-may-care genius Artemis Fowl II; a descendant of a long line of criminal masterminds who forays into a fairy underworld.
The idea came to the Irish author after he discovered an age-old photograph of his little brother Donal: “When you make your first communion, you have to wear a full suit.
“I saw this photograph and I thought, ‘He looks like a 10-year-old Bond villain’,” he explains.
“And there’s a long tradition, going back centuries, of people telling stories about the fairies in Ireland.
“There’s a really strong belief in the fairy culture and what I wanted to do was update that.
“So in 2001, [when] someone asked me what the book was like, I said, ‘Die Hard, with fairies’.”
It worked. Today the popular franchise has sold over 25 million copies worldwide and is translated into over 40 different languages.
The film adaptation, however, has been a long time coming.
“When Disney bought the rights, I was like, ‘What?’” says Colfer, 55, who worked as a primary school teacher before he became a full-time writer. “But once I’d gotten over myself, I thought ‘This is going to be made [in] possibly a month, but when that didn’t happen, I found that life went back to normal.
“The movie kept coming back every two years with ‘We have a new director’ ‘We have a new writer’, and the first couple of times I got all excited again, but after that then it’s like, OK. Enough is enough! I became an utter super-cynic!
“I just suppressed that excitement because I was tired of being disappointed… So when Kenneth Branagh called me, I said to myself, ‘He thinks he’s making a movie now, but that’s not gonna happen.”
But Branagh was keen to get the film off the ground.
The five-time Academy Award nominated actor-director-producer- writer had become well acquainted with the popular read thanks to his nephews, who’d been reading the books on a family holiday.
Coincidentally, not long after, Branagh received a phone call from Disney – “And so it felt like a little bit of kismet going on there,” muses the 59-year-old.
“I felt, also, that it was a strange companion piece to Cinderella,” he adds, drawing comparisons to his 2015 remake of the classic Disney film.
“I’d felt we had a chance from within this fairy tale tradition and structure to do a version of a coming of age story for a girl. And Artemis Fowl, in its wild way, struck me as a coming of age [story] for a boy.
“Again, inside a fantastical world, but still with parental issues and issues of how to be good. And in this case, the boy we meet, thinking he’s a hero, in fact has a journey like Michael Corleone in the Godfather to thinking, ‘Am I going to be an antihero? I know what the family business is – am I going to continue?’”
He follows: “My goal was simply to introduce Artemis and his family and bring a whole new cinema audience into a world that is very exciting, different and full of surprises.
“I think the backbone is a terrific, breathless, exhilarating adventure in just the way great movies might aspire to. There’s tremendous energy.”
Fast forward to today and the film has made a splash on streaming service, Disney+.
The spellbinding adventure follows Artemis (played brilliantly by newcomer Ferdia Shaw) as he seeks to find his father Artemis Fowl, Sr. (helmed by Colin Farrell), who has mysteriously disappeared.
Artemis sets out to find him, and in doing so uncovers an ancient, underground civilisation – the amazingly advanced world of fairies.
Along the way he encounters the likes of Holly Short (Lara McDonnell), a fierce member of the fairy special forces; dwarf Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad); and Commander Root (Judi Dench), the cagey chief of the fairy reconnaissance forces.
Branagh’s challenge, then, was how to distil the world of Artemis Fowl into a script that appealed to new audiences, while keeping fans of the book happy.
“I went to Eoin to speak about the way our fairy world appeared; its colours, its technology and the clothes that they wore,” he remembers.
“Whilst wanting to keep our objectivity, we also wanted to see if we could bring something useful to his story by being a separate set of eyes.
“The film is going to be slightly different to what the fans imagined but, like them, we share a passionate devotion to the characters inside the story.
“The goal is to give the audience the best, almost visceral time they can have,” adds Branagh.
“Though audiences familiar with the book will see much that they love and recognise, there’s still a few twists and turns to keep them on their toes.”
“I thought all their changes were totally justified, and for the better,” Colfer reassures viewers.
“Every time a book is adapted the readers are worried, but I didn’t think they had any reason to be.
“Things have to change because it’s a movie.”
As for release, the duo is more than happy to have launched on streaming giant Disney+.
“Our options were put it off for about two years, and then put it on Disney+, possibly, or put it on Disney+ as a test case to see how this works,” Colfer notes.
“It’s energised and full of new characters and a new kind of world, so it felt like it was finding – in these incredible circumstances – a natural home,” adds Branagh.
Aside from his nephews’ verdict – “that’s probably the opinion I shall be most concerned about” – is he at all worried about the backlash from diehard fans?
“You can only view it as an incredible positive,” he responds.
“It’s hard making films where you have to start from scratch; you’ve got to build up awareness in people’s busy lives, so if they’re already there – although maybe ready to be hyper-critical – that’s better than them not being there.
“And if you’re going to be bold enough to do these things, you’ve got to be able to take it on the chin,” he finishes.
“I made some bold decisions creatively about what to do and I expect to take a few for the team as the debate rages about whether we got it right.”
Watch Artemis Fowl on Disney+ now.