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Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

March 16, 2020

Ode to ‘Artemis Fowl’

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If you didn’t think a worse adaptation than 2010’s The Last Airbender would haunt the big screen, think again. A brand new trailer for Disney’s upcoming Kenneth Branagh directed adaptation of Artemis Fowl dropped recently and to put it politely, it has left fans of the beloved novels enraged and fuming, metaphorical Neutrino 2000 blasters loaded with complaint aimed directly at the Mouse House. The tardy release of the film aside (2008’s The Hunger Games received its movie adaptation in 2012; the first Artemis Fowl book was released nearly two decades ago), the Artemis depicted in the trailer is far from the cold, calculating and callous adolescent of Eoin Colfer’s novels.  Artemis acts more as a carbon copy of other interchangeable, angsty, daddy-issue padawan-type minor that characterized much of young adult fiction since Rowling’s Harry Potter changed literary history in 1997.

Ask any fan who gets their favorite novel adapted into a film and they’ll tell you that they don’t expect the directors, writers and producers to adapt things word for word. Books and films are different media, after all, and abridging and conflation are incumbent tools to be used judiciously in order to tell a cohesive story. From The Lord of the Rings to The Hunger Games (need I say more about Greta Gerwig’s impeccable Little Women?), some adaptations improve upon the spirit of the original books, the themes and characters becoming contextualized without compromise. But this particular detour of character for Artemis feels like a shortcut destined to shortchange; by presenting him as likeable and charming from the start, the film undercuts key development of his character, namely his coming to terms with understanding that intelligence informs character and vice-versa.

Artemis was always characterized by enigmatic snarkiness that nevertheless begot intrigue, and even as the novels progressed, readers wondered if the pull and allure of his old lifestyle would be too tantalizing than the pursuit of virtue. This frequent oscillation between his passions and giftings and his desire to improve is what made him so empathetic. There is no doubt Artemis is brilliant, yet repeatedly throughout the series, he believes his superior intellect is what gives him license to enact cruelty. He still had much to learn in the way of curtailing his greed. But by the novel’s final adventure, Artemis Fowl and The Last Guardian, he emerges selfless and his transformation feels earned; a victory that redeemed the losses along the way.

The film can, should and will be judged on its merits come its May 29th release date — not all is irredeemable. Colfer described his stories as “Die Hard with fairies” and certainly by those merits the trailer embodies this. Maybe the powers-that-be simply cut the trailer to give the verisimilitude of a stereotypical “hero’s story.” Maybe the many stans of Artemis, Captain Holly Short, Butler and many other characters will urge Disney to change the film, channeling #ReleasetheSnyderCut style type energy. Maybe the real Kenneth Branagh will (please) stand up.

But for now, let this column be an ode to the 12-year-old criminal mastermind who taught me through his journey that intelligence and compassion are at their best not when one subjugates the other, but the two build and work together.

 

Zachary Lee is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at zlee@cornellsun.com.