Movie Review – Artemis Fowl, from a novel novice

artemis-fowl-movie-poster

artemis-fowlHonestly, I have to ask: What WAS this?

I’m told the Artemis Fowl books are top shelf, but the origin film is merely…meh. So I watched the movie with low expectations: usually that means I can walk out feeling somewhat sated. In this case, I was infuriated. How hard could it be for Disney to make a passable film from a well-regarded Harry Potter type classic novel?

Did it suck? You betcha. The maddening thing: why? Disney has immense resources, money, and talented imagineers. I love fantasy. I ‘get’ fantasy stories. So what went so very wrong?


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The bad. And it’s almost all bad.

85% of Artemis Fowl is exposition, and not the clever kind.

Actors stand around throwing backstory at each other. Over and over, ad nauseam. There’s almost no action, and the exploits we do get are stultifying. In fact, the three scenes where things happen are not “all that and a bag of fairies” — I used them as Peetimes. That never bodes well. Since I didn’t know from the novel series what backstory was important, I had to keep each and every long monologue intact.

I found myself wondering if Dame Judi Dench could even walk anymore, because all her (endless) monologues are delivered entirely stationary. Her (frankly, awful) character takes a few steps at the end, so, okay, the aging actress is still mobile. Maybe she had to stay still so the CGI characters would fit as they flit around her.

You know you’re bored when all you can do is track these things.

What was Artemis Fowl about, after all?

There’s a Macguffin we’re told a lot about. Apparently you can rule the fantasy world with it. I really don’t remember.

Seriously, when you watch this movie, take a look at how many ‘this happened and that happened’ speeches there are. None of this backstory is earned, because we don’t care about the characters. When Artemis and the fairy become friends, we don’t see how the trust barrier fell. It’s all tell and no show.

How to grade something like this?

This isn’t the only time Disney fell down at the gates with a promising novel-based fantasy franchise: look at my review for A Wrinkle in Time. I also gave it the same movie grade, for similar reasons.

RunPee Rob gave Artmis Fowl a C+, inexplicably, and he’s a big fan of the book series. So he got something more out of it than I did. But he’s a self-professed grading softie.

As an Artemis Fowl newbie, I’m confused. There might have been a good film in there if the screenwriters stuck to time-honored rules of storytelling and world-building. You can’t craft a movie around CGI overkill and expositional vomit. I’d like to find an old copy of the book and give that a read. Disney doesn’t usually pick bad stories to glom a film onto. And Rob told me I have to read at least the original.

I’m giving Artemis Fowl a D+ because it was pretty. So very pretty, with lots of things worth pausing the playback to see in the background and foreground. However, the film is lucky to get that high a grade. In every other way Artemis Fowl is a total failure. Maybe releasing it straight to streaming was Disney’s way of saying, “Yeah, we know.”

Movie Grade: D+ 

Movie Review – Artemis Fowl

Movie Review – A Wrinkle in Time

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9 thoughts on “Movie Review – Artemis Fowl, from a novel novice”

  1. I’ve been waiting for someone I know who hasn’t read the books to the film! OK, so it’s Jill “Hatchet” Florio but at least I now have someone I can moan about this to!

    First off, the Artemis Fowl books are top notch (top shelf, with regard to publishing, means something different over here!); imagine something aimed at a similar audience to Harry Potter but realising that they will probably be read by adults, either for themselves or to someone younger. So the stories have levels. A superficial level which can be enjoyed by pre-teens and something else for grown-ups and by that I don’t mean smutty jokes that go over the kids’ heads but more layers to the plot. Talking of which, the humour of the books has been totally erased and replaced by… well, nothing really.

    To be honest the biggest problem is that it’s got the same name as a successful bilk franchise but, apart from most of the names and a few vague references, this film has nothing to do with the book. Think Dragnet… “Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” But here they’ve kept the names and changed the story. If we ignore the much ballyhooed gender and race changes (which shouldn’t have been changed because they do undermine quasi-pivotal plot points) they have seriously compromised the main character.

    Artemis Fowl II is a totally different character. In the film we know he is a criminal mastermind because he says he is. In the books we know he is a criminal mastermind because he acts like one. The way he gets his information on how and where to capture an L.E.P. Officer is by using blackmail, bribery, and subterfuge. Incidentally, that episode was actually filmed and was in the first trailer but was cut.

    The film has taken elements of the book series and thrown them away and done it in such away that there is no way that the threads can be picked up to make sequels that follow the source material. Example… in a Disney movie, if one parent is alive, the other must be dead. So the movie also goes ahead and announces that Artemis’s mother is dead, rather than just sick as she is in the book. The Aculos is a big, glowing MacGuffin devised purely for the film rather than Artemis merely trying to con/steal/acquire a fortune in gold from the fairies, as a proper criminal mastermind would do, which lays the foundation for further interactions with the Lower Elements. And Butler… there is a whole thread which details where Butler came from, how he was trained, why he is with the Fowls, and why his first name is so significant and, more importantly, a secret. In the books it isn’t mentioned until the third one of the series, in the film everyone knows it! Oh… Mulch Diggums is an actual dwarf not a Hagrid sized demi-giant!

    I think the biggest giveaway as to my feelings on this book/film tie up is that I’m less wary of spoilers for someone going to see the film than someone going to read the books.

    And I suggest you do. The books are entertaining, enthralling, and worth the time taken to read them. If you want to see the film do yourself a favour and see it before you read the books. But, please, don’t let the film put you off reading the books.

  2. Don’t even get me started on Hagrid. I’m glad the books lay a proper foundation and tell a good story.

    I’ve been looking for used A Fowl books in the Goodwill store, but I haven’t seen one in some time.

    Curious, what is Top Shelf in the UK? Here its where the bartender keeps the good stuff.

  3. I originally read them on an e-reader and could send you the files if you use one… There was one of those remaindered book outlets that did a complete Artemis Fowl set and I got one for my daughter and granddaughter quite cheaply. I’d happily buy you one but the cost of postage would be horrendous! Concentrate on finding the first volume and then see if you want to hunt down the rest.

    Ah, yes… the top shelf of a newsagents is where the “gentlemen’s literature” is placed.

  4. HA! I love how the little words and phrases get garbled when transiting the pond.

    I do have a Kindle. I’ll also keep looking for used copies. I had one years ago and decluttered it…this is why I end up hoarding things! I always want the things I tossed later.

  5. Jill Florio Administrator

    Thank you Rob! I’ll let you know when I start reading it. I hope I love it like you do.

    So if you have AF a C+, you think it’s on the high end of average? Even though you panned it in your review?

    Just checking.

  6. As you know there are two problems…

    1, I’m a notorious softy when it comes to grading films.

    2, As a reader of the books I found it hard to not connect and compare them with the film.

    Given that there’s not much can be done about the first point I guess it all boils down to the second.

    I think the biggest thing for me was an overwhelming sense of disappointment. Ignoring the COVID related delays, this film has been on and off for years. The film rights were first bought in 2001 within 12 months of the book being written. Screenplay was finalised by 2003 and then it fell into development limbo, if not actual development hell, until 2011 when rumours started of the project being resurrected and Saoirse Ronan being spoken of as Holly Short.

    In 2013 Disney got onboard, 2015 saw Kenneth Branagh hired to direct, and in September 2017 a release date of 9th August 2019 was announced. Scheduling conflicts saw the release put back by a year and Plague 2.0 got the theatrical release binned altogether.

    Anyone who follows Eoin Colfer has been expecting this film for nearly twenty years and that is a long time to build up your expectations! So I guess I wanted someone’s opinion of the film who didn’t have all that baggage with them.

    If I’m honest there were some bits that I thought were very well done but they were stuck into a totally different story. It’s a bit like you’ve spent ages travelling to the Louvre, queued for hours and finally got in front of the Mona Lisa only to find it’s been replaced by a crayon drawing done by a six year old. And not even a good six year old or one you know and will cut a bit of slack for.

  7. Rob, I sympathize and understand your pain. It’s been hard to transfer beloved books to film. It took half a century to do Lord of the Rings right, and then they still messed up The Hobbit. Dune is still problematical (we will see about the upcoming one by Denis Villeneuve). The Narnia movies really screwed up, IMO.

    Harry Potter worked very well, and the Hunger Games was good for the first two films.

    I’d like to see crayon versions of the Mona Lisa. Crayon versions of Starry Night too. Crayon versions of everything!

  8. Another note. I’ve been waiting patiently for decades for the Dragonriders of Pern to be made into a movie. If they do, and it’s awful, I’ll be very, very upset. So I get it. 🙂

    Fingers crossed about the new Dune…

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