'He's the antithesis to Harry Potter': How 'Artemis Fowl' hopes to revive a world of fantasy

The film is based on Eoin Colger's fantasy book series which has sold over 25 million copies in 44 languages

Colin Farrell and Ferdia Shaw in 'Artemis Fowl', based on Eoin Colfer's novel. Disney
Colin Farrell and Ferdia Shaw in 'Artemis Fowl', based on Eoin Colfer's novel. Disney

Ever since Harry Potter’s cinema adventures came to an end in 2011 with Deathly Hallows Part 2, movie studios have struggled to find a family fantasy franchise to replace J K Rowling’s boy wizard. Young Adult tales such as Twilight, The Hunger Games and Divergent have filled a gap, but only to a degree. Even Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has not quite conjured the magic that Harry and his Hogwarts pals managed.

So you could be forgiven for sensing the excitement around new adventure tale Artemis Fowl. “There has not been a Harry Potter in a long time, a new Harry Potter,” says Josh Gad, who co-stars in this new big-budget Disney-backed effort.

“This feels like the answer to that. I cannot tell you how many people come up to me who tell me how important the Artemis Fowl books were to them as a kid.”

That is hardly surprising, given that Eoin Colfer’s fantasy book series has sold more than 25 million copies in 44 languages. Directed by esteemed British actor-filmmaker Kenneth Branagh (who enjoyed his own screen time in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), Artemis Fowl is the story of the titular 12-year-old (Ferdia Shaw), whose search for his missing father (Colin Farrell) brings him into a world of fantastical creatures – including Gad’s giant dwarf Mulch Diggums.

With Branagh calling it a “siege movie”, this ties into Colfer’s description of his first book as “Die Hard with fairies”, in reference to the skyscraper-set action classic.

There may be magic, but it’s a long way from Rowling’s world. While the fairies, led by Dame Judi Dench’s pointy-eared Commander Root, live in a high-tech underground world called Haven City, Artemis and his bodyguard Butler (Nonso Anozie) sport sharp black suits reminiscent of Men in Black. Branagh even cites Francis Coppola’s seminal mobster film The Godfather.

“Please do not take this too literally,” he says. “Michael Corleone, as you may recall, at the beginning of the first film … he is not entirely aware of what Dad does. And by the end of the picture he has to face up to ‘Do I do some of this as well? Do I believe in it? Am I behind it?’ I hasten to add we are in a world that offers a different kind of fun and enjoyment and adventure and pace.”

Nevertheless, it does highlight the idea that Artemis belongs to a criminal dynasty. Working on a screenplay by playwright Conor McPherson, Branagh admits to treading carefully with the idea, as Artemis discovers “the secret business practices of his father”. This is a Disney film after all, where anti-heroes are not always easily embraced.

“We try to find the centre and the spirit of the book,” says Branagh. “Does Artemis think being villainous or being a criminal is good?”

What it does show is that Artemis Fowl is the more anarchic side of the coin to the so-called Potter universe.

Here is Josh Gad in character:

“In many ways, Artemis is almost the antithesis to Harry,” says Gad. “Whereas Harry is going on this journey of discovery, along the way becoming a little bit darkened by his experiences, Artemis starts almost at the end of Harry’s journey.

"Artemis is wise beyond his years, does not have the magical abilities of Harry, so has to compensate with an intellect that allows him to tap into magic.”]

With eight books written by Colfer, there is certainly scope for taking Artemis on further cinematic journeys. Until recently, the $125 million movie was destined for the big screen, but the Covid-19 pandemic led the studio to announce a premiere on its Disney+ streaming channel instead.

Lara McDonnell plays Captain Holly Short in 'Artemis Fowl'. Disney 
Lara McDonnell plays Captain Holly Short in 'Artemis Fowl'. Disney 

It is a shrewd move, one that will probably enable the platform to gain more subscribers than the 50 million who are already signed up.

Whether Branagh will return for a second outing remains to be seen, although him directing 2015’s Cinderella shows he is a strong part of “the Disney family”.

Above all, he promises his Artemis Fowl will be a rapid-fire adventure. “It’s a miraculous and beautiful thing,” he says, “[one] you might want out of an escapist entertainment – which is to be moved and diverted with excitement and drama – can all happen in a breathlessly compact space. That is what I’m aiming for.”

Artemis Fowl is available on OSN streaming and OSN Movies First from Saturday, June 13

Updated: June 11, 2020 02:30 PM

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