Fans know the Artemis Fowl books are the antidote to the Harry Potter tales. For a start, their hero is a criminal mastermind wise who's beyond his years, and being Irish he doesn't need anyone to tell him he's gifted.
Now the first book in the bestselling series is a big-budget film (streaming June 12 on Disney+). The question is, is it any good? Eh, we'll come to that.
In Artemis Fowl the young hero (Ferdia Shaw) is stunned to discover that fairies are real and that his father (Colin Farrell) has secretly stolen their most precious treasure.
Artemis' dad has done this in the hope of keeping the shaky peace between their world and ours, but things don't go to plan and adventure follows.
Artemis Fowl introduces us to talented Irish newcomer Ferdia Shaw, 15, grandson of Robert Shaw, the shark fearing sea captain in the original "Jaws" movie.
Being introduced to the public in the biggest movie of the summer, directed by Kenneth Branagh and co-starring Judi Dench, is the kind of springboard that any young actor would relish. But then having Colin Farrell play your Da too?
“I know,” the young star tells IrishCentral. “It's a pretty Irish production.” Even Shaw's first name has mythic Irish origins. “My sister is called Maeve and my brother is Tiernan. Doesn't get more Irish.”
Shaw was selected by Branagh after seeing 1,500 hopefuls all desperate to land the role. How did he prepare?
“I'd actually read all the books beforehand and I loved them. Then I saw there were auditions for the part on Facebook. I didn't go in with high hopes at all because there were so many people going forward. There were there five auditions in all for the role. So once I got to the third audition and I started thinking maybe I've actually got a chance here. Then it was down to 12 people. Then it was down to three and it just got more tense.”
The first book in the Artemis Fowl series has been described by the author Eoin Colfer as "Die Hard with fairies." It's a unique combination of science fiction, heist tale, and Irish folklore and mythologies.
“Yeah, I love the way the Eoin brought the mythology and sci-fi aspects to the books. So it's like these worlds meet in the middle. I always thought that was pretty cool about the books and I think we really got that across in the new film.”
So what's it like to have Colin Farrell play your father? Especially when he's doing his best James Bond impression, in a tuxedo and bowtie? “We had some really good scenes together,” Shaw enthuses.
“He joined quite late in the production actually and he was so steady, so professional, and like so calm. You can kind learn from him about what you want to play because when you watch him do his roles you pick things up. It was really nice working with him.”
Where did he join you all on set? Where was Artemis Fowl filmed?
“It was filmed in Northern Ireland. The main part of it was in England. We did a bit in Vietnam as well. We had a week there and that was actually my first week of shooting. So like it was a fantastic place to start. Since they would have to set up in the morning with the camera angles and figuring out where they wanted to shoot we had tons of time to kill. So we went to like the street markets. We spent a lot of time by the pool too obviously because it was so hot.”
As it turned out none of the Vietnam scenes ended up in the final cut, Shaw says. “They kind of felt that it just didn't blend well, because you've got these really Irish scenes and then you've got Vietnam, but they will be on the extras of the DVD. So you're still going to be able to see all that. You're going to be able to see all the footage but it's just not going to be in the actual film.”
Artemis is not a typical hero. In fact, when we meet him he's not really a hero at all. He's crafty, calculating, and unafraid to do something drastic to achieve his ends. His kidnapping and imprisoning the fairy Holly Short played by breakout star Lara McDonnell is a case in point. When his father is kidnapped and he needs answers Artemis leaves no stone unturned, no matter how unwise.
McDonell's first job as a fairy was to learn how to fly, of course. “I was lucky enough to work with an incredible team and they always made sure that I was as comfortable and felt as safe as possible. Along the way, I got to learn some of the most amazing skills. I got to learn gymnastics, self-defense, kickboxing, and of course I got to learn how to fly, which if that isn't everyone else's dream, I really don't know what is.”
Outdoor filming made the whole experience even more lifelike for McDonnell, who plays one of the investigation officers of LepRecon, the fairy version of the CIA.
“One of my favorite memories from the shoot was a day when I was being filmed flying, which we filmed outside. I was on a harness and wires and the wind was whipping my face and it felt very real. So to get to see the sets and the scenery from that heist while flying is definitely an incredible and surreal memory that I cherish very much.”
As for playing a fairy, it came naturally McDonell concludes. In the Artemis stories, the fairies completely despise what they call mud people, meaning humans. But the fairies make a note in the book of one point that if they have to deal with any human, they would want to deal with the Irish!”
The problem with this big-screen version begins with the exposition. For a long time, it's all set up and explanation and very little action. Then when the action does arrive (like an interminable fight with a troll, it seems to go on without focus or end). Clearly this film wanted to establish a franchise, but sadly that seems unlikely after this first underwhelming outing.
* Artemis Fowl starts streaming on Disney + on June 12.