Not every fantasy book adaptation will please fans like miracle franchises like The Lord of the Rings, but one series that was going way in the other direction in its early days of development was Artemis Fowl — even if it was still going to involve some elements of The Lord of the Rings.
Speaking to EW, author Eoin Colfer documented the long history of his fairy- and dwarf-filled fantasy heist YA hit as it went from bestseller to the big screen. While the details about the Fox-Disney merger delaying the film's release and the coronavirus pandemic's influence on pushing it straight to a streaming service are certainly interesting from an industry perspective, genre fans should more keenly pay attention to the much earlier days of the adaptive process. Miramax Films got the rights to the book in 2000, back when the Bob and Harvey Weinstein-operated distributor was owned by Disney. And they had no idea what to do with the book. Directors came and went as quickly as ideas for how to handle the adaptation.
"At one point there was a script where it would be like a Scary Movie thing, where it was really just a pastiche of other books," Colfer said. "I think at some point some of the characters from Lord of the Rings came in. So it really wasn't an Artemis Fowl movie at all. It was just using the name. That was truly horrifying."
Sound far-fetched? This period (the early to mid-2000s) was also around the time when Harvey Weinstein, now serving a prison sentence for rape and sexual assault, and Miramax had recently battled it out with Peter Jackson over his Lord of the Rings adaptation — a venture in which Weinstein executive produced and was deeply involved in acquiring the film rights. While New Line eventually produced the beloved fantasy trilogy, the Weinsteins had their hooks in the franchise deeply (and legally) enough to get executive producer credits on each entry. Not only that, but Harvey Weinstein was a producer on Artemis Fowl until 2017. So it's a genuine possibility that Gandalf could've strolled through by Artemis Fowl's Butler, commenting wryly on the existence of magic. "With each new director, my heart sank a little bit more," Colfer said of the time spent in development hell.
Now, the film (still at Disney) is coming from director Kenneth Branagh with a cast including Judi Dench and Josh Gad — and looks to more faithfully adapt Colfer's humorous fantasy story without any parody elements popping up to show off just how much intellectual property is at the company's disposal. Branagh came to the film when those developing it were "trying to make the thing something it wasn't," and his first order of business was to "return to the source." That should make everyone happy — except those excited to see Pippin join the LEPRecon.
Artemis Fowl's far more faithful adaptation hits Disney+ on June 12.