Actor-filmmaker Kenneth Branagh started off directing the “Thor” franchise with the first film in 2011, introducing actor Chris Hemsworth as Hollywood’s God of Thunder. The five-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker holds the success of the film close to his heart, and says it was a major win that a “surfer dude riding on a rainbow bridge in space wasn’t laughed out of the cinema”.
By the rainbow bridge, Branagh means Bifrost, the mythical bridge that connects Asgard to other realms.
Over the years, the story of a superhero from the intergalactic realm has spawned a success tale for itself in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a fourth part, “Thor: Love And Thunder”, in the pipeline, and a spin-off series on Loki in the works.
“I remember when we did ‘Thor’, it was like a major win that it wasn’t trashed and the surfer dude riding on a rainbow bridge in space wasn’t laughed out of the cinema,” Kenneth Branagh told IANS in an interview while talking about his approach of adapting existing material.
“And then you know, across the next two, three, and soon to be four movies, there’s a chance to sort of play with people’s expectations. So I guess it’s (important) to start at the source and start simple,” he added.
Before “Thor 4”, of course, Kenneth Branagh is ready with his new digital release, “Artemis Fowl”, the film interpretation of Irish children’s author Eoin Colfer’s written work.
“Eoin has developed the character over eight books. I think by the time he gets to the end, something that doesn’t seem to be there at the beginning of the first book occurs. And we tried to do this in this film, which is to unfreeze his Bond sort of a villain. He becomes more human and more humane during the course of the books,” he said while explaining the premise of the book.
Kenneth Branagh continued: “In our film, we wanted to try and have some sort of journey. But it was an origin story, it reminded me of the same kind of challenge we had when we were presenting ‘Thor’ for the first time, which was trying to introduce to a world to cinema goers, perhaps who don’t know these books at all, a new character with whom they could initially identify, which is why we make Artemis in the film at the beginning of the movie, a little more ordinary.”
For the fantastical film, the 59-year-old also took some cues from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 classic, “The Godfather”.
“We decided to take the origin story model, and in my mind, like in ‘The Godfather’, Michael Corleone is invited to take over the family business. He doesn’t know whether he is going to be getting any good at killing people. And by the end he certainly is. So that was our little arc for ‘Artemis Fowl’,” Kenneth Branagh said.
“Artemis Fowl” promises to take the audience on a fantastical adventure into the magical world of fairies, dwarves, and centaurs. It narrates the story of a 12-year-old genius, Artemis Fowl, a descendant of a long line of criminal masterminds, as he goes on a mission to save his father who has been kidnapped.
Kenneth Branagh is credited for translating several works of literature into cinematic gems — from Shakespearean classics to superhero comicbooks to Agatha Christie whodunit to fantasy stories. His filmography is filled with critically-acclaimed projects, including “Henry V”, “Much Ado About Nothing”, “Othello” and “Hamlet”, “Murder On The Orient Express” and “Cinderella”.
He asserted that the key in adapting lies in staying simple and patient.
“Having worked in the theatre, I grew up believing that your job was to serve the writer. So, it took a long time for me to even refer to the script as material. I use it now and that’s when I began to understand that for people in movies, it (the existing text) was often clay. It was stuff to be molded.
“I’ve been in a few situations where I had my first cut in and studio executives roll their sleeves, and say ‘Okay, now we can start’. Some movie executives regard the first cut as a block from which they will now chip and cut away, and they will find the statute within. My first instinct with all of these things has been literally to go to the source,” Kenneth Branagh said.
Picking “Artemis Fowl” as an example, he continued: “When I started with the project, after 15 years of development and a half a dozen scripts which were all hugely long, I asked if Eoin was involved in any of these. No one had spoken to Eoin.
“The first thing I did was speak to the author of the books, because without it we would not be doing this. The starting point was to go back to the original. Eoin created a series of bestselling books so he must be doing something right. So, it was basically to try and find out what that is.”
Kenneth Branagh feels it is important to avoid over-stuffing the story.
“Sometimes, especially in the case of the first version, it’s a lot of things to take in. So aside from going to the source, the next rule is how you can keep it simple. How can you find the backbone narrative on which things can hang as a real adornment as opposed to just being more and more? You got to be patient with an origin movie. I know, given how much they cost, how patient you can afford to be but, just to even get people interested is important. I think it is a major phenomenon,” he added.
“Artemis Fowl” stars Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Josh McGuire, Nikesh Patel and Adrian Scarborough, with Colin Farrell and Judi Dench. The movie will release on June 12 on Disney+ Hotstar.