02 January, 2010

The Game's Afoot

Did ye have a good New Year's then, my darlings?  All present and accounted for?  Hangovers conquered and resolutions made?  Excellent!  Then let's talk about Sherlock Holmes, shall we?

I have to admit I didn't want to see the movie.  Really didn't.  You see, I've been a Sherlock Holmes fan ever since I was knee-high to a short beaver.  I loved the cerebral nature of the stories, first and foremost.  I loved the fact that Holmes is one of the most socially inept people on the face of the planet.  I loved the lack of action.  Not that those stories are lacking in drama - very far from it!  But the action's usually on a cerebral level, with only the occasional foray into situations where Holmes's old boxing skills and Watson's trusty revolver are necessary.

Over the years, I'd built quite the mental image of Holmes.  And I'm one of those people who don't like movies mucking about with my carefully-crafted mental images of the characters I admire.  Besides, I know what Hollywood does to very cerebral characters.  It's horrible.

But my friend Sean, also a Sherlock Holmes fan, assured me it doesn't suck.  And he was even willing to give it a second go.  So I set my expectations low, collected Sean and my intrepid companion, and headed out to give the thing a go.

I have remarkably few quibbles for the experience.  One of the worst: Robert Downey Jr.'s not skinny enough for the role.  That, however, can be overlooked, because he does a pretty good job of playing a very difficult character.  I can overlook a Holmes of normal weight in this instance.

They also didn't get Irene Adler quite right.  She'd always struck me as more exotic, more glamorous, and more intriguing than Rachel McAdams's portrayal.  They also played up the love-interest angle a bit too much.  Yes, she's the one woman Holmes would have married.  No, he didn't display his emotions to that degree.  But it's Hollywood, and apparently Hollywood thinks no movie is complete without blindingly obvious sexual tension.

Another thing Hollywood loves is its explosions, and it's got them.  Explosions, gunfights, car - excuse me, carriage - chases, death-defying leaps, and about a thousand other situations that are meant to get the heart a-pounding and only managed to get me a-groaning.  There was more action packed into just over two hours than there was in the entirety of the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels combined.  Argh.  At least they often showed Holmes using his brain to get through the action scenes rather than relying on brawn alone, but still.  A little more talk and a lot less action next time, s'il vous plais.  Merci.

Oh, and Mary Watson never got quite that involved in their adventures.  Face facts.  It was an age when most women didn't run around fighting crime, folks.

They played up the humorous one-liners a bit heavily, too.  People, Sherlock Holmes was known more for his wisdom than his wit, thanks ever so much.

So, those are the quibbles.  It wasn't enough to make me hate the movie, just enough to make me roll my eyes, and occasionally bang my head gently against Sean's shoulder.  Just occasionally, though.

Now that I've gotten all the wrong out of my system, let's talk about the right.  There was certainly plenty of that.  They didn't shy away from the fact that Sherlock Holmes is a terribly unlikable man.  You remember how abrupt, hurtful, and generally abrasive he could be?  They didn't soften him up on that front.  And they managed to show how his general brilliance overcame his many personality quirks.  He's a likable bastard who takes horrible advantage of Watson throughout, just as he should be.

They portrayed his reaction to boredom quite well, right down to the drug use.  They got the drug-of-choice wrong, but that's all right.  It's the fact that they decided not to shy away from his strangeness on that front that delights me.

They did a good job showing his attention to detail, his curiosity about every oddity under the sun, and his thought processes.  Even in the fights, they show how the man's thinking miles ahead of everyone else.  And even though they went heavy on the action, at least they stayed true to character - Holmes was a boxer, not a martial artist, not a gunfighter.  Good on them.

When you see this movie, you'll notice a heavy emphasis on the supernatural, and you will wail and gnash your teeth.  I have one title for you: Hound of the Baskervilles.  Relax.  They don't fuck this up.  Relax and enjoy the show.

The atmosphere is excellent: they did a wonderful job bringing Victorian London to life.  Crowded, noisy, frequently filthy, and yet grand and lovely all at once.  

One last thing they get absolutely right: you will never, not once, hear from Holmes's lips, "Elementary, my dear Watson."  I was so afraid they wouldn't be able to resist that, yet they did, and for that, I thank them profusely and proffer my most sincere adoration.  True fans of Sherlock Holmes know that phrase didn't come from the books.  I'm so glad they decided to abandon it here.

So, yes, overall I'm delighted, despite the quibbles.  It's a wonderful film, a grand lot of fun, and makes me really want to read Sherlock Holmes again.  I can't wait to have this one home with me.


george.w said...

I enjoyed it. It was a little like watching the new Star Trek, which I loved - old characters in a different light. (My review)

But that's my two hours every four months in a theater, with pain afterward. So seeing Avatar will have to wait until I can get it on DVD and watch it while doing cardio.

Have you ever seen Matt Frewer's portrayal of Holmes?

Cujo359 said...

I really disliked the new Star Trek, but entirely on its own (lack of) merits. This movie I liked. In both cases, though, they really were only loosely based on the original.

I just took this movie to be another in a very long line of shows based on Sherlock Holmes. In that context, it's just fine. I think if you want to see the "real" Sherlock Holmes, the old Jeremy Brett series is worth a look.

Efrique said...

I found myself unsurprised you were a Holmes fan, since I already knew you were a House fan, and House is the 21st century Holmes.

House = Holmes
Wilson = Watson

(If you look at the show with this in mind, you can see a hundred parallels, but just in case you still were inclined to doubt it:

House's street number - http://images2.fanpop.com/images/soapbox/house-md_9218_1.jpg )

Chris said...

Funny that a movie review of your's would gather so many comments. Here's mine:

My best memories of Sherlock Holmes have nothing to do with the books and everything to do with the old B&W's by Basil Rathbone.
I just really loved those movies.

Committed as I was to the Rathbone interpretation, I was absolutely blown away by George C. Scott's portrayal of Holmes in "They Might Be Giants". And what a glorious, comedic masterpiece THAT is.

george.w said...

Hmm, BBC Jeremy Brett as Holmes:
BBC has it for $196. I think there may be a Netflix account in my future.

I've noticed a couple references to Irene Adler in the House series. Once when Wilson was having on a couple of the team about a former romance of House', "Irene Adler", the one who got away. "Really?" asks Cutner? Wilson scoffs; "No!"

OK, I have just identified myself as a House nerd...

Cujo359 said...

A mere $200, you say? Amazing I hadn't ordered that set ages ago. The BBC certainly has never lacked chutzpah when it comes to pricing videos.

That Irene Adler reference on House went over my head, I'm ashamed to admit. I hadn't remembered the character's name, for some reason.

george.w said...

You have to wonder what goes through the minds of marketing people who place an insanely high price on shows they're trying to promote. Or maybe that's the trouble; they really love the show they created and never consulted any marketing people. Which could at once be why the show is so good (no marketing people involved, only people who love the show) and the reason the show will never get much penetration in the US (which is pretty much marketing-land).