Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

While I was home over the Christmas holidays, I saw Sherlock Holmes. Having been a Holmes fan since high-school, when I discovered the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and devoured them one by one, I am always interested in reinterpretations and pastiches of the Sherlock Holmes character. In my opinion, the stories have never been better put to life than in the versions made by the BBC, starring Jeremy Brett as the famed detective. The Brett versions are almost to-the-letter recreations of the stories, beautifully made, with excellent acting and casting. On the other end of the spectrum are the movies starring Basil Rathbone, who is to some the iconic Holmes, but which bear no truth from the Doyle stories except the characters' names and professions. Sleuthing in the 1930s and 40s instead of Victorian England, Rathbone's Holmes wears a deerstalker and carries a magnifying glass (Hollywood props), and his friend Watson is a bumbling old man, something entirely opposite of the Watson of Doyle's stories: a young Cassanova of a doctor.

Somewhere in between the literal re-enactment of the BBC versions and old Hollywood's false attempts, lies the new movie Sherlock Holmes, directed by Guy Ritchie. And, just as it lies in a middling position on my scale of authentically portraying Holmes, it kind of lies on middle ground for me as a movie in general. I'm not torn between loving and hating it--I'm torn between liking it and liking it a bit less. So, I'll talk about the things that I liked and the things that I didn't like. How about the dislikes first?

My first complaint may seem ridiculous to some, but the costumes and makeup were completely wrong for Victorian England. Okay, maybe not completely wrong, but wrong. Watson's girlfriend practically has Utah bangs, and the real Irene Adler would never have been seen in public wearing such dark lipstick. Then there were a few hats that seemed too contemporary, and while I'm sure the average viewer would never even notice such things, these things distracted me.

Secondly, the plot. Why does every adventure movie made these days have to revolve around a supernatural secret society bent on taking over the world? Ever since The Da Vinci Code came along, I feel like movies have been borrowing on its success. The plot here borders on unoriginal, and to make it worse, the bad guy is pretty much Hitler with his (spoiler alert!) slicked back hair and attempts to turn Parliament into a giant gas chamber, not to mention his WWII-esque leather jacket (see previous paragraph.) I can see why the screenwriters wouldn't want to go with one of Doyle's original stories, but did it have to be so grandiose a scheme? In most of the original stories, Holmes is helping out regular people with cases involving missing relatives, lost jewels, friends acting strangely, or the odd murder. He is very seldom saving England from egomaniacal dictators. Keep it real!

The flimsy plot is salted with characters that mean nothing to the average viewer and which only infuriate the Sherlock Holmes purist. Irene Adler was an opera singer who go the better of Holmes in one small story, but ever since then she has been portrayed as everything from an evil villain to Holmes secret lover in movies. Here, portrayed by Rachel McAdams, Adler is a sort of double agent spy, alternately helping and hindering Holmes in his efforts to save the country, but I kept getting bored of her character. Despite scenes that should call for it, there was no chemistry between her and Downey, Jr. which was disappointing.

Lastly, I was disappointed that the movie was so action oriented. I understand that action sells movies these days and, Holmes purist that I am, I admit that the character was supposed to have been a martial arts expert, an amateur boxer and a trained fencer. That said, Doyle's Sherlock Holmes never ran around fist-fighting and getting chased by thugs and causing general wreckage and havoc among the streets of London. Holmes was lazy, and preferred to do all the mental work while letting his Baker Street Irregulars and Watson do all the physical stuff. But maybe I could have stomached the action scenes if only it weren't for the CGI animation effects that stuck out like sore thumbs, and the boredom caused by having Holmes pre-plan each of his fight moves in slow motion and then act it out in slow motion again. Sigh... Whatever happened to just a good old fashioned acted-out fight?

So anyway, those were my biggest gripes with the movie. But I did like some things. For one thing, I liked the music a lot. The score by Hans Zimmer was clever and well-done and helped make the whole movie very upbeat and interesting. I especially liked the blend of animation on the credits with the staccato music that seemed to say, "the game's afoot!"

Also, I liked the casting of Downey, Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. As I mentioned previously, Watson was supposed to have been quite the ladies man, and here for perhaps the first time he is totally believable as such. While I think they ought to have cut or combed Downey, Jr.'s hair differently for this role, I still think he played a brilliant Holmes, with the help of witty dialogue that showcases his character's eccentricities and brilliance. And while much has and will always be speculated about the supposed homosexual relationship between Holmes and Watson, the movie did a really good job of neither proving nor disproving the rumors, without resorting to stereotypical sexual innuendos, which I applaud.

Lastly, I must admit that the whole movie was fun to watch. Though the costumes were wrong, the plot was thin, and the action sequences annoyed me--somehow I still enjoyed the movie from start to finish. I hope there is a sequel, as the end of the movie hinted, and I hope it is just as much fun. It might possibly even be an improvement!

1 comment:

Lis said...

I agree completely with your assessment. I've never read the stories, but I somehow couldn't believe that plot could have come from Doyle.

Seriously, that CGI was ridiculous, but, like you, I came out entertained despite all the nonsense. Well-said.