Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

"The Lord, The Woman, the Ginger Midget and the Parisian Giant"
"The Peripatetic Plot of the Madonna's Husband"

The wife and I have been looking forward to the new "Sherlock Holmes" with anticipation and dread. We're both fans, though hardly "Baker Street Irregulars," and Robert Downey Jr. is always worth watching—even when he's not, able to suck nuance out of even claustrophobic camera set-ups and able to project a fiendish intelligence out of every role. Fans of the Great Victorian Detective, we've liked several incarnations—particularly Jeremy Brett's encyclopedic and eccentric interpretation, and suffered through the attempts to get another Holmes series started. Brett left a long shadow—one that not even a good choice like Rupert Everett could dispel.* And clues in the trailer led one to deduce that they would try and make Holmes more of an action figure than Conan Doyle might have intended—more like a Bourne-again Holmes than the amateur pugilist of the books.

There are elements of that here, but done cunningly by writers Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg; Holmes, ever the synthesizer of information-bits diagnoses his battles first using his observations of his opponents, then carries them off with judicious speed, making note of their potential recovery time, both physical and psychological. Neat touch that, as is a nice summing up of Holmes' misanthropic characteristics—sitting at a restaurant table awaiting Watson (Jude Law,** as good as Law has ever been) and his intended, Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly),*** Homes observes every argument, every petty theft, every peculiarity of his fellow diners—without his mind disciplined in pursuit, the vagaries of the world must drive him mad. Both Robert Stephens and Brett maintained that the difficulty in playing Holmes is that there is no center to him—a brain with no heart. Bur even an unbridled intellect must react to the world, and in Downey, jnr. there is quicksilver in those reactions.

The game that is afoot is one that will challenge Holmes to his core in a battle of facts and logic against magic and the dark forces.**** When we first see Holmes and Watson in action, they disrupt a ritual sacrifice by the fiendish Lord Blackwell (Mark Strong), who is already responsible for three murders before the fourth is disrupted. Sentenced to hang, Blackwell informs Holmes he will rise from the dead to usher in a new destiny for England. Holmes is skeptical, but intrigued, especially after Blackwell is hanged, declared dead (by Watson), then escapes his coffin. At a time in History, when engineering marvels such as London Bridge are being accomplished, it seems more imperative than ever for Holmes to dispel the superstitious.

Disrupting his concentration is a visit by
the one woman who has out-foxed Holmes, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, far too contemporary an actress for the part—one expects her to huff and say "whatever..." at any moment), in the story "A Scandal in Bohemia." Adler is an adventuress, to be sure, but she is almost a secret agent here, more in line with the fictional series of stories that been built up around her by Carole Nelson Douglas.

There is far less drawing-room discussion and far more darting about and cane-dashing than in previous incarnations.
The humor is amped up considerably, and the effects of injury down-played, but for all that it's a good representation of Holmes, adrenalized and puffed up as it is. Guy Ritchie shows that he has evolved from mumbling street-thug films to something with more than empty panache. His breathlessly paced opening half of the film stumbles somewhat with an extended fight with a Parisian giant, but manages to regain its footing with some genuinely well-done sequences that manages to clue the audience in to eke out its suspense. There has been some criticism of late that Ritchie doesn't have the depth or focus to pull off a big-budget film, although he's been angling for them for years. "Sherlock Holmes" is his defiant reply.

And not only are
Law and Ritchie showing their best games here—composer Hans Zimmer, long an adherent of the generically grinding over-the-top symphonic score (he supervised all three "Pirates of the Caribbean" scores, which, frankly, are hard to tell apart), his work for "Sherlock Holmes" is folk-song based, with clever rhythms and instrumentation—kudos to orchestrator Kevin Kaska—that keeps the period alive amidst the clutter of the art direction.

Fans of Sherlock Holmes can relax.

"Sherlock Holmes" is a Full-Price Ticket.

* Although I'd like to see Ralph Fiennes, or better, Daniel Day-Lewis, try.

** Law appeared in the Granada version of Doyle's "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place."

*** Although why Watson feels the need for Holmes to meet her in the first place is rather odd. She did, after all, hire him in "The Sign of Four."

**** Conan Doyle's stories focussed on matters that challenged the societal structures of Victorian England and elaborate plots of thievery, and rarely dealt with the occult, although some of the modern stories—like "Young Sherlock Holmes" (1985), which also featured an occult presence, as it was produced by Steven Spielberg, not long after "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," have featured Holmes against more supernatural threats. There was always that element to Doyle—such as the monstrous "Hound of the Baskervilles"—but they were usually explained away in bursts of Holmesian fact-checking.


Scott Monty said...

Ironically, Mark Strong, who portrayed Lord Blackwood, would seem to have the experience and look to play Holmes.

Either way, this will undoubtedly bring a renewed interest and enthusiasm in the books - something Irregulars and non-Irregulars alike can applaud.

Scott Monty, BSI
The Baker Street Blog
I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere
The Baker Street Irregulars

Yojimbo_5 said...

Renewed interest is never to be sneezed at, especially as the makers did try to hew to the character, and the Ir's and non-Ir's can concede that Holmes could go "scruffy" at times. As long as we can meet half-way. I think this new one is a good step to finding a center to the character as well. And that's always welcome.

wheylona said...

I was wanting to like this movie a lot, but instead I liked it just a regular amount. I liked the score very much, and I was also rather pleased that the baddie looks awfully like a real Brit I know who I am not at all fond of. So, it was definitely good, but the "click" was missing for me, though it's quite possible that having to pay $11.50 and sit through 25 minutes of ads and trailers soured me before it even began.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Yeah, what was up with that? At the ten minute mark, I yelled into the darkness "There IS a movie playing here, right?!"

And, of course, no one answered because it is all computerized and there "is" no projectionist to respond...

Not sure how I should respond to this. One way is to admonish you for letting the interstitial crap get in the way of the program. Another is to get "all-defensive" and to ask if you thought, given LNTAM rules, it would "play" better being a "Matinee" or "Rental" (my opinion? Nah.)

But I think the best response is to empathize and say "Good thing you didn't go see 'Avatar' which costs more, has a crappy preview for 'Piranha 3-D' and is a lunk-headed movie, albeit a beautiful lunk-headed movie." At that point, I think our Universes would be in sync.