Monday, December 28, 2009

the "real" holmes

*Warning: Here Be Spoilers for "Sherlock Holmes." Don't read if you don't want the movie ruined for you.*
image source: Daemon's Movies
I saw "Sherlock Holmes" this evening with a friend, and all I have to say is: wow.

It completely blew away all of my expectations.  And I mean completely.  My expectations were no where close to where I thought the movie would rank in my mind.  I thought it would be, at best, a decent action film that ignored the characterizations of the characters in order to solve some ridiculous plot.

Sure, it was action packed, but it never took away from the characters or the plot.  The movie starts out with Holmes and Watson ending a case with a blown-out a martial arts/boxing/ass-kicking scene that literally leaves you breathless.  But there was immediately a demonstration of Holmes' powers of deduction right before that when, seconds before a guard comes upon him, he works out in his mind the best way to take his adversary out and get on with stopping a murder, with what he has worked out in his mind in apparently slow-motion suddenly shown in normal time.  The technique is used again to great effect not only in a boxing scene, but also when he is trying to figure out what a particular midget's experiments may have resulted in by picturing the midget at work.  Bloody brilliant, because it shows what Holmes observes that Watson cannot, even though Watson sees exactly the same things.

The characters were also amazing.  Except for Lord Blackwood.  I wasn't crazy about him, although he was not really given a chance to characterize at all. Villains rarely are.

Jude Law was a refreshing Watson, not only because he was more pleasant to look at than the chubby actors who are usually cast in this role, but because he was an integral part of the story.  In many, if not most film portrayals of the duo, Watson is just this bumbling hanger-on whose presence could easily be dispensed with, as he never solves any crimes or noticeably helps at all.   I assume Watson's presence is much like it seems to be in the short stories- as a middleman between the audience and the brilliant yet anti-social detective to explain his reasoning to in clear steps with appropriate questions asked of him.

Law's Watson was some of the same, but he also assisted a good deal in examining dead bodies when appropriate for clues and warning Holmes of various dangers. Downey's Holmes obviously appreciated the companionship.  They had a few "bro" moments which were pretty friggin' hilarious, and Holmes' attempts to sabotage Watson's engagement and prevent him from leaving the rooms at Baker Street show how much he cares for Watson in the only way he knows how.  And yet Watson gets understandably pissed at his slovenly rascal of a roommate.

Robert Downey Jr. plays an analytical yet human Holmes who loves to fight, "rebels against stagnation" after he fails to get an interesting case in three months, and resists carrying out his emotions for the only woman who has ever presented an interesting challenge for him, all in true Holmes style.  The messy, unshaven representation of Holmes was more fitting to me, surprisingly enough, than his cleaner counterparts.  Why?

Look at it this way. Holmes is known as a social outcast.  In Victorian times being so gross would have been revolving to good society, and fits the image of the experimenter, the cocaine and morphine addict, and the general nutjob that Holmes is.  Remember, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle depicts Holmes as an eccentric over and over again in his stories.  Who else would shoot a "patriotic V.R." (for Victoria Rex) into the wall out of boredom?  Or not know that there were nine planets in the soar system, and then say he would try to forget it as soon as possible?  Or know the location of all types of soil in London?  Downey's Holmes is just as eccentric in his own ways (although he got the V.R. and soil knowledge down pat).  The escape from the stereotypical tweed Inverness cape and deerstalker cap was also a welcome surprise.  I wonder if Doyle ever intended Holmes to look like Downey Jr. did in this movie, as the stereotypical outfit only ever appears in one of the original stories.

Rachel McAdams gave a good performance, but I have little to really say about it other than she was a convincing self-possessed woman who looks terrific in female Victorian clothes.
image source: Daemon's Movies
And the music.  Hans Zimmer's score was edgy and jarring with an Emilie Autumn violin feel to it, added along with a broken piano, banjo, and some other unusual choices.  I am currently contemplating purchasing the soundtrack.

The greatest fault with this movie was the lame storyline.  Secret societies and black magic just are too science fiction for true Sherlockians (Sherlock Holmes fans).  But the action and the characters, as well as the relative brilliant deduction Holmes used to explain the "magic" parts of the plot, were enough of a distraction that they did not take away from the film too much.

I strongly recommend this movie to even the most stalwart fan of the original stories.  You won't be disappointed by references to "A Scandal in Bohemia" or "The Sign of Four," and it's a unique look at the Master that doesn't really take away from his character.  It just makes him a little more human.

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