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and I have virtually identical taste in TV and films. If we've rented a stinker, we'll both know it within a few
minutes. We don't have to talk about it.
Usually Fox allows me to state the obvious. "This pretty much sucks, doesn't it?" She'll agree and we'll move on to another
fans of Sherlock Holmes. Fox had never
seen the Jeremy Brett episodes from BBC, so I ordered all of them and we
addictively rolled through the classic Conan Doyle stories. We enjoyed every minute of the Brett/
Hardwicke team of Sherlock and Watson.
Brett was electric. His gestures
were superb. We couldn't take our eyes
off his lanky, asexual figure as he paced the cluttered rooms on Baker
Street. Edward Hardwicke's Watson kept
matters somewhere near Earth. With his
face buried in the pages of The Times, he maintained patient vigil over his
eccentric friend. In the background, a
sprightly Mrs. Hudson kept the gentlemen fed and reasonably presentable.
versions of Sherlock Holmes with Brett and Hardwick updated and overshadowed
the 40's renditions that starred Basil
Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. I didn't care
for them, and I was especially galled at the portrayal of Watson as a bumbling clown.
Watson!", commanded Rathbone, "The game is afoot!".
Nigel Bruce as Watson would struggle from his easy chair. "Well,
er..ahem..." he dithered, "if you say so, Holmes. I don't know the point of all this hurly
burly...brhem, brhem...wait till I get my umbrella."
change. Cinematic styles change. Interpretations of classic popular stories
Holmes has been played by fifty four actors in English language film or TV
productions. Every couple of years
there seems to be a new version with new actors and directors, new special
effects and new approaches to the scripts.
Downey and Jude Law played Holmes and Watson in the 2009 film "Sherlock
Holmes." I've forgotten the film
but I remember enjoying it. Downey and
Law turned it into a buddy movie. There
were tons of special effects, explosions and acrobatic tricks. The plot was strong enough to hold our
attention. The film resembled a Jackie Chan flick with a huge budget and box
office superstars. The dialogue was
cheeky. The movie was fun.
the BBC produced a revisioning of the Sherlock Holmes myth. Titled "Sherlock", the TV episodes
star Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson. These are references to the old stories
built on a contemporary framework.
Holmes and Watson are now pitted against Professor Moriarty in the age
of the internet. The scripting has
shifted forward in time and technology has became intrinsic to the plots.
"The Hound Of The Baskervilles" involves biological warfare
labs. Holmes must of necessity be a
superb hacker as well as a genius in the art of deductive reasoning.
episodes break the mold. Benedict
Cumberbatch has so much charisma that he can loan bricks of it to his fellow
actors if need be. As Holmes he stands
outside the run of ordinary men. He's
hurtfully abrasive, ruthlessly honest, an out-of-control manic-depressive. He has a bottomless appetite for
intellectual stimulation and a pathological terror of boredom. Common courtesy is alien to his
character. If he weren't Sherlock
Holmes he would be just another irritating jerk. Lucky for Sherlock, Doctor Watson runs interference for him in
the world of normal human beings. He
writes the Sherlock Holmes blog, which has many thousands of fans. He's the offensive lineman to Holmes'
quarterback. The chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman is beautifully
realized. Freeman's Watson understands
that, in spite of everyone else's opinion, Holmes is not a sociopath. On the contrary, Watson knows that Holmes is
a vulnerable man who can't afford to leak the slightest touch of
sentimentality. Watson respects Holmes' privacy. He
doesn't need to know the reasons behind Holmes' impenetrable armor. They exist and Watson has the wisdom not to
pry. It is an unconditional love that
Watson has for a compelling but very
has an eerily feminine physical beauty.
As Holmes, his combined grace and arrogance are contrasted with
Freeman's short, blockish Watson, the military surgeon wounded in Afghanistan. Watson is brave yet unpretentious. He's loyal and smart but has no need to
compete with his friend Sherlock. He
leaves the competition to Professor Moriarty, who is played with terrifying
gooeyness by Andrew Scott. This is the
scariest Moriarty, if not the scariest VILLAIN I have seen anywhere. He mocks like a grade school bully with an
I.Q. of 200. He sings, dances, throws
kisses off his fingertips in utter contempt as he pulls off world-changing,
brutal crimes. The moral and intellectual duel between Sherlock and Moriarty
propel these stories to a precipice of suspense.
Moriarty's contention that he and Sherlock are the same, that they work for the
same overlord and are made of the same stuff.
Sherlock is an easy target because he is so horrible to friend and
stranger alike. Cumberbatch's Sherlock
struggles with this question. Who is
he? Angel, devil, scum or prince? The entire series works through this
ultimate dilemma until the shocking ending of Season Two.
suspense keeps us hooked. This is a
fresh interpretation of a pop culture workhorse. The Sherlock Holmes franchise
has been so overcooked that it would seem to be dried out. BBC's "Sherlock" has infused it
with new vitality.
brings us to the second Robert Downey/Jude Law film, "Sherlock Holmes: A
Game Of Shadows."
said something to my wife about how much I looked forward to this film.
"This ought to be good, the first one was a lot of fun." For some
reason Fox thought I had invested some feeling into this film. Yes, I had enjoyed the first pairing of
Downey and Law. I have high respect for
both actors. I suppose I could call
myself a Robert Downey fan. He's
weathered his personal horrors. He's
alive, he's working, his films are good.
Even his comic book films are good.
"Iron Man" was great fun.
won me over in "Cold Mountain."
He's been a high caliber super star and he hasn't made too many
mis-steps in a profession fraught with all the pitfalls of grandiosity, wealth
and fame. Show business can turn the
most grounded personalities into self-caricatures. Hollywood has a tendency to tear up actors and turn them into
okay. The film starts. I note that Downey's accent is somewhere
west of Portsmouth....say....mid-Atlantic.
Not good. Why is Robert Downey,
THE Robert Downey, struggling to deliver a sufficiently plummy English
accent? This is Sherlock Holmes, for
goodness sake. He must speak in the
most precise upper class British
accent. Downey's accent is mush. Either he's phoning it in, or he just flat
out doesn't care. Er...those are both
the same thing, aren't they?
dialogue is flat as a homeless recycler's Fanta can. The action is nonsensical and non-stop. There is no story to move forward. There is frantic speedy zooming around, with Downey showing up in
deliberately unconvincing costumes. His
fake Chinaman's whiskers are coming unglued.
His bald-cap is obvious as a giant latex condom, wrinkling at the back
of his head. The Moriarty character is about
as scary as a pink marshmallow bunny in a wicker basket.
I watched. We emitted mirthless
laughter at the stunts and the strained dialogue. Fox didn't want to say anything.
She thought I was enjoying the film.
I thought she was enjoying the film.
usual telepathy had broken down. I
thought it was a terrible movie. I
began to have the creeping sensation that Fox was being polite. A half hour passed and I finally said,
"This is incredibly boring, isn't it?"
sighed with relief. Time to bail on
this mess and watch some quality BBC mystery.
a capsule history of the evolution (and sometimes devolution) of the Sherlock
Holmes ouevre. When it's bad, it's very
bad. When it's good, it's superb.
The major point in this analysis is that one can watch
Sherlock Holmes productions from several eras.
As they move forward in time they reflect deeper psychological
awareness. At present the culmination
of Holmes stories are the new Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman
productions. In these stories the
Watson/Holmes relationship is nuanced and profound. They are products of our times and our expanding psychological
curiosity. They are full of subtext,
and that subtext is about love and sacrifice.
These may not be the Sherlock Holmes stories as written by Arthur Conan
Doyle but they are faithful to the intent.
Doyle created a character who was a misanthropic genius, a towering
intellect who saw himself as beyond the common lot of mankind. The original Holmes was, however, a
hero. The modern Holmes is not quite
sure what he is and is uncomfortable with simplistic labels like hero and
places the new Holmes in our modern reality where labels don't fit,
where people no longer see themselves in such easy
categories. Cumberbatch, Freeman and
the cast and producers of the new BBC series are on their journey with their
audience. We are all trying to revision
ourselves as new kinds of people.
and film are entertaining. Great TV and
film not only entertain but stimulate insight and are perhaps even
inspiring. The latest BBC version,
"Sherlock", provides all of these qualities.