Monday, January 02, 2012

Alas, Cinema!

Went to see the most recent release in the Robert Downey, Jr.take on Sherlock Holmes. Surely a bit of Victoriana replete with early modern firearms and fast-paced action would be of interest?

Or not. If you're any kind of a Holmes admirer, you'll want to see some other movie. Or stay home.

I had my hopes; the opening wasn't at all bad. It didn't last.

Sadly, the director and writer treat the source material with about as much respect as did the previous decade's Wild, Wild West; while the resulting film is a little less campy and has much better setting, supporting players and cinematography than the Will Smith vehicle (which at least had the excuse of being based on a series filled with overplaying, smugness and anachronism, albeit wittily presented) , there were a number of scenes that had me wishing the director could be taken out and shot. Over-use of self-indulgent slo-mo, effects for the sake of effects, shambling storyline; even granting the film's bizarre take on Holmes and Watson, there's a lot wrong.

Stephen Fry* as Mycroft provides a very bright spot; Jude Law's prissy, unbelievable John Watson brings very much the reverse. Downey's Holmes simply is not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's consulting detective; he's some other fellow, who half the time appears to have wandered into the wrong movie by mistake and is fumbling for the exit.

By the time the awkward working out of the plot was pointing inevitably to Holmes and the (well-played) Professor Moriarty plunging together over Reichenbach Falls to their deaths, I was rooting for the falls. A nice chess-playing scene that sets the event was spoiled by the over-used device of Holmes working out of the dynamics in slow-motion, blurry advance, this time with Moriarty's ratiocinations shown as well, padding the entire thing out to a yawning eternity before the two got on with going over the edge, only seconds before I was ready to toss them over myself.

Sadly, this Holmes hasn't the grace to stay dead, nor the director to leave us in some tiny degree of suspense; he's alive and whacky again before the closing credits roll.

The BBC's 21st-Century take on Sherlock has another season out, not yet in the States as far as I know; it is far more faithful the the sense and spirit of the characters than this tattered, tweedy wreck and I commend it to the attention of my readers instead.

Update: Went back and watched the first of Auntie's modern Sherlock tonight; had memory and contrast lent it extra shine? Nope. Even better than I remembered. Those are the men I read about as a child. Updated, time-jumped, manners and mores not quite according to Doyle -- but wonderfully Holmes and Watson nonetheless.
* However, I would gladly sit and listen to Fry reading a telephone book, so my judgement may be a bit off wherever he's concerned.


CalmGun said...

I cringed during the movie because I'm a fan of Holmes. This isn't a faithful, or even passable production anyone with a background in Sherlock would enjoy.

Stranger said...

In fairness, Doyle created a masterpiece intended to be read.

It takes a past master of cinematography and a cast of competent actors to turn such a work into an enjoyable film. Or tape as the case may be.

Unfortunately, Hollywood no longer has a past master director, and the current crop of impersonators are generally graduates of the Clothes Horse School for Stand Ins. I gave up on the lost cause long ago.

Box office receipts suggest most of the rest of the potential paying audience shares my opinion.


Ed Skinner said...

Thanks and glad we skipped this one. Went to see "The Descendents" instead -- Excellent!

MSgt B said...

Loved the first BBC Sherlock season. Have it on DVD.
I'm sure the second will be just as good.

docjim505 said...

Refuse to see either one of them.

1. Downey doesn't LOOK like Holmes should. And could they not have gotten a friggin' British actor???

2. Holmes, while certainly not averse to getting dirty or bloody, was NOT an action hero. Aside from shooting "VR" into his living room wall, I'd be pressed to think of a half-dozen examples where Holmes and Watson put together fired a weapon at anybody.

3. Holmes won his fights by dint of long and grueling practice, not by some superhuman ability to forecast his blows.

Bah. Double bah.

Jeremy Brett and Edward Harwicke were the best Holmes / Watson ever to grace the screen.

greg said...

Sniff, Sniff. I actually kind of enjoyed the movie. I thought there was good chemistry between Downey and Law, although like you, I thought Mycroft stole the scenes he was in.

I like Guy Ritchie movies though, so I wasn't offended to find it that it was more 'Snatch' than Masterpiece Theater.

Bubblehead Les. said...

Hmm. I like the first one, but it IS a Guy Ritchie Film after all.

And the BBC Sherlock Holmes series? First 3 episodes on Netflix right this second, along with the cartoon version of Pratchett's "Soul Music" from the '90s. That should give everyone a Brit Fix who might be suffering withdrawal.

Roberta X said...

Les, you've almost got me convinced to give Netflix a try.

...Guy Ritchie may be an acquired taste. I was surprised this afternoon to learn he's heterosexual -- Stephen Fry (self-described as 90% not) treats women far better. I certainly expected a work that had more affection for the characters and respect for the source material.

Many scenes were good, in places outstanding, but the whole of it just didn't hold up. I was never convinced of Holmes' brilliance, Moriarty's having the vast power ascribed him or Watson's resolution and steadfastness -- and never drawn into the story. A crucial failure and one no amount of skilful Victorian globe-trotting could remedy.

greg said...

Well, he was married to Madonna...not sure you can count that as being hetero...

Kevin Baker said...

I'll be contrarian here and say I enjoyed both of the Downey/Holmes films, the latest much more than the first. Then again, I'm not a tremendous fan of Doyle's original works (liked 'em, but not overwhelmed by them.) I knew going in what I was going to get, and I enjoyed what I got.

As mentioned by others, the BBC modern version of Holmes, first season, is available on Netflix. It's in my queue.

John A said...

Ah well, I will robably watch it sometime - if I can borrow a copy.

But then, some "adaptations" have interested/amused me n the past. Such as Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley in "Without a Clue"
( with Watson creating Holmes out of whole cloth as a "beard," using an inebriate actor to avoid notoriety for himself.

Able said...

So, just like the first one then? OK, I shall take your recommendation and stay in and wash my hair instead (I do still have one or two left).

As MSgtB, I too favour the last BBC series with Jeremy Brett, although I occasionally get a hankering for the old Basil Rathbone version too (OK, I admit I'm showing my age but even I'm not that old, I watched them on Saturday mornings as a boy).

Er, just as a query but when did Hollywood ever "treat the source material... with respect"?

Drang said...

So this movie left you feeling pretty much the way Doyle felt about Holmes, then?

I second the vote for the Jeremy Brett/Edward Hardwicke Holmes and Watson. I always hate the ones where Watson is a bumbling buffoon, he was a man of action, a veteran of some really nasty campaigns, and a but of a lady's man, NOW the typical comic sidekick which he is all too often portrayed as.

Will Brown said...

I side with Greg, Bubblehead Les and Kevin Baker on this (both actually) film, I quite enjoyed both stories - in large part because I enjoy Guy Ritchie movies and it's been so many years since I last read Doyle. :)

I suspect (no insight here, just guessing) that Our Guy is setting up to have a go at <a href=">The 7% Solution</a> Sherlock story. Which is definitely not canon, but as I recall quite fun nonetheless. If so, Downey and Law should be brilliant choices in their respective roles.

Derfel Cadarn said...

As a huge fan of Holmes let me state that the BBCs productions in the 90s were the best. Jeremy Brett was ,is and will always be Sherlock Holmes. The casting for ALL other characters was superb. I doubt it will ever be surpassed.

Robin said...

Jeremy Brett owned Holmes.