I Detected Some Holmes Under All That Sherlock

Filed under:Movies,Reviews — posted by Anwyn on January 4, 2010 @ 7:53 pm

Warning: The following are the disjointed ramblings of somebody trying to return to blogging after a months-long absence. Read at your own peril. Spoilers are few, but this will likely only make sense if you’ve seen the movie and/or read some Sherlock Holmes.


Kyle Smith really, really didn’t like Sherlock Holmes. Despite a large and growing set of indications that his tastes and mine are quite dissimilar, I have every respect for his powers of analysis and rhetoric and thus almost let his opinion talk me out of seeing it. That would have been a huge mistake.

I must be getting soft in my old age, because at first glance, almost everything Kyle said about the differences between Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock and Conan Doyle’s seems true, and yet I found the movie to be great fun, brainy, and even very moving. Almost everything Kyle said about the banal one-liners is true too, but he apparently let them overshadow the real dialogue, of which there was plenty, and the clever pacing and excellent fight scenes, which took what what is by now a very old formula about the working of Holmes’s mind and gave it new life.

This movie is like Sherlock Holmes as the Illusionist Meets the Pirates of the Caribbean at Fight Club, but for all that, it’s a great movie in which the spirit of Holmes does, in fact, despite his seeming differences from his literary namesake, rise again.

When I saw the trailer I knew the movie would be radically unlike Doyle’s Holmes. I was originally prepared to like it in spite of that–Kurt Loder’s comment that they should have called it Robert Downey Junior instead of Sherlock Holmes was right on the money–but I was not prepared for both how much I did like it and how much of Holmes still lived in it. Ritchie and his screenwriters accomplished something I wouldn’t have believed possible if I’d anticipated it beforehand: They made a new Holmes true to the old one. People keep telling me J.J. Abrams has accomplished this with Star Trek, too, but I’ve yet to suspend my disbelief for a couple hours and watch it. The thing is, with this Holmes, the supposed differences from Doyle turn out to be mostly on the surface, and they’re mostly showed up only by other cinematic renderings of Holmes. They tend to sink in significance or disappear altogether when compared to Doyle’s actual stories. (more…)

image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace