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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (10/18/10) 12:38pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  Sherlock Holmes (2009) (spoilers)
TV:  <none>
Books:  <none>

Sherlock Holmes (2009) (spoilers)
I don't have much to say about this film.  I watched it while I was sick, so I wasn't in the most observant frame of mind.

Generally, it made me think back to the 80s, when you'd play, say, some side-scroller videogame based on the latest popular movie.  And the game would be pleasant enough.  You'd jump a bit, shoot a few things, watch the 8-bit-motion-comic versions of FMV cut-scenes.  But deep down, you'd know that somebody took the basic "side-scroller game" chassis off the shelf, slapped some of the movie IP on to it, and sold it to kids for boatloads of movie.

That's kind of how I felt about Sherlock Holmes.  They took the standard 'action-movie' template, put a few vaguely-Holmesian things on it, and -- ta-da! -- done.  Yet another movie that ambles from one fistfight to the next, interspersed by "get the clue that will lead you to the next fistfight" scenes.  It's all pretty standard-order, down to the Big Bad who wants to take over the world via an Ultimate Weapon.  I suppose the only switcheroo is that, instead of having the villain monolog about what his Evil Plans were, we have the hero monolog about said Evil Plans, complete with flashbacks to the clues he had uncovered.

It's really difficult to get worked up about such a movie either way.

But I suppose you don't watch an action movie for surprises or structural originality.  You watch it for the accoutrements layered on top of the plot.  Sometimes the fights are especially epic.  Not so much in this case, though the fight involving the stun gun had its moments.  Sometimes you watch it for the special effects.  I felt underwhelmed by the CGI'd shots of Victorian London.  Sometimes you watch it for the setting.  But the setting for Sherlock Holmes felt really flat to me -- to the point that it didn't feel like anybody involved really *wanted* to explore 1891.  Most dialog and behavior was modern.[1]  I suspect that the costume designers were the only people involved who revelled in the period detail.

But the movie does have interesting characters lumbering through the by-the-numbers action.  Robert Downey, Jr. stars as Robert Downey, Jr., but tweaking that "lovable rogue" star persona to fit the eccentric detective is an interesting take on the material.  Playing up the Holmes-Watson relationship as a bickering marriage is, again, a neat and sensible variation on the well-worn and well-known story.[2]  And having a (somewhat blandly-written) woman show up to *threaten* that 'marriage' was a canny move -- it made it so the story was really *about* something emotional and real, instead of just being an idle fantasy about stopping a supervillain.

Ah, yes.  The supervillain, I found less interesting.  I never care much about villains who have always thought nine moves ahead of the heroes, and seem to behave in whatever damn-fool way will make life easier for the screenwriter and more exciting for the audience.  "Aha!  I've captured the hero's love interest.  But no, I won't kill her.  I'll just tie her up in some contraption with random puffs of flame and a band saw.  Because... um, I dunno.  Band saws are cool."

I do wonder, idly, to what extent this film is true to the source material.  The people involved talked a big game about getting everything right, and it does include lots of characters that Conan Doyle invented.  It fits most of my (albeit dim) recollections of the stories.  The movie doesn't exactly employ fair play[3], but neither did the original stories, and in fact they both sidestep fair play in pretty much the same way.  ("Aha!  But this rare rhododendron can be extracted into a sleeping potion!"  Sure.)

Mostly, though, it was just another action movie, with some Holmesian stuff tacked on.  It's a good way to kill a couple of hours while ill, but not worth writing at length about.

For next time, I'll finish watching In the Loop, finish reading that book about first impressions, and listen to a bit more of American Psycho.  Also, I'll watch more of the BBC romantic comedy Gavin and Stacey.

[1] ... to the point that somebody said "*a* game is afoot", which just makes no damn sense.  "Game", in that context, means "animals you are hunting", and is thus a collective noun -- and anybody in that era would have known this.

[2] ... and no doubt the fanfic writers were all aflutter and all a-writing Downey/Law slash.

[3] "Fair play" is the idea, popular among golden-age English mystery novelists, that an observant-enough reader should be able to work out the solution to the mystery given the clues provided.

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