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Sherlock Holmes
A great interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work.
Sherlock Holmes
Robert Downey Jr. Stars in "Sherlock Holmes."
OPENING WEEKEND: $22,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $85,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

September 14th, 2009: In a dynamic new portrayal of Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous characters, "Sherlock Holmes" sends Holmes and his stalwart partner Watson on their latest challenge. Revealing fighting skills as lethal as his legendary intellect, Holmes will battle as never before to bring down a new nemesis and unravel a deadly plot that could destroy the country. Based on Lionel Wigram's yet-to-be-published comic.

What to Expect: A convincing case can be made that Sherlock Holmes is the most famous character in the history of the English language. I have met people who were actually unaware that he's not a real person. The character holds the Guinness world record for the most portrayals. Seventy-plus different actors have played him in over 200 films, television series and radio dramas.

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But how many people have actually read the books? I have. I am a longtime and devoted Holmes fan. In fact there are only four Holmes books. Most of his adventures are in the form of short stories, usually compiled into a half-dozen or so anthologies. That's it for the canonical Holmes adventures, i.e. the ones written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They're great, you should read them. They totally hold up. Dozens of other authors have written takeoffs on the character, continuing and expanding his adventures. Holmes exists in reimagined incarnations, too. Dr. Gregory House, M.D. is a well-known current version of Holmes on the small screen.

When word came down the pike that Guy Ritchie was directing a new Holmes film starring Robert Downey Jr., the reactions ranged from horrified to rapturous. The divide intensified when the first trailer premiered, revealing a down-and-dirty Holmes who fights bare-chested, engages in hand-to-hand combat, runs from explosions and generally participates in all manner of action-hero derring-do. "Blasphemy!" people cried. "That's not Sherlock Holmes!"

Except...it kind of is. The popular image of Holmes as a proper English dandy in a deerstalker cap who intellectually solves crimes and rides around in hansom cabs with his magnifying glass is really a product of the films, not the books. If you read Doyle's books, the picture of Holmes that emerges is quite different. He's a master of several kinds of martial arts, adept at boxing, fencing and swordsmanship, and a crack shot with a pistol. The thing is, all that stuff happened off-screen in the books. Holmes would say something like "Oh, if I hadn't been so skilled at swordplay he'd surely have had me." But we never get to see Holmes and his adversary facing off. It wasn't quite seemly to write about action and adventure in proper Victorian literature. Ritchie's really just showing us the parts of Doyle's stories that we didn't get to see in their original incarnations. Nor will Downey wear the traditional Holmes deerstalker hat, which in fact Holmes is never depicted wearing in the stories, but a bohemian assortment of period-accurate clothing that fit with the new image of Holmes as an eccentric. Another facet of Holmes' personality that rarely makes it into films is his cocaine addiction, probably the result of manic depression. Reports are that this won't be included in the film; they're aiming for family-friendly.

Not that everything will be derived from the canon, mind you. There are definitely liberties being taken. Ritchie is a self-described fan of the Holmes stories from childhood. Producer Lional Wigram is the Holmes fan who birthed the project, convincing Warner to develop it by producing a short (and never published) graphic novel depicting Holmes as a more bohemian, unkempt whip-wielding character...more as he was in the books, in other words. "The Descent" director Neil Marshall was originally going to direct, but Ritchie eventually took over the project for reasons that aren't clear. The story is from Wigram's graphic novel. It is not taken from any specific Holmes story, but is instead a kind of pastiche of Holmes's brand of adventure coupled with the Victorian obsession with the occult and spirituality. The villain, Lord Blackwood (played by Ritchie stableman Mark Strong) isn't a Doyle character but an amalgam of a number of Holmes's adversaries, also said to be inspired by real Victorian occultist Aleister Crowley.

Another significant liberty is in the character played by Rachel McAdams, Irene Adler. Now, Adler appeared in one Holmes short story, but fans and other writers who pen Holmes stories often fixate on her. Doyle's Holmes was largely sexless; he had a low opinion of women and no interest in romancing any of them. Irene Adler, however, was the one woman he had high regard for because she outsmarted him. A photograph of her was one of his most prized possessions. You can see why it's tempting to bring Adler back as a love interest for Holmes, even though no such relationship existed in the canon. It's unclear how much of their canonical connection is present in Ritchie's film. Apparently Adler and Holmes knew each other some time ago and she's returned to ask for his help. Whether their first meeting will be described, or depicted as conforming to the canon, is unclear.

The casting of the film has been a controversial issue, naturally. The rumor is that Ritchie wanted a younger actor for the part of Holmes, in order to depict a Holmes at the start of his detecting career...more an origin story. But after "Iron Man" when Downey was advised that he could do whatever he wanted "for the next hour and a half," he got wind of the Holmes project and expressed interest. And his wife Susan is a producer on the film. Hmmmm. Russell Crowe was also initially floated about for Watson...not sure how that works with a younger Holmes...but eventually Jude Law was cast. Law is not the image of the portly, bumbling Watson that exists in the zeitgeist, but again, that image isn't true to Doyle's version of Watson, who was smart, resourceful, and a former military officer.

The biggest casting rumor lately has been whisperings that Holmes' most famous adversary, Dr. Moriarty, would make a quick appearance in the film...played by Brad Pitt. Warner has flatly denied these rumors, but it was being bandied about that Pitt was flying in to shoot a quick appearance while the production was doing the standard pick-up shots sans main cast. I haven't found much to lend credence to these rumors, and it seems pretty unlikely. If they're hoping to start a franchise, it's likely that Moriarty would figure heavily into later films, which means they'd have to get a commitment from Pitt that he'd be available to film an as-yet-unannounced sequel for an as-yet-undefined role. I can't see them negotiating with Pitt for that kind of assurance so they could have him in this film for ten seconds.

The production itself was lengthy, over three months, and sometimes seemed cursed. Downey was accidentally knocked unconscious by a stuntman, requiring six stitches. Then a full tank of petrol exploded on set, sending cast and crew diving for cover. Meanwhile Holmes purists are screaming up hill and down alley about the bastardization of their literary hero for the sake of gratuitous American blockbusters, even though I still maintain that the action-hero aspects of the film are perfectly in line with Doyle's canon.

Guy Ritchie needs a hit, like a junkie needs a hit. He's still kind of coasting on the success of his early films, most notably "Snatch." His most recent effort, "RockNRolla" (which I previewed on this site last year) did el-zippo in the US box office despite pretty good reviews. This is certainly a Hail Mary type of film for him to make, an attempt at a big-budget, big-deal blockbuster set to debut on Christmas Day starring a big movie star. Right after "Iron Man" came out I commented to a friend that I hoped Rubber Ducky, Junior (as Downey has been known to refer to himself) was enjoying and taking full advantage of the love affair the whole country was having with him, and he has certainly taken full advantage. I do not doubt his chops as an actor or his considerable charm. I only worry that audiences won't buy him in this part. Then again, we all kind of scratched our heads when he got cast in "Iron Man" too, didn't we? I know I did. Oh ye of little faith.

I suspect that the population of people who'll just like to see this movie vastly outnumbers the population who are irate Holmes purists who'll stay away out of sheer pique. This is the first Holmes film to open in American theaters since 1988's "Without a Clue," which was a comedy. Ironically, there's another Holmes comedy on the horizon. Judd Apatow is supposedly preparing a Holmes wacky caper starring Sacha Baron Cohen and Will Ferrell, but as far as I know that project is still in the early stages of pre-production.

In Conclusion: Speaking only for myself, I can't wait for this. I'm a die-hard Holmes fan and I think this is a great interpretation. I think Doyle would have actually dug this. Part of me wonders if he would have written Holmes like this himself if he could have gotten away with it. The action-oriented bent of the story may put off some, but may attract far more, and Downey's star power is so far undimmed. I anticipate that this will be a big hit, and may even end up being critic-proof.

Similar Titles: The Hound of the Baskervilles, Snatch
December 25th, 2009 (wide)
March 30th, 2010 (DVD)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Guy Ritchie

Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Kelly Reilly, Eddie Marsan

Total: 85 vote(s).

Action & Adventure, Drama, Suspense

Click here to view site

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material.

128 min





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