Tuesday, March 30, 2010

SHERLOCK HOLMES

Last winter, Warner Brothers released SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), a thoroughly modernized take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's seminal fictional sleuth. Directed by Guy Ritchie (SNATCH, REVOLVER) and starring A-list heartthrobs Robert Downey, Jr. (IRON MAN, TROPIC THUNDER) as Holmes and Jude Law (SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW) as his companion Dr. Watson, this more action-oriented, CGI-enhanced interpretation of the Great Detective turned out to be a respectable hit at the box office.

The film begins as Holmes & Watson aid Scotland Yard in apprehending a certain Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) just as he's about to sacrifice a young woman to the cult he leads. Blackwood is tried, convicted, incarcerated, and, a few months later, executed. During those months, Watson becomes engaged, and prepares to leave his shared lodgings at Baker Street, much to his eccentric roommate's dismay. Watson's departure is delayed, however, when Blackwood appears to have risen from the grave, and the two friends must unravel that mystery, as well as prevent the apparently supernatural villain from carrying out a takeover of the British government.

Ritchie's film places the classic characters into a story that's much larger in scope than their usual adventures, a story more suitable to the major movie blockbuster that everyone involved wanted the film to be. For the most part, it works. Downey and Law give very creditable performances as the detective and his associate, and Ritchie's spirited direction carries the viewer along at a brisk pace. The script borrows elements from several of Doyle's original stories, and while we're given a somewhat more vigorous Holmes than in previous film adventures, the character is still primarily a cerebral force, who uses his wits and intelligence to win the day and see justice done.

The filmmakers employ a great deal of digital legerdemain to recreate Victorian London for the screen, and while it is executed with great skill and art, it is a bit overused. An action sequence set in a London shipyard is both overblown and unnecessary to the plot, and the climactic sequence on an unfinished London Bridge lack suspense, since you know that the characters are not hundreds of feet up in the air, but standing before a greenscreen.

Still, despite those quibbles, it's a very entertaining romp, and well-worth your time.

The Warners DVD is a disappointment. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is flawless, and the Dolby Surround 5.1. audio is crystal clear and stunning. Where the disc disappoints is in its supplemental features, or, more precisely, its lack thereof. The only bonus feature on the DVD edition of SHERLOCK HOLMES, is a fluffy, self-congratulatory featurette called SHERLOCK HOLMES: REINVENTED, in which the filmmakers praise themselves for "reimagining" the character while, simultaneously, being the film version most faithful to the original Doyle stories. It's very tiresome, irritating and not very informative.

What I would have really liked to seen was a well-made documentary about the character of Holmes, and his rich literary and media history, for those viewers unfamiliar with the original source material. For a lot of young people, this film is their first exposure to the character, and it would have been nice to give them a little historical perspective. I would also have liked a commentary track or two, a trailer, etc... but I guess we'll have to wait for the inevitable "Collector's Edition" that will come out in a few months, after everyone's already bought this bare-bones version.

SHERLOCK HOLMES is a fine adventure, and a good Holmes story. Downey and Law are both very good in their roles. If you missed it in theaters, you'll want to check it out. If you're a serious Sherlockian who might wish to add it to your video library, the audio-visual presentation is outstanding. But... you may want to wait a few months, and see if Warners double-dips the title. I'm betting they will.

(There is also a Blu-Ray edition, but I was not provided one for review.)

BUY: Sherlock Holmes