Thursday, February 5, 2009

Freaky Namesake, Holmes on the brain

So yesterday I was half paying attention to the TV news when the anchor said that someone had been arrested for the murder of Sherlock Holmes. I was of course shocked when I looked up, and I wondered if it was a mistake or joke, or even me mishearing. But no, apparently some local man is named Sherlock Holmes and he was unfortunately murdered. The anchor made no comment about the unusual name, so I have no idea about the story behind that.

But it's just freaky, you know. Sherlock Holmes has been on my mind lately anyway, due to the upcoming Robert Downey Jr. movie.

I've also heard that there will be a spoof with Will Ferrell, and a modern-day adaptation of Holmes for the BBC. I can hardly wait. I even bought a Sherlock Holmes computer game to play, and though I loved the rich backgrounds and beautiful graphics, I was disappointed with Holmes's illogical, speechifying deductions about other people, and the counter-intuitive gameplay, even though I have lots of experience with hidden object games. So I uninstalled it.

This NYT article on the film is good, though it seems as if it's been edited since I first read it. I swear I saw it say something about Holmes being an alcoholic in the film.

Before Mr. Downey came along, Mr. Ritchie considered making the film about Sherlock Holmes as a young man, in the vein of “Batman Begins,” positioning him somewhere between adulthood and the teenage Holmes of Barry Levinson’s film “Young Sherlock Holmes” (1985).

Crap. I wanted to see a young, just starting out Holmes. Too often we're plunked down into fully formed Holmes, and never get to see him first meeting Watson or Mrs. Hudson or the Irregulars, or anything fun. But I'll make do for Robert Downey Jr. I hope his take on it will be dark and complex and not at all bland or trite.

This Holmes falls into modern-style funks between cases, lying on the sofa, suffused with anomie, unshaven and unkempt, surrounded by a pile of debris. He keeps his bills pinned to the wall with a bowie knife.

Isn't it cute seeing Holmes's funks described as "modern style"? Doyle wrote Holmes having these funks right in the fucking first two novels! Indeed, the funk and ennui is the reason for his cocaine habit, because he has nothing else to stimulate him without his cases. The unshaven and unkempt stuff may be a little new, but it's not that hard to justify given Holmes's general untidyness in the rooms. I also love Jude Law's comments about Watson; he does seem to understand the good doctor.

I look forward to seeing a physically active and emotionally deeper Holmes, though I hope Irene Adler's role won't be part of that depth. I don't want to see the same romance cliche, in a film that's supposed to reinvent Holmes. Another thing that disappoints me:

Another question, since the movie is meant for a family audience — or as Mr. Ritchie put it, is “deliberately designed so I can watch it with my family and friends without any embarrassment.”


No, Mr. Wigram said, speaking of Holmes. “He doesn’t do cocaine in our movie.”

You coward, Ritchie! How the fuck do you get a deeper, darker Holmes without the cocaine? I hope I misremembered the version that had alcoholism substituted for cocaine use, because it's one thing to omit mention of the drug, but another thing to willfully distort the canon just 'cause you're intent on a "family movie."

Well, I guess I'll just be happy if it's better than the older Holmes movies, even if it's not up to par with Without a Clue or The Seven Per Cent Solution. Or even The Great Mouse Detective, which I recently saw; it was not bad, and towards the end the villainous Ratigan became more wild and ferocious looking, scurrying on all fours and ripping his shirt off. An amazing animated transformation.

I have also lately been rewatching my DVDs of black & white Holmes films. It's a cheap collection of 10 movies that I got at a Half Price bookstore. I have been comparing the various Holmes actors against each other, as well as lamenting how Watson is portrayed in each pairing. Oftentimes the Holmes actor will say that Watson's stray remark caused him to finally solve the mystery. But most of the time Watson is still too dense, and he's even made out to be a pompous fool, like when Nigel Bruce's Watson rails against hypnosis, only to be hypnotized and embarrassed publicly. I mean, come on! The Watson that I found most interesting was the one in the Ronald Howard 1950s TV series. Far from being the ladies man, this Watson had to be dragged along when Holmes investigated a matchmaking office involved in a blackmailing scheme. Watson didn't want to meet the ladies or actively flirt at all. In another episode, Watson showed Holmes how to punch out some villains, because apparently Howard's Holmes is no expert fighter. At least Holmes and Watson were closer together in age, though I still wish we'd get young Holmes and young Watson one of these days.

In these old films, some of the mysteries are good; others are weak, with gaping plot holes. In Terror By Night, nowhere is it explained how Watson's old friend is somehow Moran. I kept waiting for somebody to say that it had been a disguise or that Watson hadn't seen his friend in years and couldn't recognize him, but nada. The Rathbone films also tend to reuse Moriarty as a recurring villain, or substitute Moran, but they also have fairly strong female villains. One woman even used the fire trick from Scandal in Bohemia, because Watson had just published that story. A Reginald Owen film called Study in Scarlet was not an adaptation of the novel at all; its plot featured members of a secret society called the Scarlet ring, who are continually killed off; the lawyer who is a blackmailer seems based on Charles Augustus Milverton. But the Valley of Fear adaptations were more faithful to their source, up to a point.

On a superficial level, how utterly ridiculous Basil Rathbone looks in the film where somebody kept styling his hair with a curl. For God's sake, leave the man's hair alone!

Well, enough rambling. If the Guy Ritchie/RDJ film is better than any of these, or more original, I will call it a success.

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