CSI: Victorian London

Evidently I saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie tonight. I remember the color gray and some explosions.

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There’s a telltale movie ticket in my pocket, the lingering taste of a Chick-fil-a peppermint shake (awesome, albeit for a limited time), and soil on my shoes of the type only found at the Mall of Georgia, so I can deduce that I went to see Sherlock Holmes tonight. It was a couple of hours ago, so I’ve already mostly forgotten it.

That’s not necessarily a big criticism, though. I hate, hate Guy Ritchie movies to the point of headaches and nausea, and I didn’t mind this one. His affectations were at a minimum here — the occasional jump cut, a completely gratuitous attempt at showing a scene out of chronological sequence — for an action blockbuster movie, it’s downright restrained. Although I’m pretty sure it’s not the real story, I like to imagine that Ritchie saw the movie Crank and had an Oppenheimer-like fit of remorse at the horrors he’d unleashed on the world.

And I’d rather have the fleeting memory of an action movie than lingering resentment at Ritchie’s “look at me!” theatrics. Oh wait — there was a an awful lot of winking nonsexual tension between Holmes and Watson, I remember that. Nothing more overt than frequently asserting it’s a hip 2009 action movie starring two male longtime companions, but they never passed up a single chance at old-married-couple style bickering or lingering glances between the two.

But for the most part, it’s a very gray CSI episode with some terrific set design and familiar names. Purists balked at the premise of Robert Downey, Jr as a martial arts-expert Sherlock Holmes (myself included), but they (we) needn’t have worried. The original stories made Holmes out to be kind of a freak, and there’ve been plenty of adaptations and reinterpretations since then that either played up the character quirks or took liberties with history. By comparison, the new movie is practically reverent. And as you’d expect, Downey is one hell of a lot more likable than Jeremy Brett.

The basics of the characters are valid, there are plenty of opportunities for the trademark deduction sequences, and the story is unremarkable but inoffensive. Plus there’s the built-in appeal of pseudo-science in Victorian London: much of Sherlock Holmes is the movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen should have been. The only thing really wrong with it is the regrettable action movie inflation that means all characters — even mastermind detectives — can survive dozens of punches and at least two explosions with just a scratch here and there. It’d be nice to for once see a movie where the fight scenes had genuine consequences and punches really hurt.

They’ve clearly set it up for a franchise; maybe they can up the stakes for future movies. It’s laid a respectable foundation, even if it’s not as rousing or exciting as Downey’s other franchise. The trailer for Iron Man 2 looks fantastic.

8 thoughts on “CSI: Victorian London”

  1. A) So Watson turned into a Bronx bruiser in the film? I do admit the bowler and braces look is hilarious, but it is still way out of character for … ANY Victorian gentleman, really.

    B) I don’t think anybody really wants a “real” Sherlock Holmes movie, anyway. And which Holmes do you choose as the “real” one? He’s something like 28 in the first story, then by the next one his age jumps so it’s closer to Watson’s (who’s pushing 40 in the first book, and gets older as time goes on), and then he’s described as “middle-aged” which probably means he’s 35-40, since back then middle-aged didn’t mean “old enough to have grown-up kids” the way it does now. Do you incorporate that Watson has been married a couple of times? Do you make Holmes appearance match the Paget illustrations or the actual descriptions in the book? Would anyone believe that Holmes was actually a bushy-browed, Scottish, tenor-voiced guy with a hawk-like nose and a tendency to act like an excited geek when he’s hot on a trail?

    Actually why the hell DIDN’T they cast David Tennant as Holmes?!

  2. Hmmm…Chuck, you now have me wanting to see this film, when before I was going to ignore it.

    Don’t really understand the first comment. Why wouldn’t anyone want a real Homes movie? There have been lots. Some with tenor-voices and hawk noses (Basil Rathbone rules all!)

    Also, as to “Real” Holmes: there was the pre-death Holmes and the post-falling-off-the-cliff Holmes. The stories after the cliff fall vary in quality as a bored ACD intentionally broke with his original story constructions.

    A. Watson was a distinguished military man and could kick ass if he chose. This was one of the reasons Holmes invited him on his adventures. Also, it was Watson who saved Holmes from death by drug overdose, finally breaking him of his cocaine addiction.

    B. Watson had one wife, who died (the details of her death are unspecified. The two were roommantes pre and post Watson’s marriage.

    C. The stories jump around in time since Watson chronicled them out of order, so there’s no problem jumping around in age.

    As a side note, ACD did not like the Paget illustrations. There was actually an error, as ACD or the publisher (forget which) originally wanted Sydney’s brother to illustrate the stories.

    ACD felt that Paget’s Holmes was much too handsome.

  3. Lena, I do think you’re right that nobody wants a “real” Sherlock Holmes movie, in the sense that there’ve been way way too many “traditional” interpretations to sell movie tickets in 2009. As skeptical as I was when I first heard the concept, I can appreciate now that “rebooting” and casting Downey (and Jude Law, while I’m at it) was the way to go.

    Jonathan, since you know more about the stories than I do, you might actually like the movie. I get the impression that the people who are most offended at the “reboot” are people like me, who are just casually familiar with the original stories. (I’ve only read 2 of ACD’s Holmes stories, Hound of the Baskervilles and The Red-Headed League).

    Just be aware that it’s not Sherlock Holmes bastardized into an action movie; it’s more like a blockbuster action movie that’s tangentially about Sherlock Holmes.

  4. *Don’t really understand the first comment. Why wouldn’t anyone want a real Homes movie? There have been lots. Some with tenor-voices and hawk noses (Basil Rathbone rules all!)
    Rathbone is a good Holmes(even though I’d call his speaking voice a baritone not a tenor), but Nigel Bruce played Watson as a bumbling idiot and later films have the two of them fight Nazis. Not super accurate. I still love Rathbone though. (And I don’t care what anyone says. He is INFINTELY better than Errol Flynn in their fencing scenes. Even I can see Rathbone actually knows what he’s doing; Flynn isn’t fencing, he’s dancing!)
    *Also, as to “Real” Holmes: there was the pre-death Holmes and the post-falling-off-the-cliff Holmes. The stories after the cliff fall vary in quality as a bored ACD intentionally broke with his original story constructions.
    Even BEFORE he fell from the Reichenbach falls there were inconsistencies in the stories. Was Watson shot in the leg or the shoulder, for example? Then there’s the age inconsistency. In the first story (A Study in Scarlet) Watson assumes Holmes is med student. In the first short story, Holmes is seen as more of a man of the world and well known enough that the King of Bohemia comes to see him personally. This is supposedly before the Sign of Four where he is relatively well known, but not that different from how he appears in A Study in Scarlet. He goes from twentyish, to thirtyish to late twentyish.
    The inconsistencies come from the fact that the two novels were published before the first batch of short stories, and were not that popular so Doyle changed stuff around as he liked. He wasn’t creating a character for the ages. He was just putting out stories to pay the bills, and he probably never dreamed people on the internet would be discussing the finer points of canon. His real works of art, in his mind, were his historical novels, like The White Company which are all but forgotten nowadays. And which I haven’t read either, I have to admit, although they were supposed to be quite exciting and I’m a huge history buff.
    *A. Watson was a distinguished military man and could kick ass if he chose. This was one of the reasons Holmes invited him on his adventures. Also, it was Watson who saved Holmes from death by drug overdose, finally breaking him of his cocaine addiction.
    There is no question that Watson was an able bodied marksman who could hold his own in a fight. He was also a gentleman, and would never have worn his hat indoors. Also, the image of a man in braces and bowler hat is usually associated with belligerent drunk in the Bowery duking it out in the local tavern. At least I thought it was. And the Watson saving Holmes thing is another thing about his character that doesn’t always seem to translate well. He was a doctor in the army, yet very rarely does his medical knowledge get mentioned, even though he comes across murders a lot. (Then again even in the books he doesn’t seem to use his professional knowledge very often; he mostly helps beat people up.)
    *B. Watson had one wife, who died (the details of her death are unspecified. The two were roommantes pre and post Watson’s marriage.
    Watson was married to Mary Morstan at the end of The Sign of the Four. A later short story states she dies (I don’t have my collection of Holmes stories with me so I can’t check which story it is), and after Holmes is “resurrected” there are stories that state Watson is married. One might assume these stories are set before Mary’s death, but the fact that she is suddenly no longer called by name makes that slightly questionable, and in “His Last Bow”, set in 1917 Holmes asks after Watson’s wife. This wife cannot possibly be Mary Morstan who died sometime in the 1890’s.
    *C. The stories jump around in time since Watson chronicled them out of order, so there’s no problem jumping around in age.
    I never said there was. I just said it’s hard to decide how old to make him. The public at large generally seems to think of Holmes as being in his forties or older, when much of the “evidence” in the canon seems to point at his being in his late twenties to early thirties for the earliest stories. In one were to accept the chronology suggested by “His Last Bow”, it would seem Holmes was actually 24 in A Study in Scarlet, and already assisting Scotland Yard!
    As a side note, ACD did not like the Paget illustrations. There was actually an error, as ACD or the publisher (forget which) originally wanted Sydney’s brother to illustrate the stories. ACD felt that Paget’s Holmes was much too handsome.
    Another interesting note, Paget used his brother as his model for Holmes, so in a way they “got” the right illustrator after all, just not the way they expected! :p
    I also hope you don’t take umbrage at my responding to your comments. I’ve been a Holmes fan since I was a little girl, and I hardly ever get to “geek out” over the stories. It was nice to “talk” with someone who’s read more than a couple of stories for a change 🙂

  5. Went and saw the movie, and I liked it a lot. I had expected (from the previews) a Sherlock Holmes version of that awful Wild Wild West movie. But it was cool and fun. I think a lot of reviewers attacked the movie due to the director.
    In particular, the LA times reviewer began his review, “Guy Ritchie is the worst director on the planet.”
    Then went on to say the movie was OK, in spite of him. I didn’t see anything wrong with the direction.
    It was fun!

  6. That just goes to show what a blight Guy Ritchie movies have been on the planet. Just knowing Ritchie was attached would’ve been enough to keep me from seeing it, if I hadn’t been on Christmas break.

  7. I knew absolutely zero about this movie when my Dad took me to see it. Right off the bat I was reminded of David Cross’s ‘Squagels’, and ‘Henderson Valley Eggs'(you’re gonna love our eggs) bits. Look them up, and you’ll see.

    About twenty minutes in, I realized I didn’t like it. So, I took a nice long nap about an hour in, and woke up for the credit roll.

    Ah yes! The reason it bored me to sleep: Guy Ritchie.

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