It was obvious from the trailers that Guy Ritchie's vision of Sherlock Holmes was different from the traditional approach the previous films took to the stories. Clearly more furious, a tad more gritty and blurring the lines between good and evil, this film was poised for controversy. And it came... time for me to form my own opinion about this hot new film as it arrives on DVD, courtesy of Warner Home Video.
Although the sinister Lord Blackwood has been dangling from the hangman's noose and proclaimed dead, rumor has it that he has arisen yet again. How could it be that this perverted criminal mastermind rises from the dead, only to put even more fear and terror in the hearts of Londoners? Since Sherlock Holmes simply doesn't believe in the supernatural, he is convinced that there has to be a more scientific explanation, and before Inspector Lestrade can even put his hat on, Holmes is already underway, solving one of the most explosive mysteries of his career.
Not based on any particular story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "Sherlock Holmes" is an original mystery that is nonetheless true to the original materials. Despite the furor surrounding the movie, indeed, I found the film to be surprisingly close to the original stories with many of the events, abilities and character traits stemming from Doyle's writing. This whole image of Holmes wearing a deerstalker hat, smoking his pipe, and Dr. Watson being a somewhat thick old man, actually stem from popularized mis-interpretations of the material. Anyone familiar with Holmes' actual adventures will quickly see that the writers have been quite faithful in adapting the source materials and weaving them into the movie. Starting with the bareknuckle boxing match between McMurdo, which is referenced almost as a sidenote in one of the adventures, to his cocaine abuse all the way to his habitual shooting his pistol indoors, all of these things are rooted firmly in Doyle's adventures.
The only thing I found truly different from the stories was Holmes' character per se, which is much more likable in the film than in the books. Originally, Holmes is an incredibly arrogant and stand-offish character who takes immense pleasure in demeaning other people, including his condescendence towards Watson.
"Sherlock Holmes" is beautifully acted and shows once again what an incredible actor Robert Downey Jr. is as he throws himself into the character of the master sleuth with all of his panache. Jude Law delivers a headstrong Watson who, despite his best efforts to begin a family life, is always there for Holmes when he needs him. Supported by a great additional cast, including Mark Strong as the seethingly evil Lord Blackwood, this film most definitely delivers on all fronts as it pulls viewers into the magical world of Victorian London. Being a modern take on the story it is hardly surprising that the film features quite a number of special effects, including an array of matte paintings to recreate London of the era. While, for the most part, it works really well, they still are matte paintings, though, and they look their part. I find that many movies go overboard these days by trying to create majestic shots that exist only in the computer. Sadly, all too often these shots don't really satisfy the way their makers intended, and to me, sometimes it would be better to scale back and create more intimate shot sequences instead. In the case of "Sherlock Holmes" this digital modernism sadly created a series of moments where the movie magic and illusion was broken as the computer generated art became too obtrusive. That, however, is about the only bad thing I can say about this film, because everything else rocked!
The DVD version delivers the movie in an anamorphic widescreen presentation, supplemented by a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. Both the video and audio presentation are pristine with not a mar, blemish or defect in sight. Rich colors and deep contrasts render an image that is sharply defined and bold, while the aggressive surround mix makes sure to throw you right in the middle of things.
As the only extra of note, the DVD contains the featurette "Sherlock Holmes: Reinvented," in which the cast and crew discuss the approach that was taken in order to create a Holmes movie that is both reliant on the original source materials yet at the same time appealing to contemporary audiences.
I am proud to say that I have read all of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries - and numerous times so. I am fan, one could say, and yet I found myself by no means offended by the updated treatment of the material by this film. In fact, I welcome the fact that the material has received a renewed look instead of being a rehash of sentimental expectations that were never true to begin with. "Sherlock Holmes" is a product of our time, there can be no doubt, but at the same time it hearkens back deeply to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original ideas and stories. Frankly, I think you have to be seriously fanatical about details to get upset over what is ultimately an exhilarating and fascinating rejuvenation of the character. I'd rather have him leap and jump, kick and shout and being blasted by explosions than gathering dust in a library with barely anyone remembering, let away reading, the incredible adventures of the world's most famous sleuth. I like this film... a lot... and I think it might entertain you, too.