August 15, 2010
As a ten-year-old, I eagerly read and re-read The Complete Sherlock Holmes (although admittedly, it was a child friendly version, as all the references to cocaine use were removed), had then engaged in a steady diet of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce movies (most of which are in the public domain and available via the Internet Archive). As a ten year old, it was less the cerebral problem-solving of the Doyle stories that appealed to me as much as the go-for-broke spirit and style - I'm sure that many of my fellow bloggers and writers, when pressed, will admit to reading Holmes as a youngster). In fact, although I had high hopes, as I've said on this blog, the recent movie left me underwhelmed.
But the BBC production Sherlock, over the course of three 90-minute movies, is nothing short of revelatory. Rather than opt for pastiche, producers Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss opt for mash-up: reinventing Holmes as a 21st century character could have easily become anachronistic and ill-fitting (after all, a "contemporary Holmes" once fought Nazis). But through some clever writing, spot-on touches (like seeing Holmes "thought processes" animated), and some clever ideas (such as Watson being a blogger, and Holmes having his own web site), the series' three "episodes" are probably the most faithful to the Holmes "canon".
original first Holmes story (the Watson/Holmes introduction, the infamous watch deduction, and a key clue), yet manages to then turn into a strong, engaging story that kicks off the series' "arc". (Which I'm not going to spoil - suffice it to say, part of the fun is seeing how the arc plays out). The weakest of the three is Stephen Thompson's "The Blind Banker"...but weak is a relative term. (Meaning - it has some spots that drag, but is otherwise of equal quality). The piece de resistance is Mark Gatiss' "The Great Game", which is so intricate in its twists and turns, in its reference to "the canon", and which comes to a great final confrontation that it's hard to believe that this is the same person who wrote the rather weak "Victory of the Daleks" for the most recent series of Doctor Who.
But what really sells the series is the casting, which is extremely spot-on without a false note being played. Benedict Cumberbatch is a simply brilliant Holmes - in fact, I'll argue that his performance approaches the high standard that Jeremy Brett set in the last televised version of Holmes. It's equal parts Hugh Laurie (the Holmesian arrogance), Tom Baker (the moodiness which suggests that Cumberbatch could have easily played the Doctor...but chose not to), and David Bowie (there is a slightly "alien" quality about him). Martin Freeman ably supports him as Watson - in fact, Freeman plays Watson with a mixture of exasperation, enthusiasm, and action. It's no wonder why this pair connects in Sherlock - it's a great double-act that the recent movie tried to emulate...and failed miserably
According to TV Shows on DVD, Sherlock is due for DVD/Blu-ray release after November 7th. A BBC America discussion forum thread suggests that the movies will be on PBS in the fall. My suggestion - do whatever you can to see these movies (obviously, in a legal non-copyright infringing way), and I'm definitely planning on getting these on DVD around Christmas.
But until then, feel free to enjoy reading the canon either via Librivox or Stanford's online Holmes program from a few years back.
Now, more than ever, the game is truly afoot.