The “reimagining” people are back with us again. They have taken on Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous private detective, and all around smartypants, Sherlock Holmes. In this version, Holmes still uses his considerable brain and deductive powers, but also kicks a lot of ass.
The first thought that comes to mind when director Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes draws to a close with some cool line drawings of the main characters and scenes is that the names of the characters could easily have been changed. Instead of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, the two main characters might have been called Herschel Krustofski and Robert Terwilliger. It’s really a standard action/mystery in which the lead character has a familiar name but could be part of any buddy crime-fighting team. An enjoyable and fairly undemanding film all the same, though.
Regardless of what the movie could be, it is called Sherlock Holmes, and Robert Downey, Jr. is excellent as the titular sleuth He’s joined by Jude Law as Watson, and their relationship is the core of the film. Longtime roommates in addition to partners in the crime-solving business, Watson is about to get married to Mary (Kelly Reilly) and leave Holmes. This clearly bothers Holmes, who isn’t exactly a social butterfly, and he works to break up the union as both men look into claims that the recently hanged Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) has risen from the dead with nefarious intent.
The interplay between Holmes and Watson has been pegged as homoerotic, but it’s sad that two men can’t be considered close friends without being accused of wanting to have sex with each other. Holmes is more intrigued by thief Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams in her luscious glory), who is also wrapped up in the Blackwood case but acts in that way that makes both Holmes and the viewer question her loyalties, as is often the case in this type of movie.
The mystery itself isn’t particularly interesting, but it mainly exists to set up Downey and Law in cool fights, chases, and explosions. Unlike the usual PBS presentation of Holmes, this one shows him regularly having to beat the crap out of someone to progress in the case. When he isn’t fighting, he’s nearly getting blown-up, or jumping out of windows into rivers to escape the bad guys. This is reportedly true to the books, but really it’s true to the idea that 13-year-old boys aren’t going to sit around watching Holmes think. Ritchie does stage some good action sequences, though, and when Holmes applies his deductive reasoning and intelligence to a bare-knuckled fight, all the elements have come together.
It’s not all action, to be sure; there are also the relationships of Holmes with Watson and Holmes with Adler. They are generally interesting and entertaining, but aren’t particularly novel. Ritchie seems on less sure ground here, and he’s not given much originality to work with. Writers Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg give the interplay between Holmes and Adler that Sam and Diane vibe of people that bicker but have the hots for each other, while Holmes and Watson could be any mismatched but co-dependent buddies from the Odd Couple on. It works as well as it does thanks to the chemistry between the three leads.
This movie has the smell of franchise. The heavy lifting of introducing the relationships and style is done, and a secondary villain in the first movie is ready to take center stage in the sequel. There is still room for improvement in the next movie, but this one holds its own and is worth an undemanding viewing.
While the Sherlock Holmes movie has some room to improve, the DVD release would need quite a bit of improvement just to be considered adequate. It’s shockingly devoid of any extras or featurettes. It gets the treatment you might expect from a low-budget indie movie. Actually, even a low-budget indie movie generally has a better release than this.
Since it is being released by a major studio, the transfer is naturally crisp and clear. No complaints about the picture or the sound. Downey sometimes speaks in a mumble that some complained was hard to pick up in the theater. It’s about the same here, but you do have the option of flipping on the subtitles to make sure none of his witticisms or conclusions are lost.
The one and only extra is a 16-minute “making-of” featurette called “Sherlock Holmes: Reinvented.” It is pretty basic, with the stars, directors, and creative team talking about the making of the film and how great it is. It does give a general sense of the movie and would have been fine if it were one of a group of extras, but being the only one makes it woefully inadequate. Also, someone says “this isn’t your grandmother’s Sherlock Holmes,” which is the most annoying cliché ever.
This is a big-budget, big-star, CGI-heavy movie, and certainly more than one omnibus extra is warranted. The set design was nominated for an Oscar, how about a section on that? Why not include a commentary from someone? What about something on all the action set pieces or the stunts? I’ve heard the movie is based on a somewhat famous series of books, any chance you could do something on those?
It’s not clear if more stuff is being held out for a special edition or if the goal is to get people to buy the Blu-ray version and leave the DVD for rentals and those who aren’t interested in extras. Either way, this is pretty shabby treatment for the people shelling out money for the DVD.
Only a truly great movie could make up for having a DVD this bare bones. Sherlock Holmes is good, but it’s not that good. Avoid the DVD purchase unless you are a huge fan, and save this for the rental. A better version may be on the way.