Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

As you may know, I am a passionate Sherlock Holmes reader, and have been looking forward to the new movie since before it was even officially announced. Thus any empathetic person can imagine my vast excitement when I set out to see the film with a friend a few days after Christmas.
While my movie experience could have been severely dampened by the morons who decide they can price a small generic water bottle at $3.45 just because they think you're too desperate to hold out for anything better, I soldiered on. (You know who you are). That said, back to the title subject.
The movie centers around the fabricated villain, Lord Blackwood, (played admirably by Mark Strong), the leader a powerful cult intent upon - well, to put it plainly, taking over the world. Starting with their own country and politics.
You see, Lord Blackwood is sentenced to be hung for human sacrifice. Which he is, after Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) bring him to justice, with the legal sanction of Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan). The only problem is, Blackwood is soon roaming the streets of London again - apparently risen from the grave. And, even more problematically, Watson was the attending doctor who pronounced him dead.
What follows is really a treat. Even if you are discontented with the plot, which takes certain liberties, it is still very possible to appreciate the scenery and setting. The film gives a wonderful glimpse of 1880s London, which was, to my amateur eye, quite accurate. It was like bringing my books of dog-eared black-and-white 19th-century reprints to life, in bustling color. It lights up the more sordid sides of the famous city with vibrancy and thought - I think Doyle would have been pleased. It's all swirling lower-class humanity, noise, life, and dirt. Really quite beautiful.
The camera itself was used creatively and beautifully. There are some very interesting shots - twists of the camera, tricks that give you the feeling of rushing along down the street with the characters. Also there are some wonderful elements that cost somebody a lot of money - several different angles and shots of an unfinished Tower Bridge,as well as a wonderful scene of construction in the shipyards.
Holmes is definitely an action film, featuring a wonderful boxing scene, several tense fights, and chase sequences so suspenseful they keep your adrenaline on a steadily growing high until the final scene. I love the overall athletic quality of the movie - too often the unapologetic, scholarly languor of Holmes is overemphasized.
I also enjoyed several witty lines from an assortment of different stories, most prominently the analyzing of a watch, which has always been one of my favorite Holmes scenes, so I was very glad they included that. If you've read all the stories obsessively (ahem) it's very fun to watch and try to pick them all out. I'll admit I was not quite astute enough to match all the lines to their stories of origin.
There was a very sweet portrayal of Watson and Mary Morstan's romance. Ms. Morstan was played by the lovely Kelly Reilly - I'd like to see her in more movies, I think she has great potential. It was hard to believe she is the same woman who played the seductive, catty Caroline Bingley in Pride & Prejudice a few years ago. She did an excellent job of Mary, really put some spirit and personality into it. She stood up to Holmes, which was a nice part of the film.
The presentation of Homes and Watson's rooms was very well done, indeed. The cold neatness of Watson's contrasted to the bohemian slovenliness of Holmes' was perfect, as good and better than what I had ever imagined. Very messy and nice. They were not too oppressively Victorian, which I think would be very inconsistent in a bachelor's set of rooms, but still reflected the fashions of the times in the subtle, mild, creeping way that current styles affect everybody's homes. Holmes and Watson's clothing was also very expressive of their personalities: Watson's neat and trim, fashionable but not showy, and Holmes' careless and yet thoughtful, vibrantly Pre-Raphaelite with a touch of impressionism. And thank God, they did not put a ridiculous deerstalker cap on the man! He had his signature pipe, but it was a believable one, not a massive, drooping thing that looks like it should be a gag gift made of rubber.
And the soundtrack! It was absolutely perfect. The movie pulls you up, draws you in, and I believe they own half of this to the music. It was just right - it had been another one of my anxieties, I was afraid it would be corny or too modern, but it was very classy and enjoyable. A big round of applause to Hans Zimmer, the composer, whose work you heard in Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbor, The Last Samurai, Thelma & Louise, Driving Miss Daisy, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, just to name a few. He's awesome, very diverse. I didn't guess. (And I'm very good at guessing composers for movies).
Now we come to an interesting topic: the character of Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). Ms. Adler is old Holmes alumni, well known for her notoriety in the story of the Scandal in Bohemia, where she appears as the woman - the only person to ever really outsmart Holmes. However, the film makers took her character a bit too far, I think. Most people seem to assume that romance is necessary for a successful Hollywood film, but I do not agree at all. Moreover, in this particular film, the love story between Watson and Mary Morstan could have sufficed. But alas no, they had to make constant insinuations about Holmes and Adler, quite openly suggesting that they had been lovers in the past. Which is ridiculous. Holmes isn't romantic at all, he scorns romance. This sentiment was amply expressed in his feelings about the relationship between Watson and Morstan, which only serves to make his own affections for Adler ridiculous and psychologically inconsistent. But they couldn't very well make him have had a relationship with Irene and have no feelings at all without turning Holmes into a cad, so I suppose that inconsistency was the film makers' only choice.
Also, there is a scene in which Adler is changing, and Holmes has that helpless deer-in-the-headlights look that seems to occur mostly when men just can't look away from something fascinating (like someone dressing). Now the cold logician of Doyle's stories would really not have cared less, I think, although one could attribute half of his indifference to a simple concealment of his real feelings. But Doyle never did, so I see no reason to take that liberty. I think Doyle's Holmes would not have been fazed if a woman had walked down the street naked, although he might have been interested in analyzing her motive. And while I'm being picky and critical, I might also mention Irene Adler's costume. Now, her clothes really were lovely and detailed and beautiful, if not a little flamboyant; but probably perfect for a woman of the stage. However, I had a slight problem with her decidedly modern bangs and makeup. I think it will be a bit of a regret in thirty years - rather like the 1960s tendency to throw winged eyeliner on any woman who's face was going to appear on screen with a complete disregard of historical accuracy. Also, for a crucial part of the movie she was supposed to be dressed as a man. I say 'supposed' because that really didn't work out too well. First of all, as a woman with acting talent, it is obvious (and actually stated in Doyle's work) that she would have known how to successfully disguise herself as a male - enough to fool Holmes. My argument is, if that were true, she would have made at least some effort to conceal those unpardonable hallmarks of femininity, her breasts; and she would not have worn eyeshadow, either. That was just ridiculous.
Also, I found myself re-saying a few of Ms. McAdam's lines for her. I'm very suspicious that this is a possessive affectation on my part, since she's a professional actress and probably knows what she's doing, but some of them seemed to ring a bit hollow to me. I hope to feel a bit differently when I see the movie again.
I will say that Adler's was a very exciting, physical role, something I consider an improvement that Doyle probably would not have minded, and McAdam's played it remarkably well.
The character was satisfyingly spunky and independent, too. Overall, such a vast adaptation of a character who only appeared in one story could have been disastrous, but it was not that at all. She was done very well, I liked it.
Also, a big relief: there was a scene, shown in the previews, of Irene prancing around in red satin negligee and, horror of horrors, kissing Holmes.
This scene does not appear in the movie! It must have been cut towards the end, because they certainly used it in their commercials. Maybe they thought it would draw more audiences, who knows. Anyways, I was immensely relieved, since it definitely would have brought the overall quality of the film down a bit for me.
Robert Downey Jr. did an excellent job, he's almost made it on my 'Like' list, Jude Law is the absolutely perfect Watson, correct in every way. The film was also very witty and humorous, which is nice - I like laughter between my adrenaline rushes.
The plot-line circles to such fantastic heights that I despaired of it ever being worked out scientifically, which is the key to Holmes. If it hadn't, it would have ruined the film. But it did. When the final crash of excellent music sounded, everything had been sorted out properly - but not all the loose ends had been tied up. I think they left it very, very open for a sequel. I'll be incredibly disappointed if there isn't one, in fact.
So there it is: my Holmes review. I give it nine out of ten, and would suggest it to any of my friends. It would be a great renter for a movie night, and a film I wouldn't mind owning some day.

1 comment:

  1. Haha yaaay Holmes! Cool movie.

    Though I am glad they put the Adler romance in there and didn't cater to the stupid Holmes/Watson slasher fic writers, which the trailer originally did. They make it so I can't get flung wholeheartedly into the Holmes fandom cause it's been overrun by the slashers. *sigh*

    Anyway, her accent did bug me. I did hear something about her supposed to have come from New Jersey, but her American accent still sounded horribly out of place in Victorian England. She actually said the word "wanna" at some point *bangs head against wall*

    Besides that, the movie was awesome, teehee!