Sherlock Holmes has been given the Hollywood treatment once again, and like his first outing, this adventure proved to have disastrous consequences for Mr Holmes.
Not the character in the movie, of course… I mean, it had disastrous consequences for the well-loved, British institution devised by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle one hundred and twenty five years ago; it had disastrous consequences for the credibility of one of the most famous fictional characters ever devised, and it had disastrous consequences for the entire reputation of British classic literature.
This film contained no aspect of the essence of what makes Sherlock Holmes such a withstanding force in popular culture. We did not see a trace of the dignified, polite, sophisticated, zealous, ageing detective in this film. He was instead, replaced by a gross, caricature; a watered down and simplified Hollywood stereotype. He was pining for a girl and dressing like a woman all the while making the sort of dull observations that would make one six year old say to another six year old, “Wow. You’re so smart.”
The overarching plot, while barely keeping me awake, was simultaneously so unintelligible as to veer off toward events that presented no cause to have happened at all, as well as so dull and predictable that even the bluntest blade in the knife rack could pretty much have the full machinations of the not-so-formidable, but apparently incredibly formidable, antagonist worked out before we see so much as a hint of the opening credits.
The beloved character of Sherlock Holmes in one of his early novels, ‘The Sign of The Four‘, makes such wonderful deductions, as inferring that the tiny scratches on the inside case of a man’s watch can only mean that he is an alcoholic who retires to bed inebriated and attempts to wind it with untrustworthy and shaking hands before the morning. Perfect logic. Traceable and simple, yet clever and observant. This new era Robert Downey ‘Sherlock’ however, made such cunning connections as to a bit of string and a splash of wine on the floor, meaning that two men had stood at that spot and built a secret passageway entrance which was disguised as a coat rack, with the third hook being the lever to open the doorway, and then had celebrated with a toast, clinking their glasses together and spilling some wine as they did so. Makes sense, does it not? No, it doesn’t. The film writers knew that Sherlock was famous for these analytical, ‘sequence of events’ deductions, and had tried to imitate it, but darn it if they just couldn’t quite figure out how to do so in any logical and comprehensible way.
Another key aspect is always the idea to “add some oomph” to a “dull Victorian setting” by introducing the tired, clichéd and overused concept of ‘the ahead of his time weapons maker‘. Countless times has Hollywood been dissatisfied with the machinery that was on offer in an accurate period piece, and so decides to bring in this tedious ploy as an excuse to have enemies running around with modern machine guns, advanced cannons and other weaponry that wouldn’t have been quite so readily available in the 1880s. While we’re on the subject of out of place technology in a period piece, I’m not sure there was any accounting for how the antagonist Professor James Moriarty, had gotten hold of a surgeon able to perform facial readjustment procedures that are still unheard of in the 21st century, let alone the 19th.
I mean to not give away too much of the story, but as soon as I saw the setting of the famous Reichenbach waterfall, I knew what was to happen anyway; for in Conan Doyle’s ‘The Final Problem’, this is the setting in which Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty plummet to their apparent death in an inexorable struggle. Now it’s true that several years later, Sherlock is revealed to have survived this final conflict, the film however decided to only keep its audience mildly concerned for about three minutes, before Holmes popped up in Watson’s office to write a question mark at the end of the eulogy that Watson had written for his supposedly late friend. Why he snuck in and punched an enigmatic punctuation mark onto the page instead of striding in and simply saying “Hey, John. Guess what… I’m alive.” is quite beyond me, but I’m sure it will be explained (or totally overlooked) in the next film in the series.
Now finally, where would a Hollywood recreation be without the introduction of needless, sub-humour and awkward comedy. While Holmes was a renowned master of disguise, I must have missed the case that had him dressing as a woman with a garter belt, fake breasts and mascara. But hey, if the film makers are okay with sullying the dignity of a British national institution in order to coax a cheap giggle from the bottom ten percent, then I guess that’s their prerogative. Also added for a quirk, is Sherlock’s desire to make these odd wall-art costumes, or ‘Urban Camouflage’ as he calls it. Basically, disguises that only offer any discretion if one is stood perfectly still, in an exact spot in an exact place that will have to have been studied and painted up close by an absent third-party to have any effect. Since he only makes two, one for his office and one for Watson’s office, I’d say it was fair to deduce that this too was a totally pointless artifact of apparent humour that when examined, is in utter contrast to the supposed logic upon which the character is supposed to stand. And so that leaves us with one final attempt at misplaced mirth… The coup de grace as far as I’m concerned…
There lies a scene wherein Holmes’ brother Mycroft, portrayed by British media darling Stephen Fry, is having a plain conversation with Watson’s wife Mary. Sounds simple, and it is. This is a scene of exposition, a quick bit of information to move the story along, but a scene that needs to take place. It is also a scene that lacks either of the main stars, and as such, I assume the film makers were worried that this would be a scene that would lose people’s attention. What to do, what to do… Ah, here’s a plan… Make Stephen Fry be naked. Why? Who cares. No explanation, no reasoning, no nothing. They simply have a plump man in his mid-fifties act the scene in the nude. It may be seen as just a cheap and harmless laugh to get the intellectually less-privileged members of the audience through a scene that is bereft of big stars or big explosions, but I must say, I saw it as more…
This scene was a microcosm for not only this film, but any of the Hollywood movies in which a work of classic British heritage is taken and ‘Americanised’ (to use a stereotyping term that I hope you forgive). It happened to Sherlock, as it did to Robin Hood, Dorian Gray and many others. This scene, in which British treasure Stephen Fry stands naked, is a metaphor. They took something beloved and British, inexplicably stripped it bare of all its essence; degraded, humiliated and embarrassed it, and stuck it amongst the flashy veneer of Hollywood, so as to be ridiculed and laughed at, to amuse the lowest common denominator of broad, pandered to audiences.
They could have just made a regular awful movie. The protagonist could have been called ‘Mr Jonah Bryson with his sidekick Dr Reginald Dainsby‘, and it would have made adequate sense. So why did they needlessly shame such an immortaly loved archetype of heroism by attaching his name to it? I know this sounds silly and petty, but it saddens me to know that from now on, this will be the most widely distributed interpretation of who Sherlock Holmes is. Hollywood reaches a scale that the old books never will, and as such, the realisation that in the minds of the majority, Sherlock Holmes is this two dimensional amateur is a great loss for world of popular fiction.
Sorry about this one Mr Holmes, but it looks like this is the one case in which your cunning abilities won’t spare you a humiliating defeat.