06 April 2011
Movie Review: Sherlock
If you don't like modern remakes, go ahead and stop here: that's what this is. If you're open to the idea of very good story telling from writers who love the original and want to make it relevant for modern audiences while still being true in substance, read on.
The premise of this series is simple: the writers have taken the original stories and set them in modern London instead of Victorian London. Watching the "Special Features" section of the disc, I discovered that they originally shot a 60-minute pilot but that BBC liked it so much they had to go back and make three 90-minute episodes. Each one is excellent in itself (with the second of the three being good, although not quite great, and the other two being exceptional).
Benedict Cumberbatch (his real name) plays Sherlock Holmes, and I can only imagine the thrill that the writers felt the first time they heard him reading the lines. He is Sherlock Holmes for the modern era: young, vibrant, brilliant, and utterly captivating. Martin Freeman plays Dr Watson, and while some have been a little unsure of this casting I love it. Freeman brings the empathy to the story; he's gentle but not a pushover and makes for a perfect foil for Holmes. Like the original Watson, he's a former Army doctor, wounded in Afghanistan, and recently arrived back in London to start his post-Army life when the story begins.
The other characters are performed with equal excellence: Lestrade (pronounced here as "Les-trahd" instead of "Les-trayed") manages to express his need for Holmes's brilliance without looking like a total idiot. And I particularly love Mark Gatiss's rendering of Mycroft Holmes, since it is just a little more dangerous than any other interpretation that I've seen.
There are three episodes in the first season (and here's hopes for many more to come!), and they are A Study in Pink, The Blind Banker, and The Great Game. I saw the last of these first when it played on PBS, but I was glad to go back and see the others. A Study in Pink, in particular, just might be my favorite of them. The writers really do successfully bring the modern world into the stories, rather than the other way around. It's as though Holmes and Watson are the anchor points, and the writers alter what is around them instead of altering them. When Holmes affixes the nicotine patches to his arm in A Study in Pink and announces that this is a "three-patch problem," I wanted to do a fist-pump in excitement. (Then it occurred to me that the last time I attempted such a thing I pulled a muscle, so I limited myself to a mental fist-pump.)
For a quick synopsis of each story:
A Study in Pink is ostensibly a play on the title of A Study in Scarlet. It's not really the same story, but it brings in elements from the original stories (several of them) quite well. In the beginning, a series of unusual suicides have rocked London. Three people were found in "places they shouldn't have been," having taken poison -- clearly by their own hand. The key is that the poison is the same in all of the cases, so the police know that there is a connection. But since these appear to be suicides, there is no reason to assume murder. Then there's a fourth death, but this one is different: the dead woman leaves a note (of sorts) by scratching into the wood floor just before she died. Sherlock notes immediately that there is at least one enormous problem with this death (I won't spoil it :), and he is on the case. Watson joins him to decipher the mystery, and the two work together to bring it to a close. After watching this the first time, it occurred to me that the solution was rather obvious, but I'll give the writers credit by saying that it only seemed this way upon second viewing.
The Blind Banker is perhaps the weakest of the three, but I enjoyed it all the same. As the story opens, Sherlock receives an email from a university friend at a large London bank. The night before, there was a break-in at the bank, but the burglar did not take anything. Instead he/she spray-painted a painting and the wall with some unusual symbols. As there was no clear way for the intruder to get in without triggering the alarm system -- which he/she didn't -- so Sherlock is called in. The mystery takes him and Watson deep into the world of international smuggling, and things become far more serious than either anticipate.
The Great Game is a great way to wrap up the season, and it's one of the more complex episodes. The distant Moriarty rears his head, and an unexpected clue leads Sherlock to realize that this mysterious figure has decided to challenge Sherlock to a game: Moriarty presents his adversary with a series of mysteries that Sherlock has several hours to solve. The catch is that each mystery is driven by a victim attached to an explosive; if Sherlock fails, the victim will die. The episode ends with a cliff-hanger, sure to keep viewers wondering what is next.
In short, great remake, thoroughly interesting, a little predictable (perhaps) in retrospect, but all in all very satisfying for viewers who want to see a modern Sherlock.
A clip from the DVD, discussing the development of the series: