Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sherly, You're Joking

I recently saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie. And I liked it. But not the way you're thinking. If you want to see a great action movie, by all means take in Game Of Shadows.

But the movie reminds me of a local restaurant called Twisted Rooster. They have on the menu a sandwich they call a Reuben sandwich, and it's a great sandwich with coleslaw and Russian dressing--but it's not a Reuben sandwich.

Game of Shadows is a cool Steampunk 007 movie. I'll buy Sherlock Holmes being an action hero, but he's not a spy--he's a private eye. And I'll buy into Mycroft Holmes being a gubmint official, but he's not a diplomat--he's a mathematician. The shaken-not-stirred character is cool, but not Sherlock Holmes.

It's someone else.
Just as Sherlock Holmes is not a Steampunk 007, Mycroft Holmes is not a Victorian M.

The considerable powers Mr. Fry brings to the role were significantly underused. When he played Jeeves to Hugh Laurie's Wooster, I saw the makings of an excellent Sherlock Holmes. The years and Mr. Fry's expanding waistline has made him into a perfect Mycroft, but he was used largely for comedic effect in this movie. He didn't really do anything significant--just like M does in your typical 007 movie.

I once had the occasion to know several cryptanalysts and cryptologic mathematicians. They manifested the very sort of smarts one would expect of the Holmes brother who went into mathematics. Sure, there's deep involvement in a nation's intelligence community, but it's an armchair sort of thing that you saw in the Tom Clancy stories where a roomful of analysts debate the significance of a radio intercept or a satellite photo--not the parkour-style chasing about that you'll see James Bond do.

I had altogether expect Mycroft to be heading the codebreaking effort against Moriarty's notebook, not Dr. Watson's lovely bride.

Other quibbles. Dr. Watson was mustered out of the military because of a war wound. In the canon he has delicate health, but in this movie he walks with a limp. A limp that goes away when he's dancing, or when he's running. Hmmmm.

Then there's Mycroft's nudism. It has comedic effect, but it's altogether gratuitous--unless you were wondering about Mr. Fry's middle-aged spread. Like wise Sherlock's aversion to horses? Where'd that come from? Arthur Conan Doyle had no problem making Sherlock an expert swordsman and boxer, why would he stint with horsemanship?

Moriarty is some kind of Lord of War (without the cocaine), and he's aiming to start a World War by sabotaging some kind of peace conference that reminds me a lot of a Star Trek episode.

Finally there's Rivendell on the Reichenbach falls. This is Rivendell.:

This is the Reichenbach Falls where Holmes and Moriarty have their final conflict:

Notice any difference?

I happened to like the Lord Of The Rings, 007 movies, Star Trek and the Wild Wild West, but I will never confuse them with Sherlock Holmes.


  1. Haven't seen the new one yet but your assessment of these 'Holmes' movies is exactly what I think of them. They are fun steampunk adventures but are by no means good Sherlock Holmes stories. We can only hope the popularity of them encourages a new generation to discover the originals and love them despite their more cerebral nature.

  2. Just popping in to say hi. Thanks for the follow on Twitter - the mention of Mycroft in your profile made me scurry over to check out your blog. You have a lovely blog. I look forward to reading your stuff.

  3. Mmm. . . I agree that their representation of Mycroft wasn't that good. They failed to represent his brilliance. But at the same time, I really do like how they have represented both Sherlock Holmes and Watson. So often in movies, Sherlock Holmes is brilliant, and has almost no apparent flaw, and Watson gets assigned the part of a bumbling fool who is just along for the ride in order to show everyone how amazing Holmes is. And I really think they nailed Holmes erratic side. That's my thoughts on the matter.

  4. Very analytical review of the movie.

    Being an avid Sherlockian, I prefer adaptations that are loyal to the canon. I might be wrong, but I do think that these 2 movies are just another Hollywood franchise to mint some money by exploiting the popularity of Sherlock Holmes and capitalizing on the current hot streak of Downey Jr...



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