Posted by: maroonmaurader | January 9, 2010

Holmes, take 2

I finally got to see it last night (despite actually running into my third straight sold-out theater when I tried for earlier evening tickets). As the prior post is a little old now, I figured I’d toss my read on it in a new post.

For recap, the four questions raised were…

My response (spoilers may follow)?

Irene Adler is obviously manufactured out of whole cloth. Professor Moriarty also reads different to me than represented in the books. I thought they did an excellent job of conveying Lestrade in basically the same manner as in the books. Watson is vastly more competent, but his overall attitude reads similarly to me as in the books. I thought they did a pretty good job of keeping Holmes’ actions in-character, but they omitted basically all the (boring to watch) periods of reflection, waiting, and conversation in 221B. They nailed Holmesian London dead-on (although I’m pretty sure that Holmes actually taking a boat down the Thames during the day was a remarkable anomaly). It also might have just not come up, but Doyle-Holmes made heavy use of his knowledge of past crimes to assist in current ones, a factor absent from this movie. Finally, they managed to switch two key characteristics of Holmes’ attitude towards publicity. In the books, he was mildly bitter that he had no recognition, but willing to stay in anonymity out of pride and practicality; he was also reluctant to demonstate the chain of reasoning that led him to his conclusions. I read the movie Holmes as actually preferring to stay anonymous, but prone to boasting/explication at the drop of a hat.

On the plot the whole thing swerved sharply off from the traditional Sherlock Holmes. While Doyle’s mysteries did frequently appear supernatural, the degree to which that was the case here was greater than usual; the villain was far more of a megalomaniac than Doyle’s plotters; the goal of the crime quite different from standard, and probably of the sort Doyle’s Holmes would turn up his nose at as too predictable. Holmes’ approach to solving the crime was also a little unusual, as Doyle-Holmes generally made great use of letting other people track down facts and locations for him so that when he acted, he wasn’t spending all day wandering London; additionally he generally brought along police when he went into the rougher sections of London as himself (as opposed to incognito) to prevent just the sort of mess that occurred on several occasions when he and Watson were caught by themselves.

That’s my read, although now that I’ve seen the movie I’d be interested to hear yours.



  1. I second your assessment of Holmesian London (they got it) and Watson (except I think he is less acerbic in the books).

    I also agree that the plot missed the plot. I’m sure there exceptions, but the typical Doyle-Holmes mystery (as I recall) involved (i) a sordid, human-interest-y, crime, (ii) carried out ingeniously. Ritchie-Holmes involved (a) a diabolical crime (b) pursued by a powerful (but not particularly ingenious) cabal. This could have taken away from Sherlock’s charm, part of which lay in his fascination with the methods of the criminal as opposed to the heinousness of the crime, except Ritchie made sure he took a Holmesian attitude towards his investigations. It did take away from the joy of Holmesian escapism, which lies in the fact that the stories are a series of puzzles set against the backdrop of a constant world.

    As far as Holmes himself, I think he’s a very different character in the movie than in the stories. In the stories he’s cerebral, gentlemanly and with an understated, “chucklely” sense of humor (am I right to remember that his eyes are always sparkling at some, fundamentally innocent (and not especially riotous), practical joke he’s pulled on Watson?); in the movie he’s an earthy rogue.

    That said, the movie effects this difference in kind by differing from the stories in emphasis. A rogue lies incipient in Doyle-Holmes’s vanity, physical toughness, penchant (and facility) for affiliating with those from all walks of life and indifference to etiquette. Doyle cashes these traits out in such a way that DH’s vanity is tiresome, physical toughness robotic, relationship with his social inferiors hierarchical and indifference to etiquette jarring but not calculated to shock.

    Ritchie cashes them out in a way that makes Holmes much more agreeable (or, at least, in a way more congenial to the screen – given that DH’s being comparatively subdued contributes to the stories’ distinctive escapism, I can’t say Ritchie’s Holmes is simply better): RH wears his vanity whimsically, he’s a Dionysian (you here, Christoph?) fighter, he comes closer to a partnership with the lower classes and he is an iconoclast.

    (This was, imo, the coolest thing about the movie: how it showed that, without stretching too much, there’s a reading of Holmes on which he is a rake.)

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