Friday, August 27, 2010

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

For all that I bang on about Arthur Conan Doyle, I've gotta 'fess up to the fact that I'm not overly enamoured by his most famous fictional son. Mostly, I guess, because I simply have no interest in crime fiction, of which Sherlock Holmes was probably the most perfect kind. The mystery of a whodunnit always seemed rather paltry to me after an early diet of Clarke, Asimov, and of course, a cornucopia of mind-expanding 19th-century horrors. So what if one mammal kills another- boring. And you expect me to care about who did it? Bring on the Martian tripods, the undead half-breeds and the space-travel, please. I do have a passing familliarity with the Holmesian cannon, more out of a feeling of duty to my favourite author than because I've really enjoyed it. Well, I did enjoy The Hound of the Baskervilles, but it felt to me as though Doyle was somehow repressing his own natural urge to bring a wacky supernatural element to the story, just because, in the world of Holmes (though not, apparently, in the real-life world of Doyle), there has to be a more prosaic explanation.

In any case, I've finally gotten around to a viewing of Hollywood's latest tinkering with a classic, and wouldn't you know, I enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting- perhaps because I'm not too tied to the original source material. Basically, Guy Ritchie's sort-of made another one of his cheeky-chappie Cockney gangster flicks, except it's happening in the 19th century. Well, there's more to it than that, but still. Robert Downey Jr. and J*** L** play Holmes and Watson respectively. Predictably for a Hollywood adaptation, the movie ups the action and dumbs down some of the original material. But is it any good?

Overall, it's a gorgeous-looking romp that's good fun. Honestly, whatever sins Ritchie has committed by making Holmes into a two-fisted, pit-fighting dandy are more than made up for by the sheer liveliness and speed of the story. The relationship between the two leads has been slightly altered- they are now fast-talking buddy-movie leads, but the dialogue is pithy and hilarious throughout, and there are just enough elements from the stories left in, or slightly misused, to make you believe, at least for 100 minutes, that this is a legitimate interpretation of Doyle's character. Holmes is a flamboyant, over-intelligent misfit who doesn't live in or interact very well with the rest of society. Watson is a lady-killer who loses his patience with Holmes's eccentricities at times. And the two of them do have a brotherly affinity for each other in a kind of hetero life-mate kind of way (if not outright bro-ners) that is threatened when Watson gets married. So maybe Ritchie is stretching this stuff, but it's all there in the books.

Another thing Ritchie has done is to remind me why I'm fascinated by Victorian London. He makes it seem so fun (which it obviously was, if you lived in the right part of town). He even drags in an occult conspiracy that rips elements wholesale out of From Hell, whether he knows it or not. It's quite possible that he just reckons you can't tell a gothic London tale without this stuff, but the parallels are striking-

-a Masonic-type society that controls the empire
- secrets of the ancients
-a plan involving the occult architecture of London, including a scene with a giant map

What do you think?

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