Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

In the last year we have seen two very different interpretations of Sherlock Holmes. The first was a movie, set in Victorian England and starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. The second is a series set in modern England and currently running on PBS.

Both versions offer new interpretations of Holmes and Watson. The traditional movie version of Watson as an older, befuddled foil for Holmes is gone, replaced by one who is Holmes's friend and contemporary. More jarring, both versions also show Holmes as someone who becomes self-destructive unless occupied by mental challenges.

The Holmes stories hinted at several things not shown in prior movies. Holmes was a drug user who practiced the pistol by writing "VR" and engaged in prize fighting.

The TV show Holmes is somewhat better behaved but still goes out of his way to be annoying.

After seeing the pilot for the PBS series, I want to see the Downey version again. It was a lot more fun.

There is also the issue of bringing Holmes into the present. I know that it was done in the Basil Rathbone movies in the 1940s but I never considered those movies to be very good. Also, they did not go out of their way to reinvent Holmes the way that the PBS version did. Holmes was very much a product of his time. Move him and you have a completely different character. Naming him Holmes is intellectual dishonesty.

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I also have an issue with the plot of the pilot. Holmes didn't really find the serial killer or deduce his motives. The killer relieved himself to Holmes and explained his motives. Worse, the final question was left unanswered - who was smarter?

The serial killer made people poison themselves. He did this by pointing a gun at them an making them choose between two identical bottles containing identical pills. One was poison, one was harmless.

Even after Holmes realized that the pistol was a fake (do they actually sell convincing gun-lighters in England?), Holmes took the killer's challenge and seemed to be about to swallow one of the pills. This left the question unresolved, did Holmes pick the right pill?

There is also the Princess Bride scenario - both pills were poison and the killer as immune.

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