Posted by: John McGerr | June 3, 2009

Movie Musings2


One of the big trends in Hollywood lately is what’s called ‘rebooting’. This is where a franchise gets an overhaul or a major update, sometimes even a complete rethink to, hopefully, produce something better. James Bond is one of the key successes of this – getting away from the glossy, escapes from everything with some gadget days to create a more gritty ‘realistic’ approach. Bond is less suave now. Other franchises to be rebooted were Batman, Star Trek, and arguably Jason Bourne – I have only seen a small part of Richard Chamberlain’s interpretation of Jason, and while it seemed to be truer to the books, compared to Matt Damon’s version, it was like comparing George Smiley to James Bond. Recently I watched a trailer for the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey. Downey would seem to be recreating his own abuse days on the big screen, playing the alcoholic Tony Stark and now the cocaine sampling Holmes. This is a very different version of Holmes, not like any other interpretation I have ever seen. It is a version that will anger many purists – am I among them? I don’t know. Sherlock Holmes’ main forte is his ‘deductive reasoning’ his ability to see links between clues and create a solution to a puzzle. He is often described as having ‘fits of nervous energy, followed by periods of almost complete inactivity’ Yet this new version of Holmes paints him as an action hero, fighting, shooting and even womanising(at least the trailer would seem to suggest this). So how angry should I be at this portrayal of a beloved character, I have read all the stories and novels, watched all of the excellent Jeremy Brett series, so why don’t I get worked up about this new version of Holmes? There are a number of reasons I think. First, as already stated, the Jeremy Brett series was a largely excellent recreation  of the stories. It’s also not the first time the character has been messed with. Basil Rathbone’s version featured stories set during World War II(if you follow this timeline Sherlock Holmes was in his early twenties in 1880, by WWII he would have been in his early eighties). One film claimed Holmes was an idiot and Watson the genius detective, one features a young Holmes and Watson even though they did not meet(in the books) until they were both adults and there are probably other movies that I cannot remember. However if  you return to the books you do find, apart from his ‘nervous energy’ he was a bit of an action man as well. In ‘A Study in Scarlet’ Watson lists him as being ‘an expert singlesticks player, swordsman and boxer’. More than one character reminisces over Holmes’ ability in the boxing ring. He practices shooting(in his apartment it’s true – and he must have had a very tolerant landlady and neighbours). And in the story ‘ The Empty House’ he refers to his knowledge of baritsu (“I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me.”) So Holmes as an action hero isn’t too far-fetched. There can, however, be no case made for him as a womaniser. In the majority of the stories he barely acknowledges the women he meets. He expresses admiration for only one – Irene Adler (the only woman who outwitted him) and when his landlady risks her life for him he just about thanks her. So women were only of interest if they were victims or perpetrators of crimes. This new Sherlock Holmes movie is set for release on Xmas Day 2009 in the US. Will I go see it? Probably not. Holmes has been done to death and redone to death as well. I still re-read the books and watch the tv series. And if you haven’t seen or read any of this stuff, I highly recommend it.

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