Sherlock Holmes
R1 - America - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (21st March 2010).
The Film

Making a full on career comeback after falling into obscurity or addiction isn’t something treated lightly, especially for a major face in the film industry. Though it’s hard to remember John Travolta being great now, he had a career resurgence after “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and managed to turn it around, well for a while at least. Robert Downey Jr.’s story is a bit more unlikely as he became the butt of nearly every celebrity drug and hooker joke in the 90’s until he started slowly working his way back into movies in the mid 2000’s. Then thanks to a stroke of pure genious casting as the titular “Iron Man” (2008) and method actor Kirk Lazarus in “Tropic Thunder” (2008) it was confirmed that the bankable, amazing Robert Downey Jr. was back. With “Sherlock Holmes” (2009) he kept his blockbuster action/comedy style going with another addiction laden quirky character.

Near the end of the 19th century in Victorian London, the evil Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) has been sacrificing young women in dark arts rituals seeking to increase his own power. Yet his crimes come to an end after being caught by the great Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his partner Dr. Watson (Jude Law). Holmes begins to slowly go a little crazy without a new case to solve in the months after capturing Lord Blackwood, yet after Blackwood is hanged and pronounced dead by Dr. Watson, he seems to have risen from the grave and started killing again. In order to stop Blackwood from killing more people and realizing a plot to destroy London, Holmes and Watson try to figure out Blackwood’s schemes through some serious detective work.

Guy Ritchie has done a masterful job of creating a really fun and inventive version of Victorian London, complete with some great action sequences and musical ques this has the feel of a really high budget Ritchie film showing that his style isn’t always compromised by the size of the budget. His slow motion fights and signature moves are all here, but there are some inventive new shots and camerawork to be had, along with some major effects scenes. The explosions on the pier in slow motion are incredibly well done, a great mix of effects work and practical filming.

But in spite of this great visual story comes a fairly mediocre plot. While the characters are genuinely funny and really entertaining to watch, you get whiffs of twists that should have been better constructed, set-ups that could have been better executed and mysteries more fit of a master detective. Rather than banking on a major twist at the end, Holmes does a fair job of setting up the ending with foreshadowing long before the end comes into play, but for whatever reason the turn at the end just comes across as unsatisfying. It doesn’t ruin the great ride that came before it, but there’s some small gap in the script something missing that could have propelled this movie from a fun ride into a great film.

Don’t get distracted though with the plot too much, because this really is the Robert Downey Jr. show with Guy Ritchie and Jude Law lending some good support. Downey Jr.’s comedic senses are so finely in tune for the movie in so many different ways it’s hard to appreciate on just one viewing. Between his great comedy sequences in some nice dialogue and banter with Law to his real understanding of the type of silent film comedy acting mastered by Chaplin in the dock fight scene, Downey Jr. is really the crux of the film and he pulls it off. Lesser actors would have played it up too much for comedy or taken him too seriously, but Downey Jr. brings the right balance and pulls a good movie in tow.

Underneath it all you have a solidly entertaining film that may not fully engage you in all the ways a great detective story should, but the dynamic between Law and Downey Jr. brings out great comedy and interaction which, put under Ritchie’s lens, is worth watching regardless of plot. What drew me further into the film is the gay readings of Downey Jr.’s and Law’s relationship which Downey Jr. perpetuated on late night talk shows when being baited into making some sort of lesser retort. It’s really their relationship that pulls the film together and their conflict that makes the film funny.

Holmes is the definition of a film that is fun to watch and enjoyable to see, even multiple times, but doesn’t require any sort of heavy lifting to get into. Instead its just a fun detective romp that’s exciting to watch but not that difficult to decipher. Hopefully the sequel will push it further.

Video

With a DVD transfer like this, the film’s 1.85:1 anamorphic aspect ratio doesn’t really help to accentuate the film’s fine points. The Victorian setting with all its dirtiness and dampness gets a little lost and muddled in the transfer of the film. Early on some of the black levels in the entry into Lord Blackwell’s chamber don’t translate too well from how they looked in theatres, bringing a lack of contrast and some indistinguishable silhouettes rather than the sort of crispness of color that I remembered from the theatres. Yet it’s still a serviceable showing of Ritchie’s fine directing and the great set design put together for the film.

Audio

However the English Dolby Digital 5.1 fares a bit better in the format, the movement and inventive soundtrack are all drawn through in the audio transfer. All of the levels turned out well as I would have expected, but the real treat of the soundtrack is the quirky, very Ritchie styled soundtrack that has a sort of gypsy punk/Victorian mystery feel that adds to the fun and whimsy of the film. Add in the ambient noises and the good dialogue by the cast and you have an effective audio presentation that manages to keep the movement and feel of the film without loosing portions like the visuals.
There’s also French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, along with English, French and Spanish Subtitles.

Extras

The only real special feature is a brief featurette called “Sherlock Holmes: Reinvented” runs for 14 minutes and 7 seconds. This is a very brief and moderately generic making-of featurette speaking with the main players in the film. Downey Jr. and Law talk about their characters and Ritchie talks about falling in love with Sherlock Holmes as a child as does everyone else. Everyone talks about reevaluating the stories of Sherlock Holmes, not as the duty posh man, but rather an adventurer in the mold of Guy Ritchie. There are some good behind-the-scenes shots showing some of the great looking visual effects, and talking with the actors about the scenes as you see them joking around behind-the-scenes. Not a bad featurette but as the only featurette it stands fairly bare and doesn’t quite hold up.

Bonus trailers are for:

- “Truth Anti-Smoking PSA” runs for 32 seconds.
- “Clash of the Titans” runs for 1 minute and 3 seconds.
- “Clint Eastwood Collection” runs for 2 minutes and 22 seconds.
- “Invictus” runs for 2 minutes and 25 seconds.
- “Guardians of Ga’hoole: The Videogame” runs for 1 minute and 3 seconds.
- “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy on Blu-Ray” runs for 2 minutes and 2 seconds.

Overall

This release stinks of an upcoming double-dip, I would just hold off until the next version comes out before the release of the inevitable sequel.

The Film: B Video: B- Audio: A- Extras: D- Overall: B-

 


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