Thursday, August 4, 2011

[review] Masterpiece Mystery! : Sherlock

(Apparently the exclamation mark is required in the title.)

A Study in Scarlet is the first story/novella describing the meeting and beginning friendship between John Watson, a medical doctor invalided out of the British Army occupying Afghanistan, and Sherlock Holmes, an independent investigator and master of deductive logic. The stories are all written in the first person voice of Dr. Watson. I've read a few of the short stories and the longer Hound of the Baskervilles, and do not claim to be a fan of Doyle who goes off the deep end because of some bit of minutia. E.g., Holmes gets his nicotine from patches, since as he puts it, it's impossible to sustain a smoking habit in London these days.

A Study in Pink is the first episode of the 21st Century re-make. Not being a rabid fan, I can't tell you if the other 2 are directly based upon Doyle's works. A comment, though: I read Study in Scarlet after watching the show, wondering how this back-story of Watson matched up to Doyle, or if it was just a dramatic license to make it appeal to a 'modern' audience. Oh, the irony of history re-written upon modern flesh.

The most remarkable two points are the script and Martin Freeman. The script is sharp, witty, fairly representative of the characters from the books, and fairly non-stop with the only pauses for a breath being the (unfortunately repetitive, but at least infrequent) cuts of Our Heroes in a London taxi en route to something.

Martin Freeman, aka Dr. John Watson, is absolutely stellar. Subtle is the only succinct adjective I can provide for Freeman: not too much, not to little, perfectly aligned with the script. Rarely am I so impressed with an actor's work at first view. Given this fact, I am perhaps doubly looking forward to The Hobbit. This Watson is a 40-ish ordinary man, nothing physically remarkable, with a strong sense of the value of human life and curiosity. I can't imagine Holmes keeping an inept companion, so seeing a competent and active participant in the investigation is pleasant; I wouldn't have been able to take a bumbling doctor. He is still writing their stories, only today it's in a blog rather than the magazines Doyle used.

Holmes is, as always, an excessively arrogant and obsessively objective man, though Cumberbatch is an unexpected choice for his age; Mr.Gopher & I both had an image of a more mature man. He pulls off an elegant Holmes, always well-tailored, and smooth, but physically and verbally, but I still think he should have looked older. Rather like DI Lestrade (Rupert Graves), who looks like a senior detective inspector for Scotland Yard. Well, he totally pulls of an arrogant SOB, too, who nevertheless grows to rely upon the participation of his friend. He comes across as the primary hero, which is how he's written by Doyle's doctor.

The adaptation of things for the modern life are amusing at times: texting is sort-of like telegrams. And, for mild humor, the initial episode finds Watson confronting modern assumptions of why two men are living together when initially meeting their landlady.

Watson is a far more approachable character, either in the books or this film, finding our sympathy for putting up with a pain-in-the-ass colleague, balancing Holmes' absolute objectivity with emotional perception. As Doyle's Holmes states, "You see, but you do not observe"; Watson could return "you observe, but you do not feel".

As I haven't read everything Doyle wrote, I don't know if episode 2 or 3 is from original material. The plots are interesting. Other characters are introduced to some degree. If you know in which story Holmes first runs into Moriarity, I would like to know.

My only significant complaint is one element of an otherwise perfectly fine filming style. I notice most often in made-for-TV shows an over-use of the "Hey, This Is Significant" shot. There's a fight in an apartment, the dining room table gets scratched by the villain's weapon, Watson comes home, notices the table is scratched, gets annoyed at the disregard for the furniture, meanwhile being ignorant of Holmes nearly getting decapitated. I really don't need a close-up of the weapon making the scratch. In a show which should appeal to an educated audience, the patronizing use of these shots is just annoying. Again, luckily they're infrequent - it's just extremely annoying.

Overall, they're wonderful. Carefully considered modernization, good cast, great script-writing. And since I could watch it on Netflix, great price.

Gopher Rating: Worth paying for.
hmmm. I don't have a rating scale for TV shows, so "See it on the big screen" isn't really an option. I'll have to come up with one. Everything boils down to money, though: either its worth paying for or it isn't; either it's worth an hour or two of your life or it isn't.

post script
Everyone in the world seems to want to make movie versions of Sir A.C. Doyle's master detective. Netflix isn't streaming the 1930s versions w/ Basil Rathbone, so I can't compare them, since I think I saw one of them on Channel 9's Saturday Afternoon B&W Matinee on LBI 25 years ago. The Downey/Law version that came out in 2009 looked like a souped-up action-adventure movie with the same names. Robert Downey is awesome when his game is on, but the preview left the impression of what would happen with Tony Stark playing Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps unfair, but the trailer is what's supposed to entice me. As I write this, I pause and search for a trailer for the TV show ... well, perhaps that wouldn't have enticed me, either.

by the way:
Who assigns idiots to making movie trailers? The worst EVER was for Terminator 4.


Anonymous said...

Since we talked on Thursday, I've thought that maybe this series has 6 episodes, not just the first 3. IMDb will know for sure, and of course, I didn't check there before writing this comment. I plan to join Netflix once I'm employed....

Gopher MPH said...

IMDb indicates a 2nd season is in the offering. However, since The Hobbit is still in principal photography, I assume season 2 will be a while off, since Freeman is playing Bilbo Baggins. Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug at least shouldn't impede principal photography, although it would suck up time in the 2nd series putting the fx together with the voice track.

Can't wait for that, either. Perhaps I should ask my brother if it looks like a great movie, outside of his own pieces.