Review for Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - 2 Film Collection
There are a couple of reasons that I avoided the recent Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson. The first was the name of the director, Guy Ritchie. At that point, I only knew him from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch, and I wasn’t in the mood to watch a badass cockney reimagining of the fictional detective. Oh, that and Swept Away, but the less said about that the better. Then I watched The Man From U.N.C.L.E, and I realised that Guy Ritchie can do stylish, and period without badass cockneys.
The second, more significant reason is the BBC’s Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, reinventing the iconic characters in a contemporary setting. I love that show, which despite its modern take on the stories, and the one-time only event feel to the episodes, quickly became the definitive version for me. With Sherlock on our screens from 2010, I felt no urge to go back and check out the 2009 movie or its 2011 sequel, let alone give Jonny Lee Miller’s Elementary series from 2012 a try. But, we haven’t had Sherlock on TV for a couple of years now, and I was beginning to feel a lack of deductive reasoning in my life. It was time to give Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes a chance...
You get the two BD Amaray cases of the individual releases, collected in a thin card slipcase. This is a Triple Play release, containing the films on BD and DVD, and probably extinct UV codes at this point.
Introduction: Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson are coming to a parting of the ways so to speak. Watson is contemplating marriage and is moving out from 221B Baker Street. Holmes and Watson have conducted their final case together, and put paid to the schemes of the nefarious Lord Blackwood, practitioner of black magic, and murderer of five women in brutal sacrifices. All that is left is to witness the execution, even if Blackwood’s final message to Holmes is ominous.
After Watson certifies the death, it seems the case is done, but then Blackwood’s tomb is broken, from the inside. It seems Blackwood has returned from the dead to resume his dark purpose, and soon the whole of Britain is caught in the grip of fear.
Picture: Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and it’s fair enough. It’s a digitally shot film, and that is telling in how it handles blacks, especially in costumes and darker scenes. Given that a lot of sleuthing in Victorian London tends to take place at night, or in sewers, and the standard dress of the day tends to black, this is a seriously crushed film, and the lack of detail at times can be frustrating. In brighter scenes, lit well or given sufficient contrast, Sherlock Holmes looks astounding, making much of the film’s production and costume design, making Victorian London feel alive and contemporary, rather than something lifted from the pages of a history book. London looks pretty good too, a mix of live action and dressed locations, green-screen and CGI, with the seams rarely showing.
Sound: Sherlock Holmes
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, DD 5.1 Surround English Audio Descriptive, French, Italian, German and Spanish, with subtitles in these languages and Portuguese, Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, and Norwegian. When it comes to action, effects and music, there is some really effective sound design exhibited here. However the dialogue is just a smidge low in the mix, requiring you to ride the remote while watching. I certainly appreciated the film’s score, which has a period feel to it that sounds authentic, while providing the emotional beats and action tempo that modern cinema audiences expect.
Extras: Sherlock Holmes
The disc boots to a static menu.
The big extra here is the Maximum Movie Mode, which allows you to watch the film with Guy Ritchie popping up now and again to talk the viewer through the making of the film, pausing playback when required. The film will shrink into the corner of the screen when this happens. Also during the film, pop-ups of storyboards and other imagery will appear as well as picture in picture contributions from the creators. The latter requires you to enable secondary audio in your player. The whole thing runs 131:41, a few minutes longer than the actual film.
If you don’t want to watch the Focus Points in the Maximum Movie Mode, you can watch them separately instead, eight small featurettes that go behind the making of the film, which last 31:17 in total.
Finally there is a brief making of featurette, Behind the Story – Sherlock Holmes: Reinvented which lasts 14:06.
Conclusion: Sherlock Holmes
It is hard not to compare this film to the Cumberbatch series, even if the two are set in completely different time periods, as both reinvent the characters to appeal to modern audience sensibilities. Guy Ritchie’s take on Sherlock Holmes re-imagines him as an action movie star, which works as he doesn’t lose the things that make Sherlock Holmes the quintessential detective, his genius at investigation and deduction, as well as his many bohemian idiosyncrasies. He quite rightly reasons that any detective worth his salt would have to bruise his knuckles once or twice in his line of work. He also determines that the bumbling foil of Dr. Watson really doesn’t work when you think about it. A doctor, a military veteran, he needs to be competent and intelligent, Sherlock’s intellectual equal, and able to balance his shortcomings.
I certainly like the takes on the characters, as both are presented as flawed and quirky, the addict and the gambler, the wiry terrier and the bulldog. The story too is an interesting one, ripe for the setting, the clash of rationality and reason with the last vestiges of superstition and magic, wrapped up with a world of Empire and shadow groups like the Illuminati. This makes for a fast paced action adventure with lots of exciting stunts and set pieces, while holding onto the central premise of a compelling mystery and the necessary processes required to get to the bottom of it. The film uses an excellent visual technique to show Sherlock Holmes’s observation and planning, thought processes which work with a hint of bullet time on film, which presage Sherlock’s ‘Mind Palace’ from the TV series one year later.
There are problems with the film, one is the pace is frantic enough and the ambient noise is such that it’s easy to lose the process of deduction in the background; important plot points can be lost in a mumble, and this is a film that seems more devoted to the aesthetic than the narrative. The second, and more telling problem for me is that it’s a period film that relies on anachronism for its plot to work. Someone invents something a few years too early, and it turns it into a great big deus ex machina. There are stories where you get nuclear bombs in the twenties, lasers in the forties, airplanes in the nineteenth century, and Sherlock Holmes is no exception in this regard.
Still, if you don’t devote your intellect to the plot too much, and instead just drink in the period feel, and revel in the characters, then there is much to like about Sherlock Holmes, and it’s a solid piece of entertainment.
Introduction: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
The day for Dr. John Watson’s marriage has finally arrived, and naturally you’d expect his closest friend Sherlock Holmes to take care of the bachelor party. But Holmes has ulterior motives. A series of terrorist attacks across Europe is destabilising the continent, and the one lead that Sherlock has is a letter to a gypsy woman named Simza, a woman who works telling fortunes at the club where Watson’s stag party is meant to be. But Holmes winds up meddling in the affairs of James Moriarty once too often, and the arch-criminal swears to inflict pain on all Sherlock holds dear.
Picture: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
You get a 2.40:1 widescreen transfer here, and it is an immediate improvement over the first film. The image is clear and sharp, with strong, consistent colours, and the film makes great use of slow motion (Holmesavision) to tell its story in an inventive and quirky way. The improvement comes in the area of blacks, contrast, and dark detail, where it is a far more agreeable viewing experience. It still has that processed almost sterile look of digital photography, where every frame has been tweaked, and colour graded to within an inch of its life, but the movie no longer has that flat look that the first film had.
Sound: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, and DD 5.1 Surround English audio descriptive, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Polish, and Turkish, with subtitles in these languages, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish. The film gets a robust, active surround track that really makes the most of the film’s action and music, while keeping the dialogue clear and audible throughout. The balance is slightly better, but in terms of the soundtrack and immersing the viewer in the midst of the explosions and mayhem, it’s on a par with the first film.
Extras: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
You can tell it’s a Java encoded disc by how long the damned thing takes to load. It’s long enough for me to be tempted to watch the DVD instead. The Blu-ray eventually autoplays a trailer for New Year’s Eve before booting to a static menu. There is a BD Live option on the disc.
As with the first film, you get a Maximum Movie Mode, this time presented by Robert Downey Jr. You get commentary, stills, behind the scenes footage and more. Once again, you’ll need to have secondary audio enabled.
There are seven Focus Points this time, running to a total of 34:51, once again offering behind the scenes featurettes for the film.
Finally there is the Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Movie App feature, something I have no intention of ever using.
Conclusion: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
My problem with the first film was that it told an engaging Victorian era story, and then at the end threw everything off by an anachronistic plot twist. A Game of Shadows on the other hand dices with anachronism throughout. It’s set in 1891, and has our heroes driving a motor car (invented 1885), our villain listening to a record player (invented in 1887), a little bit of electricity here and there, and arguably it’s a better film as a result. It sets up audience expectations for the utterly anachronistic climax to the film, which doesn’t feel as out of place as a result.
Another thing that helps is that there is less need for character development to ease audiences into the film. The relationship between Holmes and Watson was established in the first film so this film kicks off on all cylinders from the first frame. The delightful light-hearted, antagonistic affection between the pair is evident from the beginning, so the pace of the film never really has to pick up speed; it’s already there.
The film once again delivers Holmes as the action hero, and there is plenty of inventive choreography and exciting stunt work to appreciate here. This film’s trump card is that the villain is none other than Moriarty, Holmes’ arch-nemesis. Jared Harris plays the role, and he creates a very appealing academic sociopath, a man who sees humanity as the denizens of an anthill and his prerogative to kick the hill open. The story itself is quite plausible, with Moriarty as something of a venture capitalist/arms dealer fomenting fear and distrust between European nations, planning to profit from wars, and the bigger the wars, the bigger the profit. Once again, it’s a little bit of anachronism, presaging events that would actually occur thirty years hence, but as I said, the way the sequel develops never makes the ending feel as out of place as it did in the first film.
The Sherlock Holmes movies turned out to be fun and entertaining, although not exactly too taxing on the old intellect, which some might consider a downside in detective fiction. However, these films make up for it in terms of setting, characters, and action. These are visual spectacles first and foremost, and it really doesn’t matter that Sherlock isn’t too pressed in his investigations. As a result, it does mean that Lestrade is a dolt of Clouseau proportions, if only to make Holmes look good. But, period action adventures don’t come along too often, and these two films are at least better than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull!