Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Return to Sherlock Holmes

Let me make one thing clear before I begin: I find the new Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downy Jr. (Holmes) and Jude Law (Dr. Watson) to be utterly entertaining and well made.  There are weak points as there are in a vast majority of films, but these do not deter my fondness for the movies.  That being said, I shall now unload some new thoughts and criticisms:

A word of advice: if you go see a movie and enjoy it and later find out it was first a book, don't read the book.  Usually I am a proponent of reading, especially in reading of quality literature, and specifically in the reading of books that the literary world labels as "classic."  I, of course, knew of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but I had not read them.  In fact, I waited until after I had seen the two new movies based off of his characters and after I received a Kindle on which I could download the books for free to begin reading them.  In doing so I have only reaffirmed my stance on reading a book after one has seen the movie: it is simply a terrible idea.

Let me clarify: reading the Sherlock Holmes adventures have not in any way made me less of a fan of the new movies.  In the same way, the movies do not (at least in my mind) hinder my ability to enjoy the literary stories.  In truth, I find them both enjoyable; which is something I can say about VERY few movies based off of books that I have read.  This is perhaps helped by the fact that the movies, to my knowledge, are not based of particular stories written by the original author but rather on his characters and their characteristics.  Some people, known as Sherlock Holmes purists, find this rather distasteful and either will not see the movies or see them and hate them because they do not follow the characterizations as they are presented in the stories.

It is this that I want to make note of and share with my small, limited audience.  I can certainly understand where these so-called purists are coming from.  As I read the stories, I find myself criticizing some decisions made by the movie makers and comparing the characters in the movie with those in the book.  The major criticism I have is not as much aimed at movie makers, but instead upon the culture that watches movies and dictates what kind of story is to be filmed (I myself am among the indicted): Only in a culture that lacks a high aptitude for critical thought and high intelligence can the transformation of a rather simple yet eccentric genius detective into a eccentric genius action hero detective.  Some of the most entertaining scenes in the new movies are the ones where the action slows as Sherlock Holmes anticipates and plans his sequence of punches and other fighting moves right before they film it in real time and the audience is left in amazement how he was able to predict exactly what would happen.  As far as I have read in the book, however, no such scenes take place nor have they come close to the level that they appear in the movies.  The closest an altercation comes to in the stories thus far is when Holmes knocks a criminal's pistol out of his hand with a riding crop.  In books, Holmes is much more of an intellectual detective that relies solely on his wits than on his wits and brawn as he is portrayed in the movies.

My next point is not so much a criticism as it is an observation.  For those of you who have not read Sherlock Holmes, you may not be aware that it is written from the perspective of Dr. Watson.  When you begin to read through the stories, you find that Watson has nothing but praise for Holmes and is anxious to accompany him on his cases and never stops lauding him for his genius wit.  In the movies, Watson is portrayed as a man with a strong desire to leave the world of Sherlock Holmes behind him and is often found cursing him or making jokes at his expense while all the time exhibiting extreme annoyance towards him.  Since the movies are more action-adventure themed than the adventures in the book, the character of Watson needed to change.  A Watson who answers Holmes' every call without question has not place in the new films as their bickering relationship is a major theme in the plot.  What I have found, though, is that both characterizations of Watson are perfect for their intended purpose and I cannot say that I like one better than the other because neither one belongs in the other's stories.

As mentioned at the beginning, I do enjoy the movies a great deal; but if I could do it all over I would have read the books first.  Not because the books are better or worse or that they would have made me enjoy the movie more, but because I would not have felt the need to spend a good 30 minutes of my time writing about it and could have included it in my reviews of the movies when I first saw them.

1 comment:

  1. You make good observations about the difference between the prose and the films. My advice to you is to continue reading the stories--there's some great stuff there--and then check out TV shows. Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes is very well-regarded, and there's a recent BBC One show called Sherlock that is a modernizing of the Holmes mythos. It's been very well-received.