A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 387 – Young Sherlock Holmes

Young Sherlock Holmes – March 22nd, 2011

When we bought this movie and put it on our list I was quite sure I’d seen it, so I marked it down as one I’d seen before and went on my merry way. We keep track of these things, you see, along with running time, subtitles and whether a movie is part of a series or theme (like Christmas or sharks – and now I want a Christmas shark movie). It helps to space things out so we don’t end up with only new things towards the end of the project when we might want or need something familiar and easy to watch and review. And really, I was certain I’d seen this. I could remember seeing it when I was young and having a bit of a crush on the actor who played Holmes. And then we started watching it and I was baffled. I could barely remember it at all.

Obviously, it’s been years since I last saw it. Or first saw it. I suspect it’s one and the same and I further suspect it was something I saw on television when the choice of channel was not mine to control, hence my patchy recollections. I remember Holmes’ mentor’s flying machine. I remember the fencing. And I remember the end quite clearly. But I think I was wrong in marking this as one I’d seen. It was mostly unfamiliar, even if I did figure out the end quite early on.

Not that this is a difficult story to follow, after all. I mean, yes, it is, from a certain perspective. If you’re looking for actual logic and realistic stories, this is the wrong movie. There’s a certain type of story that I expect from most Sherlock Holmes mysteries and it’s usually not quite so overblown as this one is. A hidden pyramid temple with an ancient Egyptian cult entombing live girls? It’s more than a bit larger than life, which means if you’re looking for a more down to earth explanation for the mysterious deaths then you’ll be disappointed. But if you can accept that it’s going to be ridiculous, then it’s not tricky. It’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be an outrageous mystery full of danger and peril and swordfighting that will pull in the audience and keep them entertained. And it is entertaining, ridiculous as it may be.

As I mentioned, the plot involves an ancient Egyptian cult and entombing live girls. And it’s all a vengeance thing, of course, with the villain vowing to replace the mummies of five Egyptian princesses that were taken from their tombs in an underground pyramid. Why does he do this by pre-wrapping live young women and then pouring boiling paraffin over them? Because he’s evil and bent on revenge, obviously, and his revenge doesn’t need to make sense! Now, were I the one exacting revenge (or writing the movie), I wouldn’t go killing the men I wanted to get revenge on and entombing random young women. I’d hunt down the daughters/nieces/wives of the men and go after them. But this movie doesn’t go into that sort of detail. It just has Holmes happen upon this mystery due to the involvement of his mentor, a retired schoolmaster who lives in the attic at his boarding school.

The biggest problem I have with the movie (leaving aside the love interest, jokes about Watson’s eating habits and the method of mummification) is that it’s uneven and paced oddly. The movie spends a good fifteen minutes or so having Holmes solve a minor mystery at the school, where his school rival hides a trophy and Holmes has to find it. And I get that it was an attempt to showcase the sort of deductions Holmes is so famous for. I get that as a movie about Holmes as a young man at school it makes sense to have him start small. But it has nothing at all to do with the main plot and only holds up the eventual big mystery (which ends up requiring very little in the way of the sort of deductions Holmes does in the little mystery). Holmes ends up expelled from school due to a trick played by his school rival and I’m honestly not sure what purpose that served other than giving him an excuse to spend more time up in his mentor’s attic. The drama at the school isn’t balanced at all with the larger story and just feels tossed in for no reason. Why not build up the eventual villains? Why not find a way to tie the school rival or his hidden trophy challenge into the larger plot? Oh well.

All that aside, the only other issue I’ve got is the narration. It’s performed well enough, with an adult Watson recounting the tale of how he met and befriended Sherlock Holmes, but it’s a bit of a blunt instrument when it comes to plot exposition. I don’t actually mind the love interest, especially given the ending. And I really do like this movie. It’s got flaws, yes. I just don’t care so much about them that they ruin my enjoyment of the movie. It’s fun. It’s got some nice little references to the canon material. It’s a romp. An uneven romp with some hilariously bad history on display, but a fun romp anyhow. And what more would you expect from a movie like this?

March 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Young Sherlock Holmes

March 22, 2011

Young Sherlock Holmes

I first watched this absurdly silly movie during a sleep-over at my friend Liz’s house. I don’t recall what the occasion was but there were a whole bunch of us there watching movies and cartoons and as I remember things none of us slept that night and I was dreadfully tired the next day. As such I have only the vaguest and most confused memories of this film. Still, after we watched and enjoyed the Guy Ritchie Holmes movie I felt there was room in our collection for another less traditional take on the Holmes mythos. Besides which I think we got this movie pretty inexpensively.

The action in this movie is bookended by blocks of text that stress that this movie is in no way directly adapted from any of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is simply inspired by his most famous characters (or at least their pop culture representations.) This movie purports to be good natured speculation about what would have happened if Watson and Homes had met in childhood. In other words it’s fan-fic. Not especially great fan-fic at that.

There is a lot of strangely lazy writing involved in this project. It’s not just the transparent attempts to get Holmes his iconic Basil Rathbone deerstalker cap and pipe or wedge in him saying “the game is afoot” or using a magnifying glass. It’s that Chris Columbus is simply a crappy screenwriter. Several times during this movie I had to laugh because there is voice over narration that tells us what Holmes is actively at that moment telling Watson. I realize that it’s an attempt to put the story in the first person and use the familiar voice of Watson as chronicler of all Holmes’ exploits, but it fails on so many levels. It takes you out of the action and breaks the flow of the movie. It also reminds me an awful lot of the narrator in my favorite MST3K episode – The Creeping Terror – who tells us what people are saying because the film makers were too cheap to add a voice track. So, yeah, this movie is laughable.

At the same time though it’s kind of fun. Like the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (also produced by Spielberg of course) it puts familiar characters together and gives them high spirited adventures. I almost wonder if this movie, like *Batteries Not Included, was originally intended to be an episode of Spielberg’s Amazing Stories TV anthology program and was expanded to feature length late in the project’s life. It has that sort of feel to it.

The plot of this movie is silly and cartoonish in an a very Amazing Stories way. Holmes and Watson, along with Holmes’ love interest Elizabeth (yes I found it disorienting that she was not Irene,) become embroiled in a plot by some Thugee cultists (um, I mean Egyption Ramotep cultists) to murder a few English businessmen and embalm some kidnapped girls alive. Oh, the notion of an exotic foreigner killing off British men who once adventured abroad feels entirely consistent with the Holmes cannon. It’s pretty much the exact plot of The Sign of the Four. It’s the gaudy extremes the plot goes to that make it seem over the top in this movie. Mostly I am amused by the giant wooden pyramid the Egyptian cultists have constructed inside an abandoned warehouse for the purposes of their ceremonies.

Much of this movie feels familiar to me and not, I think, in the way that the film makers intended it to be. Of course there are comparisons to be made to Harry Potter and Hogwarts – but that’s just because much of the action takes place in an English boarding school, and the familiar tropes of such an institution clearly inspired J.K. Rowling. It’s just an odd coincidence that the screenwriter from this movie would go on to adapt the first two Potter books for the big screen. I also felt at several points that I was watching Young Doctor Who because Nicholas Rowe had a very Fourth Doctor look to him with his lanky limbs, curly hair, large overcoat and lengthy scarf.

Even so I still enjoy this movie. It’s a swashbuckling tale of adventure set in Victorian England with a little detective work thrown in for good measure. It’s ludicrous and laughable and only vaguely related to the Holmes cannon, but it’s still fun. It has some interesting mid-eighties special effects including stop motion, CGI (produced by Pixar when they were a division of ILM no less) and puppetry. It has swordplay and general mayhem. It’s not great cinema, but it’s also not a complete waste of $7.99. Which is about what I think I paid for it.

March 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment