A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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March 22, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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