Having only been exposed to Guy Ritchie’s directorial talent through his movie RocknRolla with Gerard Butler, I was certain that his style would be far too askew to adapt for the most legendary fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. My expectations were mostly right; it was very askew. However, instead of becoming an alienating aspect, it was a very welcoming and refreshing take for the period. Most people describe his style as adding a “steampunk” element to Holmes, but you never quite get that. I suppose it could be related in the sense that steampunk really is about showing off the elegance held within a complex system of seemingly unrelated parts that create a beautiful web of twists and turns that leaves you in a sense of inspired awe. That’s about as far as it goes, though. You certainly won’t find Mr. Holmes using some modern gadget re-inspired into a clunky looking contraption, as is the most common use of the steampunk ideal.
The game is afoot – and astounding! Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law put memorable imprints on the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a bold reimagining that makes the famed sleuth a daring man of action as well as a peerless man of intellect. Guy Ritchie directs this dazzling adventure.
Between the writing and directing, you find yourself immersed quite intensely into the mystery, to a depth in which you’ll most likely not be expecting. It’s seemingly simple in its setup, and even the start of the movie attempts to persuade you into thinking that you can predict the pace. However, once we meet Holmes’ feminine foil the movie starts to flex its ability to hide things from you in plain sight. It seems that director Ritchie certainly knew that we would attempt to be following along and catching things before their reveals, so every twist becomes more clever and unexpected as the film progresses. At times, this almost seems as though it’s about to backfire as the movie suddenly feels like the pacing has come to an abrupt and unwelcome stop. Admittedly, there are a couple times that this happens when it really does work against the movie, as I began to feel that it had finally lost its ability to remain fresh. Fortunately, though, it’s not frequent, and redemption is never far behind.
Of course, the clever writing or inspired directing wouldn’t be anything if the cast couldn’t pull off their roles well enough to keep things into a coherent perspective, even at the times in which they feel the most estranged. Robert Downey, Jr. was undoubtedly the main draw with his unwavering wit and crisp delivery of dialogue, and is a continued delight to any Downey, Jr. fan. Early into the movie we’re teased slightly as we’re given unsure evidence as to whether or not Ritchie will truly have Downey flex his cerebral muscle as Holmes’ involvement is downplayed to nearly being a complete bystander, but after some proper build up we’re finally introduced to the full blade of his rapier wit. His partners in crime, or rather anti-crime, Jude Law and Rachel McAdams aren’t to be left in mere afterthought, however, as their performances are certainly just as noteworthy with only the style in which they deliver them to be the difference. Jude Law is inarguably enjoyable as the silent but steady Dr. Watson, providing a more logical foundation to Holmes’ theoretical leaps. When I first heard of the casting I thought the film might suffer due to the back-seating of the actual Britain in favor of the American Downey, Jr. to play the lead, but never once did that feeling become perpetuated during the movie. The pair conveys an awkward chemistry that works without flaws, and never once do you grow bored with seeing them play off of one another.
Rachel McAdams’ eventual expanded involvement brings the group into an unlikely, but highly enjoyable trio, yet throughout she continues to pop in and out of the movie at times that can only be described as appropriate. She, like Law, also has some very pleasing chemistry with Downey, and never feels shoved into a scene to simply fulfill a token female role, nor to needlessly enhance the sexiness of the movie. Rounding out the cast with the last most prominent role is our cunning villain, Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong. Despite having seen RocknRolla, and Stardust, and a couple of his other previous movies, I really hadn’t remembered him very well. So, I had a bit of a concern that his villainous role would simply fall flat, and would be the weakest part of the movie, but I was found wrong. His role has some of the strongest material throughout the movie with clever mystery, and never coming across as contrived throughout his evil plan, and he brings this character to life in a way that makes you like the bad guy. I may not have remembered him well from other movies, but this performance will certainly stand out for a long time coming.
The story itself is full of twists, and turns, and clues in which it’s best for the viewer to remember. However, you’re not simply left sitting there and left to your own accord to remember a few seconds of dialogue; you become enamored with the way they explore scenes, and clues, and fully envelop your fascination with each one. This leaves a lasting impression each time and you never feel left behind. The story starting off with Holmes no longer working had me very worried for a bit that there would be unwelcome inflation of token drama to provoke him into applying his keen intellect and detective skills once more. Of course, it was highly surprising that the villain didn’t turn out to be Holmes’ most notorious foil, Moriarty. I’m not much of a Holmes follower, or connoisseur, or aficionado, but chances are that if you know of Holmes then you know of Moriarty. At the very least, however, the movie gives us plenty of hints that we do have his devious presence to look forward to, and he is wonderfully alluded to in seemingly inconsequential scenes.
Overall, I Highly Recommend picking up this movie. The wonderfully done styling of the time period surprisingly manages to enhance not only the mysterious flair of scenes, but also the chemistry between each actor as they never fail in their flexing their brilliant skills. The comedic element that was present throughout the trailers had noticeably made people nervous, as their reactions suggested, but fortunately it is never used in a manner that becomes dangerously close of being present for cheap laughs. The humor is just as cleverly written as the rest of the movie’s elements, which all come together to make, arguably, one of the top greatest films to be released in 2009.
Warner brings Sherlock Holmes to Blu-ray in a standard two-disc Elite Blu-ray case with a high-gloss slipcover to help it stand out on the shelves. Of course there’s a sticker on the front to designate that it includes a DVD and Digital Copy in addition to the Blu-ray, so that will probably help move more than a few copies regardless. Though I’ve yet to personally make use of these combo packs, they’re still a nice bonus for those not yet ready to adopt the Blu-ray format fully. Nothing else about this set stands out, as the inserts inside are just firmware upgrade notices and redemption codes.
Video arrives in a VC-1 encoded transfer and, as per usual with Guy Ritchie productions, it looks fantastic. There is a decidedly great deal more grime and muck on the picture (obviously on purpose) and with the film being a rather dank and dark production altogether, the transfer doesn’t exactly fill the screen with life and color. The color palette is largely muted and unspoken, but whenever the film does speak up to make itself known (such as whenever McAdams character pops on screen in some kind of vibrant dress) it does such with great success. Despite the laid back color palette, however, the video still boasts an incredible amount of detail. While I was disappointed when I went to the theaters that this was a 1.85:1 film, on the home video format it works out much nicer since it floods nearly every inch of your screen with detail that you can just gawk and gaze at.
Audio is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 powerhouse. Yes, I overuse that term but Holmes earns it with ease—the surrounds kick up at every fight and the subwoofer never seems to sleep for more than a few minutes. Every punch, every weapon drawn, every explosion…they all resonate in the room with a resounding thud into ones chest and anytime the film has to stop and catch a breath with a flood of dialogue, the soundtrack is there to pick it up as well. Some of the rapid speech, a staple in Ritchie films, can be a bit difficult to understand completely, but that’s an issue with the original source audio, not the mix here. Although it’s not even really a source issue—the accents are just so thick and delivered with such gusto that it can be difficult to hear solely because of those reasons.
Extras don’t exactly bedazzle the viewer from the start, but once you realize that there’s quite a bit of footage packed into the Maximum Movie Mode bit then it’s a lot more exciting. The full list of extras:
Maximum Movie Mode (2:11:42, HD)
Focus Points (31:17, HD)
Sherlock Holmes: Reinvented (14:06, HD)
Anyone who has seen the Movie Mode bits on previous Warner titles know that the director isn’t ever-present; it tends to taper off in segments and as you can see from the runtime it doesn’t differ much from the actual runtime of the film itself (2:08:24), but Ritchie only pauses the film a few times so there’s no real cause for the runtime to be that much longer. It’s really a neat piece and I’m quite impressed with them whenever Warner tosses one of these onto a film, so it’s nice that the tradition is kept up for their big blockbuster style films. The “Focus Points” are merely the behind-the-scenes clips from the Movie Mode in case you don’t want to sit through it all (although please do—if you enjoyed the film or are a fan of Ritchie, you’ll be interested to see how he presents the behind-the-scenes clips and other additional insight into the film). The final extra is the “Reinvented” piece is which is a bit EPK-y in nature, but still worth checking out since it features cast and crew interviews.
Overall Sherlock Holmes isn’t your normal “blockbuster” in any real sense, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun and this Blu-ray portrays that more than well enough. The A/V transfer especially is a blast to watch and listen to—and having the surround system at full blast to listen to that end credits score pound out from the speakers is quite an enjoyable aural experience indeed. Highly Recommended.
Sherlock Holmes arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on March 30th.
Movie review by Andrew
Blu-ray review by Zach Demeter