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Monday, January 11, 2010

Holmes and Gardens

[Minor Sherlock Holmes spoilers ahead]

Okay, I saw Sherlock Holmes a couple weeks ago and for the most part I liked it. Now, I am a serious Holmes nerd and had correspondingly serious trepidations about this flick because the trailers showed such things as Watson punching Holmes innaface, Holmes chained to a bed naked, Holmes flinging a hammer at a mook, etc. This images really made me concerned about how true the movie would be to the stories.

I have to say it was more faithful than I anticipated with one major exception: Sherlock Holmes naked is just wrong. Sorry, ladies (and some guys).

My biggest beef, though, with the movie is the plot. It suffers from the 'Turn it up to eleven' syndrome; that is, the writers and director think the only way to make us care is to put ALL OF LONDON (AND MAYBE THE WORLD) in peril.

I first came to articulate this syndrome after seeing the first Hellboy movie. I hadn't read much Hellboy, but my two favorite stories are the one in which HB has to bargain with the fair folk for the life of a baby and the one in which HB has to slay a nest of vampires at Christmas to save the soul of an old woman. And when I saw the movie, I compared these stories and I realized that damn near every superhero or video game movie does this: the makers have the plot be some variation on SAVING THE WORLD.

Boy, does it get dull.

The movies that do this make, I think, two opposing, yet complementary, mistakes:
1) The characters are altered to make them more relatable to the masses. And
2) The plots are engineered to appeal to fanboys.

What if you reversed that, if you make the characters as close as possible to the ones the fans love and place these characters in a situation that everyone can relate to? Then you get The Dark Knight or Iron Man or Spider-Man 2. If you go the other way you get Tomb Raider or Constantine.

Let's look at Hellboy. What if the first movie had been about HB journeying into Faerie to look for, say, a stolen baby? We could still have seen many of the same elements the actual film had. We could still have had Myers, the rookie agent assigned as HB's keeper. Maybe at some point he says "Why are we going to so much trouble to find this kid? Is he important, somehow?" And then HB turns to Myers, closes in, squints, and replies in Ron Perlman's rumble, "He is to his parents." Who wouldn't be in the big red guy's corner right then? Then, we follow as HB and co. go save a baby. We could even still get the giant clockwork deathtraps, the evil puppets, the fighty-fighty, Jeffrey Tambor, etc. It may not be perfect, but I think more people would have been behind this movie--and it was still pretty darn good.

Back to Sherlock Holmes. The most famous Holmes story is probably Hound of the Baskervilles and it's about Holmes and Watson protecting some schmuck. Sure, Holmes is frequently hired by Scotland Yard or the Crown, but just as often he's engaged by a puzzled or frightened private citizen who comes to him for help. And he does (usually). And I think that's what we need to see in a Sherlock Holmes movie: Holmes helping people.

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