I saw the new Sherlock Holmes yesterday. On the whole, I think George caught the gist of it at his blog:
I’ve loved Sherlock Holmes stories since I was a kid. On summer vacation I had a big volume of all the Holmes stories and looked forward to long sessions immersed in the cerebral mysteries of seemingly supernatural murders that turned out to have rational explanations. But not every film adaptation has been satisfying. I didn’t (sorry, fans) like Basil Rathbone’s interpretation, nor the bumbling Watson of that series. I did enjoy Matt Frewer’s Holmes. But it’s perfectly acceptable for there to be different portrayals of a given fictional hero (Batman, or the new Star Trek movie for instance).
Victorian House: Sherlock Holmes
It wasn't Sherlock Holmes, not really. If you want to see a show that depicts the original Sherlock, I'd suggest the old BBC series with Jeremy Brett. Brett's Holmes was both cerebral and isolated from his fellow human beings. Unlike this new Sherlock Holmes, he isn't so much dismissive of other people, but just uncomfortable with and irritated by their slowness or lack of imagination. David Burke's Watson is a smart man who is unaccustomed to being intellectually at sea, not the bumbling assistant of some earlier interpretations.
I try to let a work stand on its own, although it's not entirely possible when viewing a new interpretation of an old favorite story or character. That certainly wasn't a problem here. Holmes and Dr. Watson, the more affable but slightly less imaginative assistant, have become prototypical characters, particularly for crime dramas. To name but a few, CSI, Bones, and Inspector Morse are all very similar in concept, with a socially awkward but brilliant investigator who has one or more trusty sidekicks. Even the The Inspector Lynley Mysteries is only a slight variation, in that Havers, not Lynley, is the more isolated personality. As George mentions, House, M.D. is also based on the Holmes/Watson relationship, right down to the phonetic similarity of the protagonists' names. Even Doctor Who emulates Holmes in a science fiction setting.
So in the case of Sherlock Holmes, it's not hard to accept the idea that this is a different character that is based on Sherlock Holmes. If someone were to write a modern comic book interpretation of Holmes, in the spirit of Road To Perdition, this is very much the result I'd expect.
It even has the look of a comic-book interpretation. The film is, naturally, set in Victorian London, but it is a Victorian London that is always dark, claustrophobic, gray, and dirty. That seems like a historically accurate interpretation given what I've read of the time, but it's also the design of the film. The heroes are a part of this environment, even though their own impulses are for order and clarity. I suspect you'll have to see the film to understand what I mean by that, but it's true.
Of course, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are terrific as Holmes and Watson. They might not have worked so well as the "real" Holmes and Watson, but they play these characters that are based on Holmes and Watson very well.
This is one of those rare movies I can recommend seeing, despite its tendencies toward mindless action and explosions. There is plenty of plot, and there's enough of Sherlock Holmes in this Sherlock Holmes to make it enjoyable.
UPDATE: Dana Hunter has some interesting observations about the various characters in the movie at her blog.