Holmesick

Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES may be one of the few films to contain a spelling mistake in its title shot — not counting deliberate mistakes like BIUTIFUL or PET SEMATARY.

The title manifests itself from a news headline, but we can still read the lettering around it — SHERLOCK HOLMES AIDES POLICE. Maybe Ritchie thinks that an extra E will give things an Olde Worlde quality. He should’ve called his film SHERLOCKE HOLMESE. Or maybe he was terrified of having the word AIDS anywhere near his title. Can I suggest a few synonyms, such as HELPS or ASSISTS?

I’m stunned to think of how many hands and eyes this sequence must have passed through without, apparently, anybody taking any interest in it. A later newspaper blunder, showing a photo of Holmes on a newspaper in a period when newspapers could not print photos, is piddling compared to this.

The film itself? About what you’d expect from a movie that dumbs down Holmes to make a kick-boxing action hero out of him. Downey, with a rather uneven Noel Coward impersonation, is amusing. Jude Law plays Watson as a cockney. Mark Strong is authoritative as a baddie, Rachel McAdams is, as ever, like a thin translucent film dropping before your eyes and obscuring your view of the production design. She uses her eyes very well, in one shot: so there’s hope. Elsewhere, she extends the corners of her mouth as if trying to make them meet at the back of her neck, detaching her cranium. Her character is a sufficiently obscure Holmesian figure to make one suspect that one of the huddle of writers actually read some Doyle, but there’s always Wikipedia, so probably not.

The weirdest directorial touch concerns the early fight scenes — Ritchie, always a fan of messing with camera speeds, presents these partly in ultra slo-mo, with a Holmes VO that shows him analysing each punch and assessing the strategic damage it will inflict. Ritchie uses CGI to enhance the impact of each wallop, so we get rippling flesh effects impossible to achieve normally without actually injuring an actor. It’s reasonably impressive, and does at least attempt to address the mismatch between Holmes’s famed intellectual prowess and his status in this movie as an action hero. But after showing this, Ritchie then proceeds to show the entire fight AGAIN, at normal speed, without the VO. How he could ever have imagined this would be anything other than ludicrously redundant is impossible to conceive.

Bernard Hill turns up as a river rat, and looks like he might be about to say something entertaining, but nobody’s thought to write anything.

Me: “It’s a long way down from Captain of the Titanic.”

Fiona: “Wasn’t he in LORD OF THE RINGS too?”

Me: “Yes. As a king. And look at him now.”

Also letting herself go is Bronagh Gallagher, dragged up as a gypsy fortune teller with a small moustache. Good to see her. I’ve liked her ever since THE COMMITMENTS, and always found her oddly attractive, even though her head is the shape of a claw hammer.

Two things I have to say in the name of fairness: the production design (Sarah Greenwood), costumes (Jenny Beavan) and cinematography (Philippe Rousellot) are fabulous, conjuring a detailed, idiosyncratic, dramatic and grungy Victorian London. And Ritchie reportedly won the respect of the whole crew by shepherding the production through while amid a veritable media shitstorm over his divorce from some singer. OK, three things: he shoots action sequences that you can actually follow.

Unfortunately, the climax involves everybody climbing to the top of the Tower Bridge (under construction) for no reason, and concludes by having all the major resolutions occur by coincidence: falling objects defeat bad guys, fortuitous ledges save falling heroines… Might as well just have God swing down on a rope and shove a lightning bolt through the villain. A shame, because star charisma, busy plotting, cool design and frenetic punching might otherwise have seen the movie through, on its own dumbe termes.

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31 Responses to “Holmesick”

  1. I saw it last year, went it with lowered exceptions and as such liked it as a guilty pleasure. It’s Ritchie’s best film(not that that means much). It has nothing to do with Holmes and Watson of Conan Doyle and the villain of this movie is a total bore. The production design is neat I suppose but it has absolutely nothing on Billy Wilder’s film.

  2. I seem to remember the opening titles for Danny Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary spelt the name of the production company incorrectly.

  3. Wow – the passion’s to the fore (foree?) in that review! Thank you very much for sitting through it to remind me I don’t want to. A fresh take on Holmes is all well and good, but how many chances can we give this industry?

  4. I’m afraid, even for the sake of giving me something to moan about, I couldn’t bear the thought of this one. I’m glad I didn’t come over all optimistic and and go against my instincts … even for Ms McAdams’ cranium tricke and the lady with the clawe-hammere heade. Okay, enough with the adding ‘e’ already!

  5. As others have said, it has almost nothing to do with the Holmes of the books, but on its own termes (heh) it does do enough right that it’s enjoyable, in a light and forgettable way. Downey’s certainly a blast to watch.

    Have you seen the new BBC miniseries? It does a much better job of modernizing Holmes, remaining true to the characters while bringing them into the present day. Which, I know, sounds like a terrible idea and I never would’ve believed it would work, but it really does. The first episode is by far the best out of the three they’ve made so far, but it’s all pretty good and fun, and much, much wittier than Ritchie’s punchy version.

  6. Yes, I liked the BBC version, Mark Gatiss’s best work to date, amd reliably good stuff from Moffat. Sometimes you can outguess Holmes as to the plot, which ought to be disastrous, but it comes across more as a minor niggle.

    The overall plot of the Ritchie is… not that bad. Maybe because I had no faith in the filmmaker, I believed that they were going to do some stupid things, and thus they were able to fool me when it turned out they were only pretending to do them. It’s just the long, woolly ending that hurts it in story terms. They’d probably have been better off leaving Moriarty for the next one.

    Heaven’s Gate has opening titles which misspell the name of ace producer Denis O’Dell. According to Steven Bach’s book, Cimino the arch-perfectionist REFUSED to correct the spelling!

  7. I walked out after about 20 minutes.

  8. David Boxwell Says:

    Rich lads wif dyslexia what ‘ave been to toff schools deserve a bit more respect outta buncha tossahs what sit about and criticize bloody effing brilliant auteurs, OK?!

  9. I’m afraid I enjoyed it… costumes v good and my friend a big robert d jr fan v pleased that there was a semi nude scene!

  10. Usually when the director can’t spell, somebody steps into the breach and fixes things up for him. Tarantino can’t spell for shit but I haven’t noticed any glaring errors… oh, apart from the title of his last one.

    One producer on Natural Born Killers rather wickedly published the sleazy note he passed her where he complimented her on her “leggs”.

  11. Stone or Tarantino?

    FYI perhaps…in the 70’s, pantyhose were sold packaged in the US, in plastic eggs and sold as Leggs. So maybe he thought that he was being a real charmer with the pop cultural reference….

  12. It was Tarantino — he didn’t get to direct NBK, but he did have dealings with the producers… who ended up disliking him and Stone about equally. Famously, Don Murphy, Jane Hamsher’s producing partner, got into a fistfight with QT in a restaurant. Both claimed to have won the fight. A waiter said, “It was obvious neither of them knew how to fight.”

  13. jason hyde Says:

    My reaction to this one was that if you took away the gratuitous action scenes, the redundant fight stuff, and some of the dumb comedy and shortened the ending, it’d be a lot more bearable. And also about as long as one of those Basil Rathbone Holmes filmes.

    The BBC version is top notch. I especially enjoyed the psychedelic fight between Holmes and the Rondo Hatton lookalike in the planetarium in episode 3. I would happily have watched that fight scene twice, unlike the Ritchie nonsense.

  14. Never knew that QT was to direct NBK. Thanks for the info!

    …used to work for the guy that played the warden.

  15. Tarantino wrote NBK with the plan of shooting it low-budget. At one point, twin bodybuilders were going to put up part of the finance so he wrote them roles. Then he got to make Reservoir Dogs, it was a hit, and Stone bought NBK. QT apparently approved of Tony Scott doing True Romance, but didn’t like what Stone did and distanced himself from NBK. Stone was blatantly chasing the Reservoir Dogs aura of coolness, which is why he stuffed the movie with people from QT’s film.

    You worked for Tommy Lee Jones?

  16. no sorry, not the warden, his henchmen, the manic bald fellow.
    His name is Everett Quinton. He ran a theater in NY, that I did some design work for.

  17. David Boxwell Says:

    “L’Eggs” could have been a fetish object for young QT; panty hose . . . in an . . . EGG! (They were for me in the 1970s).

  18. David Boxwell Says:

    Pam Grier probably wore L’Eggs in the 1970s, when they were packaged in a silver plastic egg. The egg hatched all kinds of boy-man fantasies. Today, according to Hanes’s website, Leggs are packaged in prosaic, although more “green” cardboard sleeves.

    Panty hose = tights (US to UK translation).

  19. David Boxwell Says:

    Wiki refudiated my recollection: L’Eggs were packaged in WHITE plastic eggs, not silver. Regardless, many boys in the 1970s learned to spell the word “leggs” because of the enticing print and TV ads.

  20. David B,
    I was going to correct you on that one. Those white egg displays were everywhere, from supermarkets to drugstores, to variety five and tens (think Woolworth’s). you name it. I’ll bet the empties got used for elementary school “art projects” around Easter time. The jingle was a part of pop culture back in the ’70s as well. Somehow I don’t think that QT had that word in mine, unless he was trying to coin a new spelling such as what happens on the internet now with words like “hot” i.e. hawt, hott.

  21. Well, QT is a well-known foot-fetishist, so he probably likes pantyhose just fine, but I think in this case the answer is that he just can’t spell for shit.

  22. kevin mummery Says:

    Did anyone else notice Downey’s English accent is pretty much the same one he used in “Chaplin”? All in all not the worst movie Guy Ritchie’s ever made, but he’s still got a long career ahead of him, doesn’t he?

  23. I think it might be GR’s best since Lock Stock, which was better (rescued in the edit). For his worst, can I recommend Swept Away? It kind of has to be seen to be believed.

    In Chaplin, Downey does a good job of suggesting Chaplin’s evolving accent as he reinvents himself, ditching the cockney and raising himself up to posh-tawking intellectual. Although I suspect Chaplin went posh before he even reached America, but I have no evidence one way or the other. Anyway, it was a good dramatic/narrative choice.

    Maybe the Noel Coward effect in this one was caused by his attempting a CLIPPED MUMBLE, which hitherto only NC has mastered.

    Sad thing: recall seeing footage of Beatles producer George Martin directing Jim Carrey in a special rendition of I Am The Walrus (!). For the lines “Sitting in an English garden / Waiting for the sun,” Martin suggested using a Noel Coward voice, but it was clear Carrey had no idea who he meant…

  24. Everett Quinton was Charles Ludlam’s lover and co-star in the late great genius’ Ridiculous Theatrical Company. Those of us who saw Ludlam’s masterpeice Camille (I did twice) will never forget it.

  25. I designed some sets and props for the Ridiculous in the early 90’s. So I did not have the privilege of seeing original company. But things would happen, like finding a box of Mario Montez letters, stashed in a corner, or a Punch hand puppet that was made by Ludlam.
    I did work on a play with Black Eyed Susan and got an inkling of what the company was like. Especially during rehearsals, she could generate a mesmerizing Garbo-like presence.

  26. Wow! Especially the part about the Montez correspondence.

  27. It’s not really related to Sherlock Holmes (I haven’t seen it), but I’ve always loved this Adam & Joe stuffed toy sketch from around the time Snatch was released which involves Guy Ritchtoy being interviewed by Mark Cousins’s Tortoise:

  28. I prefer my Sherlock Holmes adaptations a little more down to earth. Like this one:

  29. Brutally acute (re the Guy Ritchie piss-take, not the Great Mouse Detective).

  30. Thanks, finding those letters was a “I am not worthy” sort of moment. I hope they were kept safely.

  31. Yes, Basil is just brutal (Aha, so you CAN edit comments after the fact!)

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