Sherlock Holmes (2009)

  1. Reading Analysis: Sherlock Holmes and the case of the Mazarin Stone is a short story that surrounds the exploits of the renowned detective as he dodges plots of murder while solving the case of a missing stone for a Lord Cantlemere. The dialogue within the story is very colorfully written with a dry wit that paints Holmes as a seemingly jovial individual with a marked certainty in his abilities and a profound intelligence (as narrated by Watson). The detective, who is seldom found laughing, brings a degree of humor to the story through his rather unconventional methods of investigation which include but are not limited to starving himself, “because the faculties become redefined when you starve them”. As with many of the plots involving Mr. Holmes, the most perplexing part of the story is the eventual reveal of the strategy being employed by Holmes, at which time his previously haphazard behavior is shown to have been part of a grandmaster scheme to solve the case all along. One recurring theme in these stories is Holmes’ use of deception to achieve his ends. In this case of the Mazarin Stone, Holmes utilizes his own effigy to fool the suspected criminals a number of times throughout the case, and uses it as a means of distraction so that he may reclaim the missing jewel in the story’s climax.
  2. Film Analysis: The 2009 film Sherlock Holmes, directed by Guy Ritchie, stars Robert Downey Jr. as the legendary sleuth and Jude Law as his faithful assistant, Watson. The film is set in London at the close of the 1800’s, and plays heavily on the themes of the industrial revolution that was occurring at the time; utilizing cinematography that showcased set-pieces and scenes with very dark, muted colors and an ever-present, albeit subtle layer of soot on the town (likely due to factory smoke). The soundtrack for the film, composed by Hans Zimmer, had a very mixed instrumentation that included violins, saloon pianos, and even banjos during certain scenes that gave the entire film a debonair atmosphere that was well-suited for the character of Holmes. The film was not narrated and its dialogue and story-progression was carried forth by way of conversations between Holmes and Watson as they discussed the case (a man seemingly returning from the dead, complete with a murderous vendetta), a series of flashbacks in which Robert Downey Jr., as Holmes, answers questions posed by crime scenes through an internal monologue type of analysis, and a plethora of action sequences rife with gunfights, explosions, and fisticuffs.
  3. Adaptation Analysis
    Guys Ritchie’s film adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes books did not seem to be based on any one of Holmes’ cases but instead utilized the themes, characters (all were present in the books aside from Lord Blackwood), and overall feel that accompanies the reading (or viewing in this case) of the sleuth’s adventures. Overall, I feel Ritchie did a fantastic job translating the Sherlock Holmes experience to the silver screen and did so while fulfilling his directorial obligations to Hollywood by including numerous action sequences with the typical Holmes narrative. A marked difference between the books and Ritchie’s adaptation was the opportunity for the audience to enter the mind of Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) as he dissected crime scenes and replaced the seemingly supernatural with logical conclusions. Being that the film had no narration, this method was a fantastic way to keep the audience on the heels of the detective (although always a half-step behind), as well as emphasizing Holmes’ genius through his process of analysis, which was seldom shown in the books until the end of the scene or case. Ultimately, I believe the Sherlock Holmes series is better suited for a television show than a full-length film, if only because the books themselves are themselves relatively brief and numerous. The show was adapted into a television series in the 1980’s which ran for a full ten years before cancellation. The “case of the day” style of the books seem better-translated in a medium with lower production values than Hollywood requires, and would give the audience the opportunity to experience each case; not requiring directors to pick the best or most interesting of them due to budgetary or time limitations. In the end, Guy Ritchie’s film served its purpose without sacrificing the elements that make the Sherlock Holmes mysteries what they are for the sake of an audience that is becoming increasingly averse to literature.
  1. Outside Sources
    1. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/music_blog/2009/12/hans-zimmer-on-his-sherlock-holmes-score-real-life-takes-place-in-pubs.html

An interview with composer Hans Zimmer who scored the entire film where Zimmer discusses his motivations and strategies in the instrumentation.

  1. http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2011/12/sherlock-vs-sherlock-robert-downey-jr-or-benedict-cumberbatch/

An article written by BBC America that compares and contrasts the performances of Robert Downey Jr. in Ritchie’s adaptation, against Benedict Cumberbatch who starred as a young Sherlock Holmes in a BBC television adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries in 2010

  1. http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/825270-what-is-better-book-or-movie-the-1-with-robert-downey-jr

A discussion board on goodreads.com that poses the question “Which Holmes is better: the book, the film, or the television series?”

C.  This source, a message board that spans nearly 40 comments from different users of goodreads.com, gives very interesting insight as to how Guy Ritchie’s film stacks up to the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as other mediums such as the films starring British actor Basil Rathbone in the 1940’s. Those who are relatively new to the adventures of Holmes and Watson would do well to observe this fruitful discussion between adamant fans of the book and film series. Discussed in this message board is the contrast between the acting methods/talents of each actor who has played Holmes, the original character from Sir Doyle’s books as he was supposedly meant to be portrayed, praise and criticisms of Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of the detective, and how well they feel Guy Ritchie’s film does against the older films as well as the television series. Following this dialogue can grant a very insightful perspective when watching Ritchie’s adaptation as one is afforded the opportunity to compare it with many of the other forms of the Sherlock Holmes mythos.

 5.       We see twice in the film Holmes’s clinical application of violence. Which does it show better: Holmes’s brilliant intellect, or his masculine physicality? Or does it show both equally well?

Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr. arguably does a very clever job of emphasizing Holmes’ intellect through his combat prowess. It should come as no surprise that Hollywood, today, has a distinct interest in violence and most films incorporate physical conflict in some form in order to appeal to the more diverse audience of the modern era. First and foremost, Sherlock Holmes is an intellectual and is best known for his ability to quickly analyze a situation, whether that be a crime scene or an individual, and come forth with a solution or resolution. In this sense, some may be disconcerted when watching Ritchie’s 2009 adaptation which shows Holmes entrenched in numerous (at least three) fight scenes which, on the surface, may seem like an appeal by the director solely to an audience that loves the mindless violence that the silver screen has grown so accustomed to. However, it is the method that Ritchie employs during these sequences that keeps the focus Holmes’ intellect intact. During these scenes, the audience is afforded the opportunity to enter the mind of the detective, complete with narration, while he very strategically observes his opponent, his surroundings, and the most prudent way to go about dispatching the ruffians. I believe this could be seen as a mere translation of Holmes’ sleuthing skills onto the battlefield and not a simple display of masculine physicality.


4 comments on “Sherlock Holmes (2009)

  1. I agree that the fight scenes are more a display of Holmes’s intellect than his strength and fighting skills-he analyzes his predicament and knows where to hit his opponent to inflict the maximum amount of damage. A brute brawler wouldn’t know that detail, but someone with the knowledge of Holmes would be able to; although most people might stack those scenes up as typical Guy Ritchie violence, given his career track record, they are a display of Holmes’s intellect more than they are his strength-or as you put it, a translation of his intellect and sleuthing abilities onto the battlefield.

  2. I think you are absolutely correct that Ritchie employs these violent sequences, but keeps the focus Holmes’ intellect intact by affording the audience an opportunity to enter the mind of the detective, complete with narration, strategically observing his opponent, his surroundings, and the most prudent way to go about dispatching the ruffians. It doesn’t just show one or the other of intellect or physicality. Instead, it uses physicality to illustrate his intellect. They work together to present a better picture of Holmes. It is a very characteristic style for Guy Ritchie that is successfully applied.

  3. I definitely agree with your assessment that Holmes’ application of violence is more about his intellect than his masculine physicality. As you mentioned, the fact that the scenes freeze while Holmes deducts exactly how to take out his opponent, with step by step narration, before he actually engages in the fight shows his superior intellect. If Ritchie were to have simply shown Holmes fighting without the initial step-by-step thought process about how to take out his opponent, then I would argue that it proves his masculine physicality. The fact that he is able to take out opponents who are much bigger and stronger than him definitely shows that he has superb masculine physicality, but he is able to be so physically superior only because he is mentally able to deduct how exactly to take out his opponent before engaging in the fight.

  4. It’s all good this time around. Because you reference the BBC Cumberbatch version, I’ll mention that the second series recently aired on PBS stations in the US. There will likely be another series. I’ll go on the record as saying I prefer the BBC version to Ritchie’s version, but Ritchie’s version offers more to analyze in a film class. 10/10. JB.

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