Episode #53: Schlock Holmes

There’s a certain type of nerd who adores Mr. Sherlock Holmes. This variety of nerd is called the Holmesian. Unlike most fandoms, Holmesians don’t just write fanfic, they get into the weeds and write Holmesian Studies.

What do we deduce from the detective’s devoted disciples? What makes Sherlock Holmes an object of such fascination as to inspire people to write speculative essays about the character 123 years after his first appearance?

It’s elementary. Holmes is clearly a high-functioning autistic savant and a role-model for persons of a similar persuasion.

Curiously, the latest cinematic incarnation of the character (Guy Ritchie‘s 2009 film Sherlock Holmes) both highlights and downplays this aspect of Holmes. Where previous depictions of Holmes showed him to be a man of thought rather than action, Ritchie paints Sherlock as a man of action who does his thinking largely off-screen.

Robert Downey, Jr. adds enough awkwardness to his Hugh Jackman impression to indicate Holmes’ genius comes from a  difficult place, but Ritchie has him too busy jumping in and out of explosions to really develop the character. It’s too bad since given room—and time—to breathe, he could have been a fascinating interpretation. Of a character who really isn’t Sherlock Holmes at all.

It’s somewhat of an odd move. Though a detective who solves a crime by observation and quiet introspection might not be box-office fodder in 2010, that’s who Sherlock Holmes is. To change, or heavily downplay, that aspect of the character is to actually make a movie about someone else entirely. Unlike J.J. Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek, which stuck to at least the spirit of the original series, Ritchie’s film really is HINO (Holmes-In-Name-Only).

Even the basic structure of the film is wrong for a Holmes story. What is a Holmes story? A mystery, right? There is no mystery in Ritchie’s film. You’re told everything that’s going on from the beginning. It’s a thriller. The thrills come from dramatic irony—the audience knows what Holmes does not. The trademark of a good Holmes story is Holmes knows everything and the audience is left to figure it out (alongside Watson) until the big reveal in the final act.

By the time Sherlock makes his big reveal in this film, he just looks like an idiot because the audience has known what’s been going on for about 45 minutes. The cartoonish villain had laid out his cartoonish plan to his cartoonish minions in monosyllabic words so small children could understand without disturbing other members of the audience by making their parents explain it to them.

It’s ultimately too bad the movie was called Sherlock Holmes. Simply giving the character a new name would have given us an interesting new Victorian era action-hero. Though, in that case, I’d be knocking him for being derivative of Holmes, wouldn’t I?

This week we watched disc 2 of Season Three. Don’t listen if you haven’t gotten this far. Starbuck and Apollo turn into total douchebags, each in their own ways. Daddy Adama utters gruff, meaningless epithets. Characters you know aren’t going to get killed off, don’t get killed off. It’s business as usual back on board the Battlestar Galactica.

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