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Sherlock Holmes

Let’s get the confession out of the way.  I love Robert Downey Jr.  I also like Jude Law when he’s on his game.  I like Sherlock Holmes so I went to see the new Holmes film which treated the character as a Victorian superhero which, I think, in many ways he was.

With luck I will save some of you some money.  It’s really dull.  I liked Hans Zimmer’s pulsing, clock-like music.  I liked the look.  You really got a sense of the darkness created by coal smoke in the 19th century.  Downey and Law are trying really hard, and in many ways Law keeps stealing the scenes, but it just doesn’t work, and not because it’s too over the top, just the reverse.  I actually found myself nodding off a couple of times.

The woman in the cast were uniformly dreadful.  I can’t really blame Kelly Reilly, Mary was a thankless part, but Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler was simply unbelievable.  She projected neither intelligence or cunning, and this is the woman who was supposed to have bested Holmes.  I kept expecting her to bust out with an OMG at various points in the film.
Why did this fail so completely?  Well, I think it was the script.  In an effort to “humanize” Holmes and make modern audiences identify with him they succeeded in making him small and somewhat petty.  In the stories he was petty in his little habits and angers, but in the film he tries several very silly ploys to keep Watson from marrying and moving out and it diminished the character.

It was a bold attempt to drop us into the middle of an on-going case, but it wasn’t until well into act three that the writers clued me into what exactly was going on and what was at stake.  By then it was way to late for me to work up any passion about it, and it was all very distant and arms length.

Whatever you think of AVATAR you know early in the movie what’s at stake, and I was sufficiently invested in the characters to care about their fates.  In this film the idea that the evil Lord Blackburn (who is a bastard, but somehow has a title without being a royal bastard) want’s to rule England is just a snore because nothing of his plot is personalized to any of the major characters.

I was thinking back over the Holmes stories, and many of the stories were small and personal in nature, and many of the cases were brought through the door by a woman seeking help.  Jealousy and passion often drove the murders or the thefts.  Maybe the studio just thought that was too small for a major motion picture, but if you’re going to go with a threat to the country you better make me care about the country, and give me a character who can personify that larger idea. 

There was a B runner with  Moriarity, and the Watson getting married subplot which looked like a C runner, but they felt tacked on as if the film makers realized this wasn’t exciting so they kept adding flavors to the soup to make it taste better.  The problem wasn’t that not enough was happening.  The problem was that I wasn’t engaged emotionally.  There were also three writers listed on the screen with the deadly “and” between their names which means this was rewritten a lot, and there may have been more writers who didn’t make it onto the screen lurking in the background.

This issue of “nothing is happening and I’m bored” is a note prose writers get too.  And usually the complaint is lack of involvement rather than lack of action.  Unless you have a totally passive character who is just being told things, most writers have things happening.  The problem is almost always depth of character, and having your readers understand and invest in that character’s emotional life.

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