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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sherlock Holmes Is Not, and Should Not Be, a Superhero

Posted by on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 12:25 PM

sherlock2570.jpeg
  • Hollywood

Last night, I almost failed to make it through the most recent Sherlock Holmes movie (of the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law/Guy Ritchie franchise). It was not only boring, it was irritating, so I walked away. But I was curious about why it irritated me, so went back to finish it.

Here's the problem: The original Sherlock Holmes in the Conan Doyle stories and the early British TV series with Jeremy Brett...


... was at a believable summit of the scope of human potential. He had powers of deduction. He was book-smart, science-smart, street-smart, performance/disguise-smart and was seductive because he seemed like something almost attainable with enough reading, discipline, exercise and other forms of human development. He understood convention thoroughly, but was unconventional enough to see beyond the bounds of conventionality and leverage them to his own ends.

He was something to aspire to.

But the new Sherlock Holmes is supernatural. He can read minds, control his environment down to the nanosecond, fight like a CGI monster. He's a superhero and, with apologies to Paul Constant, superheroes are boring. We can no more aspire to be this latest Sherlock Holmes than we can to be Spiderman.

Fortunately, the desire to learn, develop, and achieve (and solve mysteries) is evergreen. We will have a better adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. Or at least the old stories to read and shows to watch.

 

Comments (41) RSS

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knobtheunicorn 1
You should check out the BBC's new Sherlock Holmes. Benedict Cumberbatch not only has the best name ever given to an englishman but the guy is uncanningly made for the role. It's as perfect a thing as Tennent's Doctor.
Posted by knobtheunicorn on August 30, 2012 at 12:36 PM · Report this
care bear 2
Boo, I thought this was going to be about the BBC's Sherlock.
Posted by care bear on August 30, 2012 at 12:37 PM · Report this
Mary P. Traverse 3
But we HAVE a better Sherlock... Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock on the BBC! HAVE YOU NOT WATCHED IT YET?! First season is on Netflix streaming. Go watch it NOW!
Posted by Mary P. Traverse http://dinosaurnews.tumblr.com on August 30, 2012 at 12:38 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 4
Jeremy Brett is my boyfriend. So sorry if my as-of-just-now-ex-boyfriend reads this, but I hope you'll understand. Please try to be happy for me and the late Jeremy Brett.
Posted by MacCrocodile http://maccrocodile.com/ on August 30, 2012 at 12:40 PM · Report this
5
I am still in the Jeremy Brett camp, but if you all can recommend a particularly good episode, I'm open to having my mind changed.
Posted by Brendan Kiley on August 30, 2012 at 12:40 PM · Report this
Mary P. Traverse 6
There's only 3 episodes in the first season, 3 in the second. Just start with the first one.
Posted by Mary P. Traverse http://dinosaurnews.tumblr.com on August 30, 2012 at 12:46 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 7
Stephen Moffit's Sherlock isn't bad. But Moffit is the UK's JJ Abrams...lots of hype, fancy camera work but oddly lacking in substance.

Jeremy Brett IS the best Sherlock you can find
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on August 30, 2012 at 12:46 PM · Report this
8
"We will have a better adaptation of Sherlock Holmes." Already do. Hint: rhymes with Zeneclicked Bumbersnatch.
Posted by gloomy gus on August 30, 2012 at 12:47 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 9
You might find it eye-opening to re-read the Doyle stories, especially the post-Moriarty ones where he (Doyle) clearly didn't give a shit and was doing it for the money.

The Ritchie film was of course preposterously over-the-top, but saying "Sherlock Holmes is not a superhero" is a hard thing to maintain when Doyle essentially wrote him as one a lot of the time: as often as not Holmes was written whatever physical or mental ability was necessary to bring the story to a quick conclusion, no matter how preposterous it was, including coming back from the dead. True, he didn't wear a cape or fly, but other than that there's not much to distinguish him from an early Jack Kirby character.
Posted by Doctor Memory http://blahg.blank.org on August 30, 2012 at 12:49 PM · Report this
Badger 10
Jeremy Brett is the best Holmes, but Cumberbatch is doing a magnificent job in the BBC series. I would recommend checking out Season 1 of Sherlock and watching the first two episodes. That will give you a taste of what they're doing with the it.
Posted by Badger on August 30, 2012 at 12:50 PM · Report this
Original Andrew 11
All of the new BBC Sherlock episodes are excellent, though "A Scandal in Belgravia" is my favorite.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/sher…
Posted by Original Andrew on August 30, 2012 at 12:51 PM · Report this
scary tyler moore 12
and benedict's female fans are cumberbitches.
Posted by scary tyler moore http://pushymcshove.blogspot.com/ on August 30, 2012 at 12:51 PM · Report this
Mary P. Traverse 13
@11 That is my favorite episode too! @12 I am totally adopting that moniker!
Posted by Mary P. Traverse http://dinosaurnews.tumblr.com on August 30, 2012 at 12:53 PM · Report this
Fried Worms 14
I love the new Holmes show on BBC, too, but if Kiley is so enamored of Brent (who I loved as a kid, too, for the record) and doesn't like the idea of a Holmes who can "control his environment down to the nanosecond", he probably won't like the new series very much. He won't hate it like the Downey dreck, but he will be disappointed.
Posted by Fried Worms on August 30, 2012 at 12:55 PM · Report this
Jessica 15
Fragglerock Ampersand is a pretty great Sherlock, but he's gone on record talking smack about the CBS adaptation that starts in the fall and he comes off as a real dickbag.
Posted by Jessica on August 30, 2012 at 12:56 PM · Report this
Lola, Missing Iowa City 16
Hatehatehate the RDJ Sherlock. True love forever for Cumberbatch!!
Posted by Lola, Missing Iowa City on August 30, 2012 at 12:57 PM · Report this
thelyamhound 17
I love the Moffat/Cumberbatch/Freeman (for the real secret to a good Holmes is a good Watson) combination, and while I find some popcorny pleasure in Ritchie's punch-drunk populist trifle, I agree there's a dearth of Doyle in the enterprise.

That said, it seems to me like this criticism misses the mark. Holmes, in the Ritchie-verse, isn't clairvoyant or preternaturally gifted; that's just standard-issue Hollywood confusion about how martial arts work (or rather, the reasonable and market-driven assumption that the audience, for the most part, doesn't actually care how martial arts work). He doesn't move like a CGI monster because he is a superhero. He moves that way because he's in Guy Ritchie's universe, where junkies and rude boys and mobsters and cops and grocers are all endowed with the prowess of video game protagonists. You seem to be confusing a conception of the hero with a conception of the world around him. It's like saying that Gene Kelly's characters aren't aspirational because, really, no one ever learns choreography in advance before arriving on the scene. It ignores that everyone in the crowd scenes knew the choreography, too. You're mistaking storytelling convention for character convention. Not that you can't critique the former; it's just necessary (from where I'm sitting) to distinguish between the two.

As for our inability to aspire to being superheroes, speak for yourself. I look forward to adding imperviousness to fire and self-propelled flight to the special skills section of my resume within no more than a year (I've said that every year, but I've been training reeeeeally hard).
Posted by thelyamhound http://thebayinghound.blogspot.com on August 30, 2012 at 1:01 PM · Report this
James McDaniel 18
Regarding the "fight like a CGI monster" comment, I have a friend who was into martial arts for a few years (including some teaching) and she said that the first movie's fight scenes were quite realistic. The slow-mo feel, the pre-planned reactions to your opponent's likely moves, all of it.
Posted by James McDaniel http://facebook.com/JamesMcDanielPhotos on August 30, 2012 at 1:05 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 19
I agree. Cummerband Bandersnatch ftw!

Oh, if you like action and martial arts, go catch the IMAX 3D showing for one week of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. Now that is how you do it!
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on August 30, 2012 at 1:10 PM · Report this
COMTE 20
Perhaps you are not familiar with the Wold Newton Family, a conceit created by the late Philip Jose Farmer, that ostensibly links all the great "literary heroes" (and villians) of the past (e.g. Holmes, Moriarty, Tarzan, Doc Savage, James Bond, Fu Manchu, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Shadow, etc., etc.), as being part of a great, extended family by way of their "ancestors" having been present at the real-life impact of a meteor in Yorkshire in the late 1700's. Farmer "posited" that the meteorite possessed a unique form of radioactivity that altered the genetic structure of those present, whereupon they passed superior characteristics (particularly intelligence, strength, stamina and longevity) to their progeny, which were further enhanced by a form of eugenic in-breeding.

While none of these qualify as "superheroes" in the modern comic book sense (and more significantly, their respective authors having made no attempt to link them to each other contemporaneously), they do represent archetypes that would later be incorporated into the genre, and are clearly the progenitors of such non-superpowered comic heroes as The Batman, Robin/Nightwing, Green Arrow, Black Widow, Hawkeye, et al.
Posted by COMTE on August 30, 2012 at 1:11 PM · Report this
21
Brett's Holmes is widely considered definitive, but has fallen out of favor with Shelockians since the initial release (especially as they attempted to complete the canon with stories that essentially defy dramatization--not to mention the abrupt recasting of Watson, Brett's declining health, and a general winding down of production values in the later works). There is also vigorous debate over the changes made to the stories by the screenwriter.

Basil Rathbone's Holmes remains the most visually iconic (for all of the movie's weaknesses). Peter Cushing did a very respectable turn as Holmes in the 60s on television. Probably the most faithful yet watchable adaptation was done with Tom Baker (best know as the 4th Doctor in Doctor Who) in the early 80s.

Honestly, I've always had something of a soft spot for Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, an animated Saturday morning cartoon with a cyborg Watson and a female Lestrade, which stayed remarkably true to the plot of the stories. There's a Russian adaptation from (I think) the 70s that's quite delightful (a pastel vision of Victorian England with onion domes). Kingsly and Caine's 80's romp Without a Clue. Spielberg's Young Sherlock Holmes.

Really, there's a Holmes for whatever you're in the mood for. The character is iconic (I believe third behind Superman and Mickey Mouse in global recognition) for a reason. If you're in the mood for a superhero movie, why not a Holmes superhero movie? It'll be better than three quarters of them.
Posted by usagi on August 30, 2012 at 1:12 PM · Report this
ArtBasketSara 22
Oh sweet Jeremy Brett! Best ever... Watch him in My Fair Lady as the character Freddie for a real shock (at least it was for me as I only knew him as Sherlock Holmes).
Posted by ArtBasketSara on August 30, 2012 at 1:13 PM · Report this
23
The Jeremy Brett Sherlock is the only entire TV series I own on DVD. That's how much I regard it. He is playing a role he was born to play, and the shows are authentic to the period and the character (if not always to the original story). For their time, they were also kind of amazing as we see Watson enter a room as his friend is still flexing his arm from his injection, or discusses how he has discoverd that a 7 percent solution gives him the kick he needs or Watson searching for the syringe to explain some erractic behavior or another. Has any American treatment of Holmes (movie or TV) ever even hinted at his drug use? These shows are also fascinating to watch to see the decline in Brett's health, including certain episodes in which he barely appears.

All that said, I also love Moffett's new Sherlock as well. These are witty and clever stories that take a mere kernel of a Doyle story and turn it into something as good. And yes, Cumberbatch is excellent. And there is a nice homage to the Brett era in one episode, where the camera does a pan of Baker Street indentical to the opening of the Brett episodes.
Posted by Question Mark on August 30, 2012 at 1:18 PM · Report this
COMTE 24
@9:

I would say Holmes' Inverness coat, in which he is commonly depicted, loosely qualifies as a "cape"
Posted by COMTE on August 30, 2012 at 1:20 PM · Report this
wingedkat 25
As Doctor Memory pointed out @9 the literature certainly makes him seem superhuman. Somewhere I read an argument that Sherlock Holmes was one of the first superheros to have a regular series.

I agree with the others who love the new BBC series, I hope they make more of those!

As it happens, I also *love* superheroes and enjoy experiencing multiple interpretations of the same character, so will make an effort to see the new movie. Each to their own.

Posted by wingedkat on August 30, 2012 at 1:36 PM · Report this
thatsnotright 26
I like Cumberback as an actor "The Last Enemy" a Masterpiece Contemporary production was fantastic, but I'm not a big fan of the 21st century Sherlock as conceived with ADHD, Asperger's, and for crying out loud, nicotine addiction. Cigarettes? I ask you.
Posted by thatsnotright on August 30, 2012 at 1:44 PM · Report this
dnt trust me 27
I like the name Sherlock, internet says it means "bright hair" - just a suggestion for any pregnant ladies (or thinking about pregnancy ladies) on Slog today.
Posted by dnt trust me on August 30, 2012 at 1:50 PM · Report this
Soupytwist 28
Bleh. I like Data on TNG as Holmes and Geordie as Watson. That's my favorite adaptation - other than House and Wilson, I mean.
Posted by Soupytwist http://twitter.com/katherinesmith on August 30, 2012 at 1:58 PM · Report this
29
Wait. There are people who don't aspire to be Spider-man? Also, it's Spider-man, not Spiderman.
Posted by jzimbert on August 30, 2012 at 2:00 PM · Report this
sloegin 30
Ahem.
Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch.

Though I'm more of a Martin Freeman fan myself.
Posted by sloegin on August 30, 2012 at 3:13 PM · Report this
seatackled 31
But what about the Brent Spiner Sherlock Holmes?!
Posted by seatackled on August 30, 2012 at 3:42 PM · Report this
32
@23: You should note that the drug use was written out in the later seasons at Brett's request (which gave the writers and cast one of the best episodes, THE DEVIL'S FOOT, where Holmes' and Watson's near-deaths from a hallucinogenic poison spur Holmes to kick the habit for good.)

And I can't agree that it's "fascinating" to watch Brett's decline in health over the last years of the series. More like "tragic", given that we watched him partially killing himself in the first years: while Holmes' cigarette smoking was established in the stories, Brett (who smoked three packs a day in real life) used that to allow him to smoke on-screen and in "rehearsal" wherever the show was being filmed.

@21: Check out the discount bins at Fred Meyer; someone released the SHERLOCK HOLMES IN THE 22nd CENTURY series, and it's on DVD for $10 or less. (Funnily, two different studios got the same idea at the same time: Filmation's late-80's series BRAVESTARR had a stealth pilot for the same concept, though Watson was an alien rather than a cyborg!)

(And I'm sorry, but "Sherlockians" can go piss up a rope. Trekkies, but more pompous.)
Posted by DonServo on August 30, 2012 at 4:58 PM · Report this
33
I gotta love the new BBC one too: what happens to the story when you add cell phones and Internet. Not a competition with the Brett's.

Nobody mentioned the supporting cast (I dont count Watson as supporting cast) though: Mycroft! Moriarty! LaStrade! Jenny! Mrs Hudson! Just a lot of fun. Real personalities not just props in people shape.

Posted by david on August 30, 2012 at 5:32 PM · Report this
34
How remiss of me to not mention Brent Spiner's Holmes on ST:TNG. Further proof that the character deserves his status as an icon (didn't Patrick Stewart do a Holmes project after TNG as well?).
Posted by usagi on August 30, 2012 at 5:53 PM · Report this
knobtheunicorn 35
@28 Well if we're going to be including Data and Geordie's contributions to the cannon I'd like to offer up Sir Digby Chicken Caeasar and Ginger for consideration.
Posted by knobtheunicorn on August 30, 2012 at 6:04 PM · Report this
36
@35: No love for "Hemlock Stones" and THE GIANT RAT OF SUMATRA?!!!
Posted by DonServo on August 30, 2012 at 6:16 PM · Report this
37
Was always kind of fond the the SH deconstruction period with the private life of sherlock holmes, 7 percent solution, and a mild stretch for Gene Wllder and sherlock holmes' young brother.

@36 Was more partial to Nick Danger.
Posted by Large Hardon Colluder on August 30, 2012 at 11:21 PM · Report this
Simone 38
No love for the first (until 2012) American television adaptation: Sherlock Holmes (1954 TV series)

I am watching it and there are some good episodes and well to be honest more than a couple of not so good ones. It is obviously very dated but I find ways to enjoy the datedness of the show.

Oh, and I'm with everyone in loving the new BBC Sherlock series. I thought of the recent Sherlock Holmes movie (Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law) as a decent fun popcorn movie where I will easily suspend any beliefs and realities.
Posted by Simone on August 30, 2012 at 11:58 PM · Report this
39
@9 - You're entirely right, and people criticize the Ritchie Sherlock Holmes are often people who watched the old TV shows but never read the actual stories...

I found a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories pretty hard to get through. These are stories in which Sherlock identifies which part of London a man has been walking through by the colour of a single spot of mud on his trousers...

Also, Sherlock was an opium smoking street-boxer. The violence is rather talked around in the stories as things like that were rarely described in detail in victorian literature, but he did kick a lot of ass in pretty improbable situtations...
Posted by Jrockach on August 31, 2012 at 6:02 AM · Report this
40
Why not?! His powers of deduction make him a superhero. Holmes is one of the most popular characters in radio, movies, books, television, magazines, etc. In order to define the mind of Sherlock Holmes, you must understand the mind of his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle was a complex man, considered by some to be eccentric due to his preoccupation with spiritualists
What if Sherlock Holmes really existed? Was Sir Conan Doyle really Dr. Watson? He was a medical doctor. OR, was he both Holmes and Watson; a split personality? My ebook novel, BLOODGUILTY, poses that question and answers it. It is available on the KINDLE bookstore by RAYMOND THOR. Click here:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/search/ref=sr_n…
Posted by ray thor on August 31, 2012 at 1:20 PM · Report this
41
@18: indeed!

http://i.imgur.com/u4Kag.gif
http://i.imgur.com/kEbMj.gif

These guys spend every waking hour training, though.
Posted by doceb on August 31, 2012 at 10:40 PM · Report this

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