Is there a more perfect actor working today who could have embodied Guy Ritchie's vision of Sherlock Holmes? I don't think so. Robert Downey Jr. is equal parts smooth criminal and hyper-manic genius. Sherlock Holmes has seen numerous film incarnations over the years, but never something like this.
Ritchie's 'Holmes' isn't so much a reinvention as it is a much deeper character study. The film delves into Holmes' life and his partnership with his lifelong friend and companion Dr. Watson (Jude Law) in a way previous adaptations have not. Here Watson is about to be married, threatening to leave Holmes alone. Holmes can't bare to lose his righthand man, possibly the only person keeping him on this side of sane, so he continues to concoct ways to get Watson and his bride to be to break up, but to no avail.
Here, Holmes and Watson bicker like an old married couple, or a pair of brothers who have depended on one another for far too long. Law and Downey Jr. play off each other as well as any onscreen duo imagineable. Their dynamic is the most interesting part of the movie.
Holmes is slightly more manic than what I remember of past Holmes versions I've seen over the years. There have been so many that I've lost count. Holmes suffers from over stimulation, self-loathing, and an extra dash of Downey's signature cockiness to keep things entertaining. Holmes has also gotten himself into tip-top fighting shape as he takes on attackers with lightning quick karate jabs to the throat, body, and face, but in typical Holmes fashion, all of these moves are thought out logically before hand.
As for the plot, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) has risen from the dead after being hanged for the murder of numerous young women in satanic rituals. Sherlock Holmes is on the case. Of course, there must be a logical explanation as to how Blackwood was resurrected, and it's up to Holmes to find out.
Here's where the movie becomes an exercise in sneaky trickery and illusions right up until the end. Certain objects are shown throughout the film if only for a fleeting second. Holmes touches this, smells that, licks a rock… interesting. Putting it together, on first viewing, is downright impossible, but that's how it's supposed to be. Just sit back and relax because we know that everything will be explained in the end. If we've learned anything from the original Holmes detective tales, is that he will put it all together using his observation techniques, and all will subsequently be revealed to us in a deluge of memories and flashbacks towards the end. Remember that weird thing you saw for a split second sitting on the desk? Well, that's what made all the difference! Personally, i think it gets tiresome watching something only to have it all spelled out at the end. All the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted (except we never do find out how Lord Blackwood gets that raven to follow him everywhere).
Ritchie has definitely given the legendary character a facelift for a new century, and it works to a degree, although the Holmes story has always been encumbered by its own recipe.
The formula from the old Holmes stories is alive and well here. If that's what you're looking for, then you'll adore this film, if you were looking for a reinvention of the age old schematics, maybe you should wait to see if the inevitable sequel offers anything in that area. In short, characterization is revamped with crackling success here, but the plot is somewhat elementary, my dear reader.
The first thing that's noticeable about 'Sherlock Holmes' 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer is how well it handles Guy Ritchie's ultra-stylized vision of an England in the 1800s. Like many of Ritchie's movies, 'Sherlock Holmes' sports a dark, grimy look. It's true that this is a Ritchie film without gangsters, but you sure do get the feeling that gangsters could be lurking around any corner. Blacks are deep and foreboding. Shadows swallow up people and faces, but I would argue that's the way it was meant to be (yes especially for Moriarty). This isn't to say that the film is devoid of color, on the contrary, color abounds. Bright oranges and fiery reds burst off the screen during explosions while the opulent gold trim of Irene Adler's hotel room shine. Textures and facial detail are spot on. The intricate detail of the English brickwork and cobblestone roads is pristine right from the opening title sequence as the camera pans across the WB logo etched in a road stone. Despite its intentional dirty look, 'Sherlock Holmes' looks impeccable on Blu-ray. I dare say that the famous detective would be hard pressed to find anything wrong here, other than the errant source noise that crops up on a few occasions.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 accompanying this release is every bit as playful and energetic as Downey Jr.'s Holmes. Clearly delivered dialogue, is first and foremost the most important aspect of this presentation, and it nails it. Downey has a tendency to mumble his lines at an insanely fast pace, and even with clearly intelligible dialogue being delivered through the center channels, it's still rather easy to miss a couple of words here and there. LFE is constantly engaged as Han Zimmer's soundtrack booms throughout the entire film. Where the really engaging fun comes in is the way the sound design so perfectly uses the entire range of channels. In one particularly amazing scene, where Lord Blackwood lurks in the shadows of a meat plant, his voice echoes around the room from channel to channel almost like it's playing an invisible game of hot potato with the speakers. Crowded city streets are vibrant and lively. The now famous shipyard scene carries heft and energy as the ship slow slips out of its holding and into the ocean. This entire presentation is built for fun and excitement and it delivers perfectly.
Much of the information given in Focus Points is found at one point or another in the Maximum Movie Mode. Here it's broken up into a few easily digestible segments for those who would rather not sit through 132 minute special feature.
"Drawbridges and Dollies" – Examines how Ritchie created old-look London with his own visual flare.
"Not a Deerstalker Cap in Sight" – Is a brief segment featuring the costumes worn in the film.
"Ba-Ritsu" – This is a featurette which gives us insight into Holmes' newfound fighting techniques.
"Elementary English" – This shows Downey Jr. working on getting the Sherlock Holmes accent just right.
"The One That Got Away" – Here we're given information about womanly influence on the film.
"Powers of Observation and Deduction" – Gives away numerous Holmes references placed throughout the film for die hard Holmes fans.
"The Sherlockians" – A panel of experts discuss Doyle's original stories and characters.
"Future Past" – Is a little feature on how Ritchie and his team were able to make old time London one of the characters in the film.
Robert Downey Jr. is yet again the reason to see a movie. His version of Holmes is pure popcorn fun. His banter with Law is memorable, while the movie itself is somewhat forgettable. The plot is hampered by over-plotting and the same old Holmes formula we've come to know over these many years, but it's a lot of fun nonetheless. Boasting a strong video transfer, a delightfully engaging audio presentation, and a superb Maximum Movie Mode offering, this release comes recommended.