Sherlock Holmes 2009

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Story: Someone is murdering young women in London, so the police call in Sherlock Holmes to solve the crimes.  Which he does in the opening of the movie, only to have the Big Bad escape which leads to him using his deductive powers to hunt him down again.  Plus Moriarty.

Detective: Sherlock Holmes, the greatest detective the world has ever known, here given a manic intensity and sexuality by Robert Downey, Jr. not to mention making Holmes an action hero.

Release Date: Dec. 25, 2009

Writers: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg

Source: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, but not any one title in particular


Detective as protagonist?

Jenny: Yes, definitely.  He fills the screen, albeit a little more flamboyantly than the original Holmes.

Lani: You bet.

Murderer as antagonist?

Jenny: Yes, definitely.  He practically cackles in his black heart, challenges Holmes to catch him, and continues murdering with impunity.

Lani: It’s very clear who the antagonist is, and he’s consistently the antagonist from scene 1.

Conflict created by murder?

Jenny: Yes.  Holmes is drawn into the story by previous murders and is spurred on by subsequent killings.

Lani: Yep; it starts with Holmes saving one girl, then trying to stop the antagonist before he kills some more.

Fair play with all the clues given?

Jenny: Yes, although there’s so much STUFF going on in this movie, it’s hard to find the clues.  That’s fair play, though: red herrings are pretty much a staple in the mystery genre.

Lani: Not really. There are clues like the smell of evidence, which are expressed by seeing Sherlock Holmes smelling things, but it’s not enough information that the viewer can solve the puzzle herself. While all the clues are shown, they aren’t really given, thus making it impossible for the viewer to actively participate, which is the element that I think rules this out as a mystery. I think a key qualifier for a mystery is that the viewer has everything she needs to solve along with the detective.

Solved using deduction, not luck?

Jenny: Yes.  It’s kind of Holmes’s specialty.

Lani: Yep.


Jenny says: 5 Pops (the four for romance doesn’t really count since that’s such a minor subplot)

Mystery: 5, Craft: 5, , Suspense: 5, Romance: 4, Comedy: 5

Lani says: 5 Pops (with the proviso that it’s not a mystery, nor is it a romance, and that’s where this story doesn’t work as well, but it’s not what it’s supposed to be; it’s an Action Adventure, and for that, it’s a solid 5)

Mystery: ~ (not a mystery in the way we mean it, although the howdunnit is excellent, so this would be a 5, but… not a mystery), Action/Adventure: 5, Craft: 5, , Suspense: 5, Romance: 3, Comedy: 5

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14 responses to “Sherlock Holmes 2009”

  1. I’ve been reading the Conan Doyle books recently, and they’re the same in some ways. You don’t necessarily get given the clues. They’re not all about murder. Theres not always a real antagonist, just a secret. Oh as to the action hero bit, Watson says “Sherlock Holmes was a man who seldom took exercise for exercise’s sake. Few men were capable of greater muscular effort, and he was undoubtedly one of the finest boxers of his weight that I have ever seen; but he looked upon aimless bodily exertion as a waste of energy, and he seldom bestirred himself save when there was some professional object to be served. Then he was absolutely untiring and indefatigable.” (The Yellow Face)

  2. Okay, I posted last week that I did not like this movie and I am the only person on the planet who did not think it was good. The plot weaknesses/bombastic action-y stuff did not work for me. But what did work was the small stuff, like Holmes and Watson in jail and Holmes keeps saying stuff like “our dog.” The buddy comedy aspects of it. And I like Rachel McAdams– hell, I like RDJ usually– but I didn’t really care what happened to anybody here. They’re not real people so much as cartoons.

    Comparing this to the BBC series is going to be interesting, because I feel like that version of Sherlock did everything right for me.

  3. I really enjoy this movie, but I think you’re right about it being an action adventure. I’m really looking forward to comparing it with the BBC episode. I’m loving that series, and I’m already impatient for season 3.

    I really need the emotional journey for the protagonist. As far as emotional components in classic mystery goes, I’ve only ever seen it in the two Sayers books you mention. Agatha Christie had great puzzles, but her characters were so static and so uninvolved that after a couple of years I had to swap sub-genres (by then I had found the In Death series). In all fairness, Christie and those two Sayers books are my only real contact with Golden Age mysteries, maybe other authors had character arcs. The romance plots in Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon were great. The sheer implausibility and unbelievability of the solution in Busman’s Honeymoon put me off Golden Age mysteries again, though, and I went back to romantic suspense for the most part.

  4. Excuse any incoherency, I’m thinking out my thoughts as I type and that’s dangerous. But anyway, I totally noticed that Holmes was finding evidence, we were seeing it, but we had no idea what it all meant and I told my hubby that they weren’t playing fair with the evidence, so I’m pretty excited that I caught that. 🙂
    Okay, Holmes and the emotional journey. Holmes is brilliant and awesome and all that jazz, but he’s also completely insane. And I worry about him. At the beginning, we see him in the action, and he is amazing. And then, the case is solved and he completely loses his grip. And I’m worrying because it’s clear that he needs to work, he needs to be occupied for him to stay sane. And watching that flip flop is so extreme for me, so I’ll follow him through this mystery to watch the shift between him as Superhero, him as self-destructive, and back to Superhero again. At the very end, I’m glad that Moriarty is going to be a formidable foe for Holmes, because that means that he will be kept engaged, so maybe he won’t totally self-destruct once Watson leaves. So, while it’s not growth, and he doesn’t change, I see a little bit of how destructive brilliance can be, and I get to see him keep the craziness at bay for a little while. So maybe that’s the emotional journey I take to be with Holmes. But I’m just shooting ideas out. 😉

  5. Oh, excellent, Romney. I thought it was just the Guy Ritchie effect.

    Jennifer, I agree on liking the small stuff. I think it’s the characters and the art direction that make the movie.

    Katie, most Golden Age mystery writers weren’t particularly concerned with character although I think Margery Allingham did a wonderful job, and Michael Gilbert, too, although he was on the tag end of that era so he may not count as Golden Age.

    Erica, I like your take on Holmes, but I still think we needed to see him change in some way, maybe more acceptance of Mary or of Watson’s wish to change, because otherwise the events of the story had no meaning for him. He never loses his cool so he never is assailed with enough trauma to change. I agree, he’s already nuts, but there can be arc within that. I haven’t seen the sequel, so I don’t know what they’re doing there, but I think a static hero is bad for any story, let alone a series.

  6. I’m gonna weigh in a bit before I’ve finished the podcast so I can discuss just my thoughts on the movie, then I’ll come back.

    I was surprised that I liked the movie. I’m not a RDJ or Jude Law fan and I don’t like it when people play around with the classics – so there were 3 strikes – but I did like this. I didn’t follow where all the clues were going, but like I mentioned before – I never do. That said, I always caught when Holmes picked up that there was a clue, even if I didn’t know why it was significant. I knew the leaf was a clue even though I didn’t know rhododendron elixir was the key to stopping the pulse. I saw the rats, and knew they were significant, etc. I picked up on these because I saw the camera focus on them:) I might not know why they were important but I knew they were important.

    I think it’s unfortunate that we lost our ‘Watson’ — the whole reason Conan Doyle gave Holmes a sidekick was so that he had someone to be smart to and for and to pass along clues. Without John Watson playing that role we miss out on that sense of fair play. Watson is supposed to be the protagonist but here he’s just the second fiddle.

    For me, this movie did a better job than I expected in grasping the essence of Holmes in some ways. Not so – in others – but I think for many people who have never had any exposure to anything Conan Doyle wrote and never would this is a really good perspective.

  7. Yeah, you’re right, Jenny, it would have been better if Holmes had changed during the course of the movie. And I do think that that does make a better story. But I’m thinking of mysteries that I’ve enjoyed, whose protagonists I’ve totally fallen in love with (I’m thinking specifically of the Inspector Lewis series on Masterpiece), but the characters don’t seem to change very much from the beginning of an episode to the end. There are some episodes where they change a lot, the relationship between Lewis and Hathaway gets closer, or maybe we find out something new about one or the other of them. But there are a lot of episodes where I finished the case feeling like I hadn’t found out anything new about Lewis or Hathaway. Hm. I might have to go back and watch them again now. Something interesting to think about, certainly.

  8. I’d argue that Lewis does change over the course of the series. That is, the comparison isn’t the movie to an episode, it’s the movie to a year in the series. And there you’ll see some big shifts.
    But I agree, there’s often no arc in series mystery–I’m thinking Midsomer Murders in particular–although I think it keeps a series from getting stale if there is. I love the arc Hathaway has had. The last episode I saw where Lewis was thinking of retiring and told Hathaway that he’d recommend him for the promotion and his job, and Hathaway told him that if he left, Hathaway would leave the force, too. That’s a huge arc from the first episode when they were in constant friction. And I like Lewis’s arc with Hobson, too, although dear God he’s taking his time making his move.

  9. Ah, Lewis and Hobson. They are such a cute couple! Lewis and Hathaway, too, but for different reasons:)

    I was going to write something stereotypical about Golden Age mysteries and the gender of the author. I might still. I think it’s important to remember that mysteries were in their infancy at this time. The fact that they were good at all is pretty freaking amazing, I think. That there were so many authors, both in Europe and America, writing mysteries gives us a lot of material to work with – and most of them were very prolific. I used to use my Complete Sherlock Holmes as an iron because it was so heavy!

    One of the things I love about Sayers’ books are the layers and that we get to see Lord Peter change and grow through her books. I don’t think we get that with Conan Doyle’s although we hear of incidents that happen between the stories that we are not invited to be part of. Other authors do that, too, but I think series authors did that more as part of the way to keep their audience involved while they were off writing. Christie’s characters, on the other hand, don’t grow in the book they are in but some of the main characters arc from the early books to the later books. Just barely. If we give them the benefit of the doubt, but really she was almost all about the puzzle.

  10. Sayers did arc Whimsey, mostly through Harriet, I think. Good arc, though.

    Mysteries as a modern genre had been around sixty or seventy years by the time the Golden Age hit. I think the Golden Age raised it to a new level of sophistication so it seems as though they’re the beginning, but you have Poe and Baroness Orczy and Futrelle’s The Thinking Machine and a host of others before GA mystery. My master’s thesis was on mystery fiction before 1920, and there was a LOT of stuff to research. But “puzzle first” was pretty much the byword straight through.

  11. Well, crap. I absolutely need to see Inspector Lewis again now. Because I think I was treating them like movies, and not looking at the whole season. Damn. But you’re right (of course), now that I think of it, when I think back to Lewis and Hobson, and Lewis and Hathaway. Although I do think I picked it up late, so Lewis and Hathaway have been prickly on occasion, but I’ve only seen them really at it with each other rarely. (And just as a side note, I am so in love with Hathaway. Madly in love with Hathaway. He’s so darn cute and awkward and smart and he wears the hell out of a suit. Sigh.)

  12. Oh, Hathaway. So not my type, and yet, he does wear the hell out of a suit. There’s a Foyle’s War episode where he’s a sonofabitch Nazi sympathizer, a smug evil bastard. He still looks good.

    But yeah, there’s an arc over the series. Such a good series.

  13. Hahaha. That’s awesome. It takes a real hottie to still look good when he’s playing a sonofabitch Nazi sympathizer.

  14. You know I had quite a lot of trouble with this movie. I think mostly because I think that Cumercatch is a much better Holmes for me. I was quite confused in the movie. I don’t know something about this didn’t work for me, so I’m wth Jennifer.