Sunday, July 21, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) **½

PG-13, 109 min.
Director: Barry Levinson
Writers: Chris Columbus, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (characters)
Starring: Nicholas Rowe, Alan Cox, Sophie Ward, Anthony Higgins, Susan Fleetwood, Freddie Jones, Nigel Stock, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Earl Rhodes
Narrator: Michael Hordern

My Sherlock series continues with Steven Spielberg’s mid-80s swipe at the iconic detective, “Young Sherlock Holmes”. Not an actual adaptation of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock stories, this movie imagines a school-aged Sherlock and Watson meeting at more developmental states for each of them. Meeting at a private academy, Sherlock has yet to master the violin. When Watson asks him how long he’s been playing, Sherlock confesses it’s been three whole days.

I never saw this adventure when it was released in the 80s even though it was touted as a big blockbuster, but then it wasn’t the success they’d hoped. It was, however, the first live action film to feature an entirely CGI character, making it the grandfather of the modern summer blockbuster. Without “Young Sherlock Holmes” there would be no “Man of Steel”, no “Pacific Rim”, no “Iron Man 3”, or even “Monsters University” or “Despicable Me 2” or “Turbo”. The character of the Glass Man didn’t appear for a long amount of time in the film, but it was created by Pixar, and according to my oldest son, looked pretty good for it to have been the first ever.

My boy also keenly observed how much this movie resembles the Harry Potter franchise, the first couple of which weredirected by this one’s screenwriter, Chris Columbus. Sherlock’s student nemesis, Dudley, looks remarkably like Draco Malfoy, especially after Sherlock takes some revenge out on him by bleaching his hair and skin. It takes place mostly on a campus much like Hogwarts. And of course, there are all those oh so British names, like Professor Rathe, Chester Cragwich, Rupert Waxflatter, Bentley Bobster, and Master Snelgrove.

But what of Sherlock? How does this film stack up against other Sherlocks? The story is good enough, involving the proper amount of deception, a near supernatural element, and Sherlock’s clever temperament. Sherlock is a little too polite compared to other incarnations and the pacing is dreadfully slow at times. Barry Levinson’s direction contains some of Spielberg’s production signatures, like epic crane shots; but he doesn’t have the same flare for timing such elements as Spielberg. Surely, it’s a good mystery and a fun adventure, but I prefer the more manic nature of more recent Sherlocks.

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