If you’ve been anywhere near Planet Earth lately, it’s highly probable that you’ve seen some sort of advertisement or trailer for the upcoming Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the latest bombastic, hyper-stylized Guy Ritchie film starring Robert Downey Jr. as the insufferable master of deduction and Jude Law as his exasperated sidekick Watson. I thought their first Sherlock Holmes was decent enough—the slo-mo action sequences were crowd-pleasing and the two leads had plenty of Vaudevillian chemistry that packed on some quality laughs—I just found it sorely lacking in one of the most essential, elementary elements of a Sherlock Holmes story: mystery. As in there wasn’t one. Or much of any.
Thankfully, just a short while later, those with a Holmes jones could get their fix with a far superior take on 221B Baker Street: the 2010 BBC series Sherlock, which drops our protagonists down in twenty-first century London. Now, modern takes on Sherlock Holmes are nothing new—[cough] paging Dr. House [cough]—but this incarnation really embraces the gadget-y environment of a post-CSI world. Here, Holmes’ knack for observation is enhanced by technology: he’s as likely to use his smart phone and laptop to help solve a murder as he is his sense of sight. John Watson is now a traumatized military doctor recently returned from Afghanistan who blogs about his crime-solving adventures. Visually, the show is dark and arresting, with a nifty habit of flashing clues and phone texts up on screen as both as a reminder of the looming presence of technology and representation of how Sherlock’s brain processes data.
The series consist of three feature-length episodes inspired by the stories and tone of the original Arthur Conan Doyle works (“A Study in Scarlett” is now “A Study in Pink,” thanks to the color coordination of a murder victim). It features rising star Benedict Cumberbatch, whose deep, powerful voice is a favorite of both my wife and Peter Jackson (who cast him as the voice of Smaug the dragon in the now-filming version of The Hobbit) and Martin Freeman from the British version of The Office (who is also in The Hobbit, starring as the young Bilbo Baggins). As Holmes and Watson, respectively, these two leads are as entertaining to watch as Downey Jr. and Law, but their mysteries are far more gratifying. So feel free to see A Game of Shadows this holiday season, but make sure you check out the top-notch BBC version, truly one of the greatest Holmes adaptations to date.
Sherlock: Season One