As a partisan of the BBC series SHERLOCK, I have to confess that CBS’
rip-off totally not a rip-off new series, ELEMENTARY, is not the disaster I was kinda sorta hoping fearing it would be. But neither is it the sophisticated, classy success it should be. In fact, it’s not even “Sherlock Holmes.” Not really.
In an effort to differentiate ELEMENTARY from the popular SHERLOCK, the American series went (far) out of its way to change stuff – the most visible difference being that Holmes’ faithful associate and chronicler, Watson, has been transformed into a woman. But that’s far from the only change: The action has been moved to modern New York City; Holmes is now a recovering addict working to stay sober; Watson has been assigned by Holmes’ father to keep him off drugs; and the mysteries are not adaptations of the classic Sherlock Holmes canon.
Watson, Holmes and Adler
is a big, modern blockbuster that puts a 21st-century gloss on a 19th-century character who has withstood the test of time.
The filmmakers have essentially gone back to the future with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his partner Dr. John Watson (Jude Law). I am not Holmes scholar, but I have a general familiarity with the character, and I can tell you that what the-powers-that-be have done is consult the source material, Doyle’s original stories, and picked up on several background elements – such as Watson’s service in Afghanistan and Holmes’ faculty for self-defense) and brought them to the forefront. Thus we get a Holmes who can crack skulls as well as he thinks with his own, and a fit, dashing Watson who conceals a sword in his cane. TPTB have likewise stripped away a lot of the barnacles that have attached themselves to the property. Gone is the deerstalker cap (popularized in stage and screen adaptations but never mentioned by Doyle) and overt cocaine addiction (replaced by a vaguely hinted-at taste for wild living; perhaps alcohol). Downey’s Holmes is much more of high-functioning party animal than a deep-thinking hermit; he feels more like Batman or even (wink, wink) Iron Man. However, that true Holmesian hallmark, deductive reasoning (which is actually inductive, but let’s not get into that) combined with an amazingly keen eye for detail, continues to figure prominently. And while this Holmes is a bare-chested brawler, he does puzzle things out before acting out. One recurring storytelling device allows us to enter Holmes’ mind as he plans out a detailed series of physical moves, and then executes them to perfection – presumably illustrating his mind-over-matter philosophy. In short, all the elements that should be in a good Sherlock Holmes movie are there; you just have to pay attention. And it all paves the way for chases, fisticuffs, gunplay, not-quite-damsels-in-distress, quippy lines and climactic battles with the fate of all England hanging in the balance. In short, it’s a summer blockbuster wrapped up with a pretty Christmas bow.