Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Wednesday Review: Sherlock

Today’s review will be on a show I discovered a few months ago called Sherlock, about a modern day Sherlock Holmes solving mysteries around London, England. The show has only run for one season, with the second currently in production. The reason I’m reviewing a show and not a movie this week is simple: Sherlock is more like a series of TV movies rather than a TV show. The first season contains three episodes, each an hour and a half long, roughly the length of an average movie. Sherlock gives a nice modern twist to all the characters from the novels. If one were born in the 20th Century, one would act differently than if they were born in the 21st Century. So changing the characters around to fit the time period makes some sense as well as makes for an interesting watch. So here’s my review of the first episode; A Study in Pink.

Sherlock title card.

Review after the break

The film starts off with an exposition of Dr. John Watson’s life. We first see a series of quick war clips, flashing by, a sun spot light cast upon the camera lens; then a person (Watson [Martin Freeman]), waking up from the nightmare of serving during the war. Following this scene is one of Watson, sitting alone in a white washed room, symbolising that he is alienated from the rest of the world. He moves to his desk and pulls out a laptop from the desk drawer, we glimpse a handgun in the drawer, and he opens up the laptop to write on his blog. The blog is blank. We jump to a scene between Watson and a therapist. The therapist urges Watson to write in his blog about his daily activities because it will help him fit back into society. In response to this statement Watson says “Nothing happens to me.” How wrong that statement will soon be.

Following the opening credits, we see a man and his wife talking on the phone, shortly after we see him taking a pill and dying. We then see two guys walking along in the rain. One leaves to get an umbrella, then we see him taking a pill as well, and also dying. We see the third victim at leaving a club, only to find her keys missing from her purse. Following this is a shot of her taking a pill and dying as well. Little do you know everything you need to figure out the mystery is in this opening sequence.


In this series Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is very tech savvy, able to send a text message to several phones in one location anonymously. It should be expected that Holmes would know this because he only keeps useful and important information in his head, in a day and age when technology is the primary source of all communication, this would be very important and useful.

I find myself looking, not at Holmes, but at the other
side of the screen.
The variety of shots used in the show is brilliant. Each one has a motive, a meaning, a purpose. They range from close up, to wide shot, they go to the extremes, they use depth of field, apply visual effects in the vein of Adobe After Effects, and a whole lot more. I am always impressed by the look of the show.

The music is cool too. It has an old 19th-20th Century feel, but still has the bounce of the 21st Century in it.

It’s amazing how one can figure out the most complicated things just by looking at the smallest details and using simple logic. When Holmes and Watson first meet Holmes gives a description of part of Watson’s life all from the way he walks and the cell phone he has. Makes me wish I could figure things out from little information like that.

The gay jokes between Holmes and Watson begin right as soon as they move in together and they continue to show up without the series.

Mrs. Hudson is an idiot.

Both Watson’s blog and Holmes’ website “The Science of Deduction” are actual websites. Look ‘em up.

The same girls that walked by 221b Baker street when Watson and Holmes first enter the place, are walking by it again, in the same direction, when they leave.

If you don’t pay attention to every little detail while watching this, you won’t be able to solve the mysteries. Of course, perhaps you would like to watch it and not solve the mysteries but let Holmes do it for you. I personally rather enjoy solving mysteries and I try to do my best to solve them before Holmes does.

You know, Holmes wouldn’t be such a bad dude if he wasn’t a complete ass whenever someone wasn’t fast enough to see things in his logic.

The cameras on Watson.

Watson's meeting.
After inspecting the fourth victim’s body, Holmes runs off and leaves Watson at the crime scene alone. Watson leaves and as he does a payphone rings. Everywhere he goes for the next couple minutes whenever he walks by a phone, it rings. Finally Watson answers a phone and the speaker shows him that he is controlling the security cameras around him. Watson is told to enter the car outside the phone booth. Once they reach the destination, Watson meets someone who claims to be Holmes' “arch-enemy”. He seems to know a great deal about both Holmes and Watson. Upon first watch I was under the impression that we had just met Moriarty for the first time. Though introducing the greatest villain of Sherlock Holmes this early in seems rather unusual. Keeping him hidden throughout the series would be more interesting.

They use some cool scene transitions with overlay effects. A new scene overlays half the screen, then pans across to make the new scene cover the entire screen. They use this at the coolest moments, when lighting or mood is right.

During the scene where Holmes is setting a trap for the murderer, while they wait at Northumberland street, is the point where I figure out who the killer is and Holmes doesn’t. Tell me, can you figure it out?

The map in Holmes' head.
The chase scene is another scene that’s full of cool shots, too hard for me to convey in snapshot images.  But as Holmes and Watson chase the cab we get flashes of random street signs, the cab, bit of road, all moving fast paced along with the music. Every now and then we see Holmes' map inside his head of where the cab will go and where they should go to cut him off. It’s a brilliant scene.

I solved the mystery 13min before Holmes did.

The thing about a Sherlock Holmes film is that everything in each shot is meant to be there. If you’re looking at a shot and think “Oh hey, that’s nice, look at that” odds are you’re looking at some piece of a mystery. Nothing is ever there for no reason.

Despite the fact that Holmes has already out smarted the killer, the killer manages to taunt Holmes back into the game and Holmes risks his life for no reason other than he’s curious to see if he was right or not. Didn’t anyone ever tell you Holmes? Curiosity killed the cat.

Lighting setting the mood.
When the killer is dying, the blood underneath him randomly disappears.

Turns out the guy I originally thought to be Moriarty was actually Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock Holmes’ brother. Don’t know why Mycroft didn’t just tell Watson he was Holmes’ brother when they first met.

This show is an amazing take on the stories of Sherlock Holmes. It is faithful to the series (a much as it can be for being a modern retelling), and at the same time it’s different and innovative. The mysteries are hard to solve and the evidence is right in front of you. The acting is superb; both lead actors fit the characters perfectly. There is a sense of an overarching plot laid down in the episode, similar to when they lay out potential sequels for movies. The effects are well done, each overlay or Adobe After Effects type of shot is remarkable, and it is never overdone. By far the most compelling part is the shots they use in the series. As I said before, everything is there for a reason, each shot has a purpose. This stands out so distinctly in the show it makes me wish more films were like this. Very little bad can be said about the show. The only things I noticed were bad were intentional character flaws or that disappearing blood. Overall, Sherlock is a brilliant show that I recommend to anyone who likes good mysteries.

It’s elementary, my dear readers, that this show will be a 9/10.

Watson (Freeman) and Holmes (Cumberbatch).

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