Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Adventure of the Satanist's Zombie

© Warner Bros
I have recently gotten my hands on a copy of the script for the upcoming Sherlock Holmes film. It is a first draft, dated March 14, 2008, but I feel compelled to review it nonetheless. As something of an avid Holmes fan, it's a bit difficult for me to review basing it solely as a film, so I'm going to try to keep as much Holmes fandom as I can out of this, but as it is supposed to be a Sherlock Holmes film, I will naturally come back to the Holmes factor sooner or later. I'm also going to be doing a bit of synopsis as I go. SPOILERS FOLLOW. Scroll to the very bottom if you want my non-spoiler last words and my grade.

And just one last note before we get started: Although by now the majority of the cast is known, in my head I have been seeing Ian Hart as Watson and a man who looks like Richard E. Grant but sounds like Richard Roxburgh as our Holmes. Really just putting that out there to eat up space, separate spoilers from the top of the post. Also note that I am writing this as I'm reading, so any guesses/statements made that later prove to be false (though I doubt there shall be any), that's why.

Now then, on with the post!

The script opens with carriages speeding through the snow. Watson hops out and hurries along to a sewer, where Holmes is already rushing in. And here, at the beginning, is where my problems with the film begin. Holmes was a man of action in the books. I know Sherlock Holmes is often thought of as being an elderly thinker, but in actuality, Holmes retired before he was 40 and often got involved in scrapes. Thus, a little fighting is fine. Heck, the 2002 Hound of the Baskervilles played it up a bit, but this film, I feel, takes it a bit too far. Holmes uses his revolver to shoot a guard dead, takes his hat, and then essentially turns into Captain Fisticuffs. Watson shows up while he's punching guards to hell and starts beating other guards down with a mini-club. This makes me groan. To no end. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson are not Captain Fisticuffs and Billy-Club Boy.

And here at the beginning is another problem I have with the film. We open at the closing of a case, when Holmes is nabbing Blackwood. Blackwood comments on how he has already murdered many young women. Yes, yes, we get the case coming up that will take us through the rest of the film, but goddammit, I want to see Sherlock Holmes on the case that leads him to the sewer where he turns into Captain Fisticuffs. How did it start? How did Holmes determine it was Blackwood? How did he know Blackwood & Co would be holding a Satanic ritual to sacrifice a young woman in the sewer? Not all that important of information for the rest of the film, but DAMN IT I WANT TO KNOW! Somehow it seems to me a much more intriguing case than what we get with this film (more on this soon).

The film moves on the a little while later, with Holmes loafing about 221B Baker Street drinking himself into a stupor (this Holmes, apparently, is without his 7% solution of cocaine and his evening morphine). Watson announces he intends to marry, specifically, one Mary Morstan, whom fans of Arthur Conan Doyle will know from The Sign of Four, as a wife of Watson, who either died or ultimately separated from Watson. Holmes is not one bit happy about the idea of Watson marrying, and takes to boxing and drinking to calm himself down.

Blackwood calls for Holmes on the night of his execution, and tauntingly tells Holmes he will not die, that London will be his. Naturally, then, the sequence we see next, in which an angry mother attempts to assassinate him and in which Blackwood is beheaded, is misdirection. It's painfully obvious that Blackwood was not killed, and he did not return from the grave. But that is what appears to be the case, and as Holmes investigates Blackwood's "revival" he stumbles upon the corpse of a man Irene Adler asked him to locate. Holmes and Watson go out for fish and chips (apparently they existed in the late 1800s, chips I mean) which...bothers me a bit. Fish and chips? And I suppose London is going to be eternally foggy, too? How American can you get with the portrayal of London? Anyway, after a quick bite of lunch, Holmes and Watson investigate the home of this red-headed corpse, and lo! An occult symbol and men who no doubt work for one Mr. Blackwood show up. Cue shootout and chase sequences.

And before I continue, let me stop myself here for a moment to bring up another point: Sherlock Holmes is a superhero now. The script plays up his expert ability to deduce, which was nothing more than intelligence and careful training in Doyle's works, to being a goddamned superhero. I am seriously considering renaming Robert Downey Jr. Holmes "Captain Fisticuffs" since he apparently is a superhero now and likes punching things.

Holmes chases one of Blackwood's men, named Dredger, through a shipyard, in a manner which it seems it meant to induce lols, but I cannot help but yawn at the writing. Hopefully the direction makes this sequence somehow engaging. As they continue through the shipyard, there's more fighting and Watson tries to reunite with Holmes and...I'm sorry. Let me stop here. I really, really seriously hope they brought in other people to do the re-writes, or at least help with the re-writes. Word on the street is they're already working a sequel. If that's true, for the love of whatever god you believe in, DO NOT LET MIKE JOHNSON NEAR SHERLOCK HOLMES. Sherlock Holmes is a man of action, yes, but SHERLOCK HOLMES IS NOT AN ACTION HERO.

Just to be clear, this movie is called Sherlock Holmes, yes? Because you know so far I haven't seen a lot of Sherlock Holmes. I've seen a lot of Captain Fisticuffs versus the Obvious Enemy's Lackeys in a Victorian England version of The Transporter. Honestly that's what they should call this movie. I say this because I'm very nearly halfway through, and not only does it seem very obvious that either a.) Blackwood survived or b.) Someone in Blackwood's occult group is making it look like Blackwood survived, but there hasn't been a lot of mystery, or a lot of investigation. Just a lot of Holmes and Watson bickering and Holmes running around being an action hero. Which he should not be.

On page 46, we get our first sample of Holmes being Holmes, and yet at the same time, it doesn't feel like Sherlock Holmes. It feels like a crackpot private investigator. I know a script is different from a book, and often times a lot of characterization is the actor, but I've read plenty of scripts in the past, and I can still get a feel for characters. And if it's a well-established character, that character is usually written in a manner written to be recognizable. Mike Johnson, however, once again proves he either does not understand Sherlock Holmes, or he is more interested in the production of popcorn fare than he is concerned with making a Sherlock Holmes film.

A short while after Holmes begins his investigative work, he pays a visit to Irene Adler, and here I have further complaints. Holmes is...excited by her in her underwear. And Holmes and Irene end up having sex. That is...just no. Look I'm not saying Holmes is a virgin (though it's perfectly believable) but the man has never, ever, in any story, novel, or film displayed an interest in women, save for Irene Adler, and that is solely because she outwitted him. And that was about it really. He had this disturbing semi-love for her because she beat him. He wasn't sexually attracted to her. He wasn't in love with her. It was just a sort of begrudging respect that hinged on a crush. Once again, Mike Johnson, you fail to understand Sherlock Holmes.

I will say, though, one of the better moments from the trailer was much more understated in the first draft. Props to whoever changed the moment of a maid finding Holmes handcuffed half-naked to a bed.

Once Holmes is out of that jam, however, I daresay the script becomes better. Holmes and Watson have a good relationship now, instead of a slash-erific "Holmes: Watson don't leave me! Watson: But I must!" And Holmes is off to investigate while Watson keeps packing. This leads to a line in the script which made me laugh. Quote: "ON WATSON: Decision time." I'm sorry, but, that just, really, really, really made me die laughing. Mike Johnson's script is full of touches like these, little flourishes we don't really need. In my experience, a script is like a book. If we can surmise or infer, do not tell us. And yet Mike Johnson tells us everything. Very often in very amusing ways.

After Holmes and Watson head out to the chemical plant where Blackwood babbles about his scheme some more and uses some theatrics, the film is feeling more Sherlock Holmes. It feels more like an amusing twist on Holmes, like those old Basil Rathbone films where it was Sherlock Holmes vs. Nazis, but it does feel somewhat like Sherlock Holmes now. Sadly, this is begins on page 63. Unfortunately, we are at this point about 11/20 of the way through the script (odd number I know, about 55/100 if that makes you feel better). The film's reported running time is 139 minutes (2 hr, 19 min). That means we have about 69.5 minutes of a film that is more Captain Fisticuffs than Sherlock Holmes. This, to me, is a bit of a problem, if indeed you intend to make Sherlock Holmes and not Captain Fisticuffs. Now look, I know running time doesn't match evenly with a script, but you understand my point. For Holmes to only be Holmes-ish by the halfway point is a problem, though it fortunately doesn't result in a tonal shift.

And Christ I hope this scene gets the cut. I really do. Ordinarily I'm all for telling the oversensitive animal rights people who wail about movies to piss off, but this...I'm a horse person. I've loved horses all my life, and am an avid rider trained in dressage. There is a scene here which makes me sick to my stomach at the thought of it. I dare not repeat it. Let's just leave it at I really, sincerely, hope they cut it, or do something clever with the camera, or something. I don't think I could take actually seeing this, even if they will use dummies to recreate it (or at least I hope they use dummies, and not actual corpses).

There is a brief flicker of the earlier Captain Fisticuffs film, but it soon resolves itself and we are back to the Holmes Lite, as I'm opting to call it. And now, a little while later, we have a section which irritates me immensely. I am fine with making some changes to Holmes' character. Every single actor has made changes, even Jeremy Brett, who was the most spot-on. But here, here we have a Sherlock Holmes who cannot play the violin worth a damn. Permit me to quote As quite clearly stated in A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant violin player, but he is only capable of playing pieces; if he is left to his own, he just sort of strokes randomly and produces what still sounds good enough to not make the ears bleed, but itsn't quite music. And here in the script, we have a Sherlock Holmes so terrible at the violin Watson came prepared and stuffed cotton in his ears.

And is it any surprise where the finale is taking place? Early in the film we are told Blackwood's behind the construction of Tower Bridge. Is there any doubt in anyone's mind this is obviously going to come up at some point? I'm afraid Tower Bridge might ruin it for me. I'm afraid all this Holmes Lite we've been getting will dissolve into Captain Fisticuffs On Steroids. After all, Tower Bridge is excuse enough for a set-piece, but Tower Bridge under construction? All I can say is, thank God Michael Bay isn't directing this movie.

Another fun quote from the script: "Irene swarms back down the stairs, retrieves her knife,
and gives Watson a saucy shrug; aren’t you glad I’m here now?"

We, alas, begin to dissolve back into Captain Fisticuffs, somewhat naturally, I suppose. It's the finale, and even if we were being Holmes-ish earlier, this seems to be more of an action film, and you can't have the climax without a fight! I can only hope that when this business is finished, when the denouement begins, we will return to Holmes Lite. At 96/115 pages, there can't be much more Captain Fisticuffs, can there? Anyway here appears to be another modification between the final product and this draft. Here, what appears to be the final struggle is taking place at the Tower of London and not on Tower Bridge (wisely, I think), and the bit with the hammers from the trailer appears to be nowhere in the script. But then, this is the first draft. I'm sure a lot has changed.

Again! Mike Johnson, you do not understand Sherlock Holmes! He just described Holmes being essentially a Victorian 007 as "quintessential Holmes". Wrong, good sir. Terribly wrong. And here, the last struggle between Blackwood and Holmes on Tower Bridge, it's not Captain Fisticuffs, but it's not Sherlock Holmes either.

"He's called the Professor. That's all I know -- except that he pays well." Indeed, they are setting up for a sequel. Professor, you say? Would that happen to be Professor James Moriarty? (Honestly I kind of saw the Irene working for Moriarty thing coming from a good distance away).

The finale, back in 221B Baker Street is nice. We're back to Holmes Lite here. Nice way to end, I think. And thus ends my ramblings and rantings and commentary of sorts.

© Warner Bros
At the end of the day, Sherlock Holmes is a very good film. It by no means approaches the level of such genius as my personal favorite film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, but judging by the script, it will make a very good film. But this is also the slight problem. Sherlock Holmes will make a good film. As a Sherlock Holmes film, not so much. Changing characters and elements is one thing, and that's fine, but this is like Basil Rathbone the Superhero Holmes. That doesn't sit well with me.

Rating the script as a film: I give Sherlock Holmes a B
Rating the script as a Sherlock Holmes film: I give Sherlock Holmes a C-

And now I'm off to browse the place I got the Sherlock Holmes script, see if I can't find something else worth reading. And who knows? I may just post another rambling, commentary-ish review of the script.

1 comment:

  1. OH. IT IS ON.

    How cool is it that the first thing you ever posted had a link to ZOMBIES? How cool? It's like we were meant to find each other.

    That's all I got. Want me to design a blog header for you after el exams as a belated birthday present? I can do real nice ones. Tessa's heading was drawn by yours truly. The offer stands.