DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes

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  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer

    Feb 20, 2001
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    Sherlock Holmes

    Directed By: Guy Ritchie

    Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly, James Fox, Hans Matheson, Robert Maillet

    Studio: Warner Bros.

    Year: 2009

    Rated: PG-13

    Film Length: 128 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 16:9

    Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

    Release Date: March 30, 2010

    The Film ****½

    Sherlock Holmes begins with a bang as world famous detective Holmes (Downey) and Dr. Watson (Law) frantically rush and battle their way through henchmen to save a woman from being the victim of a ritual sacrifice at the hands of Lord Blackwood (Strong). Blackwood is apprehended, imprisoned, and executed with Watson as the attending physician pronouncing him dead. This sends Holmes into his typical in-between cases funk during which he runs through a series of seemingly random experiments and his home at 221B Baker Street in London becomes as disheveled as he is. When reports begin to emerge that Lord Blackwood has returned from beyond the grave, Holmes finds the seeming impossibility irresistible and pulls out of his reverie to take on the case. The challenge of applying his supreme observational and logical skills to a case that appears to be rooted in black magic is further complicated by the imminent departure of the recently engaged Watson and the appearance in London of the lovely and dangerous Irene Adler (McAdams) an international thief that seems to inhabit one of the few blind spots in Holmes' observational arsenal.

    As ubiquitous as the character of Sherlock Holmes is in popular culture, it is surprising to realize that this is his first significant appearance in cinemas since Michael Caine assumed the role in the spoof Without a Clue in 1988. I suspect that filmmakers simply felt that the character had been "done to death" and that the formal and repetitive nature of his mystery solving ways was better suited to television such as the excellent series of UK productions featuring actor Jeremey Brett from the 80s and 90s.

    Enter Director Guy Ritchie who applies his kinetic style of filmmaking to the character in an original screen story that nonetheless touches on elements of some of the more adventure oriented material from the Arthur Conan Doyle source literature. This cinematic take on Holmes, as embodied by Robert Downey, Jr., is considerably less meticulous about his appearance, but every bit as meticulous in his investigative technique as the Holmes with which most viewers will be familiar. In turn, Jude Law's Watson is a more capable and fit companion for Holmes than the perpetually gob-smacked second banana that has been the cinematic norm. This cinematic "re-imagining" emphasizes some of the traditionally underserved aspects of the literary characters such as Holmes' fighting skills and Watson's military background. Just as importantly, it also dovetails nicely with Guy Ritchie's affinity for cinematic depictions of "blokes bonding and brawling".

    The movie is extremely well-cast with Downey and Law making terrific foils for each other and amusingly playing off the sub-textual humor that finds Watson finding it harder to "quit" Holmes than Jack found it to quit Ennis in Brokeback Mountain. Downey gives a very physical performance, consistently making risky and interesting choices that somehow pay-off. He seems to be operating on a different level than any other modern film actor with the possible exception of Johhny Depp. Normally, casting an actress as attractive as Rachel McAdams in the role of a keenly intelligent counterpart to the leading man will yield results along the lines of Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist in The World is not Enough. Fortunately, McAdams is too talented to let that happen, and seems to relish the part without overplaying her hand. Guy Ritchie regular Mark Strong hits the perfect note as the evil and mysterious Lord Blackwood to such an extent that I am almost pre-disposed to be disappointed in whoever is announced to play the villain in the inevitable sequel.

    From a technical standpoint, the film does a remarkable job of recreating 1891 London. This evocation of a specific time and place is accomplished through a full court press of production design, use of real London locations, CGI enhancement, stylized cinematography, costume design, and even plot points emphasizing the technological developments of the Victorian age.

    The film is such a fast-paced fun frolic that viewers are more likely to be encouraged than put-off by the way the ending of the film shamelessly teases the sequel. What the heck? It worked for Batman Begins!

    The Video ****

    The video presentation approximates the film's original theatrical aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. Continuing the encouraging trend of recent titles such as The Blind Side and Ninja Assassin Warner seems to have abandoned whatever processing was being applied that was creating a thick layer of digital video noise on most of its theatrical new release SD DVD titles for the last couple of years. The video and compression quality remains strong for most of the film despite a cinematic style that presents challenges to standard definition video and mpeg compression. Black levels in particular are very important to achieve the intended look of the film, and for most of the presentation, they are yielded quite nicely. The first half of the film was pretty uniformly excellent in this regard, but a few artifacts such as blockiness in shadows did crop up in certain shots during the film's last few reels. Colors are dominated by dingy greys with only occasional splashes of more vivid hues, but they are all rendered quite well. Compression artifacts rear their heads in expected places, usually highly detailed shots with a moving, zooming, or panning camera, but they are not excessive.

    The Audio ****

    The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is encoded at a bitrate of 384 kbps. The mix normally features wide stereo imaging of music and effects across the front three channels with dialog almost always centered. The unconventional Hans Zimmer score is a highlight of the mix. The surrounds are used sparingly for the first 70 minutes or so of the film until a scene in a laboratory/mini-slaughterhouse applies aggressive discrete dimensional effects. From this point forward, the surround field is used much more aggressively to enhance on-screen elements such as explosions and environmental cues. Fidelity seems to suffer a bit when all 5.1 channels are being engaged, probably due to the relatively low bitrate. Dynamics are pretty wide which could have late-night viewers "riding the gain" on their amplifier to hear dialog and then turn down effects unless they apply some compression via their player or pre-amp. Viewers not worried about waking their family or neighbors will enjoy the track which compliments the funhouse ride of the plot nicely. Alternate language dubs include Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French and Spanish.

    The Extras *½

    The only special feature on the disc is a featurette called Sherlock Holmes Reinvented (14:05) which is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. Topics discussed include how different adaptations have cemented the character in the public consciousness in ways not necessarily consistent with the original books, Guy Ritchie's visceral cinematic sensibilities, Downey and Law and their thoughts on the characters, the London locations, and the recreation of London circa 1891. Footage mixes film clips (slightly matted to 1.85:1), behind the scenes on-set footage, and talking-head interviews with Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Guy Ritchie, Producer Susan Downey, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Executive Producer Joel Silver, Writer/Producer Lionel Wigram, Co-Producer Steve Clark-Hall, Stunt Coordinator Franklin Henson, and Fight Consultant Eric Oram. It is mildly interesting, but tilts in the direction of promotion more so than information a bit too often.

    When the disc is first played, the viewer is greeted with the following series of skippable promos in 4:3 video, letterboxed when appropriate, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound:
    • Anti-Smoking PSA that parodies energy drink commercials(:32)
    • Clash of the Titans Theatrical Teaser(1:02)
    • Clint Eastwood 35 Films 35 Years DVD Trailer(2:21)
    • Invictus DVD/BD Trailer(2:25)
    • Guardians of Ga'Hoole Video Game Trailer(1:03)
    • The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy BD Trailer(2:21)


    The single sided-dual-layered DVD-9 is packaged in a standard Amaray-sized ECO-BOX case. A one-sided paper insert promotes the "Warner Insider Rewards" program and includes a coupon code to redeem program points.

    Summary ****½

    Guy Ritchie's visceral action-adventure take on Sherlock Holmes offers a fresh and fun spin on the popular character with an impressive recreation of Victorian era London and an even more impressive cast toplined by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. It is presented on DVD with very good video and audio quality marred only by some minor and infrequent mpeg video noise. The only extra is a fourteen minute featurette that has a handful of interesting information on the filmmakers' approach to the material, but is largely promotional in nature.


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