Sherlock: Season One (Blu-ray)
Directed by Paul McGuigan, Euros Lyn
Studio: BBC/2 Entertain
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080i AVC codec Running Time: 270 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Region: no designations
MSRP: $ 39.98
Release Date: November 9, 2010
Review Date: December 19, 2010
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary consulting detective Sherlock Holmes was a product of Victorian England (debuting in 1887 with the story “A Study in Scarlet” in the Strand magazine), but the BBC’s new series Sherlock transports the famous fictional sleuth into 21st century England complete with all of the electronic know-how of today’s electronic age. This isn’t the first time the character has been plopped down into a modern time frame. Universal initiated a series of twelve Holmes films in 1942 where the eccentric genius investigator was called in to aid the Allied war effort against the Nazis and in its day was very effective. But the BBC’s Sherlock makes terrific use of the original personalities of the characters, never once betraying the canonical relationships in search of a cheap laugh or egregious thrill. As one of the most outstanding television events of 2010, Sherlock, like its namesake crime fighter, is in a class by itself.
Three TV-movie length cases make up the contents of this package, all of them with some kind of tenuous kinship to Doyle’s original stories (references to orange pips and Bruce Partington plans, 221B Baker Street, Holmes shooting holes in the wall, for example) though they are by no means remakes or adaptations of the original stories. “A Study in Pink” begins with retired Army doctor John Watson (Martin Freeman) recently returning injured from Afghanistan and needing to share a flat with someone with similarly limited income. He’s introduced to the world’s only consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), and the game is almost immediately afoot as the duo begin snooping into a recent rash of deaths by suicide. Holmes, of course, suspects murder, and murder it is as Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) must grudgingly admit. Their second case entitled “The Blind Banker” begins as a pair of locked room mysteries but soon evolves into a search for smugglers. The package’s final case “The Great Game” involves Holmes solving a series of five crime puzzles while being manipulated the entire time by his arch nemesis Moriarty (Andrew Scott).
The cases are all briskly directed and plotted with the necessary amount of complexity until Holmes makes all things clear (the first and third stories are more satisfying than the second). A use of graphic overlays to represent not only texting and internet use but also the machinations of Holmes’ mind add wonderfully eccentric atmosphere to the visual look of these stories. Many of the familiar names from the Holmes tales turn up in these first three films. Besides Lestrade and Moriarty there are Holmes’ affable landlady Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) and Holmes’ more grounded brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss who also co-created the series and wrote episode three). New to the tales are a girl friend for Watson, Sara (Zoe Telford), and a police sergeant (Vinette Robinson) who despises Holmes and the department’s dependence on him.
Benedict Cumberbatch is genius casting for Sherlock Holmes having both a youthful vigor and the cerebral concentration to utterly convince as a younger version of the iconic character. And Martin Freeman is no less effective as the more sober and dogged Watson (who writes Holmes’ exploits on his blog rather than submitting stories to the Strand). Their chemistry together, often abrasive but with a clear, affectionate bond between them, makes their every scene together and apart notable. Una Stubbs is an endearing Mrs. Hudson and both Rupert Graves and Mark Gatiss fill the shoes of Lestrade and Mycroft quite well. Andrew Scott’s Moriarty brings a novel approach to the icily evil character and would appear to be a worthy foil for the master detective in upcoming editions of the series.
The program has been framed at the widescreen television aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080i using the AVC codec. Despite being an interlaced transfer, the images are mostly rock solid with only sporadic problems with line twitter or moiré. Color is nicely and cleanly presented without being overly saturated while sharpness and detail are excellent. Black levels aren’t always reaching the utter depths of possible delivery, but they’re more than adequate as is shadow detail. Each installment has been divided into 8 chapters.
The disc offers only a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, but with those limitations, the sound quality is well above average. David Arnold’s very individualistic music for the series gets the most obvious spread into the surrounds with a few explosions offering the LFE channel something to do. There are occasional ambient sounds in the fronts and rears, but more could have been done with these. Dialogue has been well recorded and resides in the center channel.
The set offers two audio commentaries. The first episode presents co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat along with producer Sue Vertue offering interesting background on the creation of the series, the casting, and their hopes for future installments. The commentary on episode three includes Gatiss again with stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman discussing the making of the episode with lively anecdotes and good camaraderie between them. Both are well worth a listen.
“Unlocking Sherlock” is a 32 ½-minute making of documentary tracing the genesis of the project from conception through casting, location scouting, the pilot, the construction of the 221B Baker Street set, and the music scoring for the series. Cast and crew participate in this 1080i presentation.
The unaired pilot episode of “A Study in Pink” runs 55 minutes. It contains the same basic story as the 78-minute air version (which was actually filmed last after the third and second episodes were filmed in that order) but with some different locations and the entire Mycroft Holmes subplot excised. It’s in 1080i.
There are promo trailers for Wallander and the programming on BBC-America.
4/5 (not an average)
Full of delicious wit and definitely not talking down to its intended audience, Sherlock is a delightful new mystery series with the iconic detective now solving cases in our own century with his stalwart right hand man Watson by his side. With superb actors, thoughtfully intricate plots, and terrific production design, Sherlock is a series to treasure. Highly recommended!