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Sherlock! (2010)
A new sleuth for the 21st century.
Director: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat

A modern update finds the famous sleuth and his doctor partner solving crime in 21st century London.

Sherlock! (2010)

Logical Circularity

This comment applies to the three, presumably the only three episodes of the BBC Sherlock! (The trend seems to be to modernise famed detectives and so denote with an exclamation point.)

(After this comment was written, there would be more)

I come to this as I come to any version of Sherlock because of the historical place he holds in cinematic narrative. The original stories reflected the ontological wars in Victorian England. On the one hand were the reductionist scientists who supposed that everything was reducible to logic where its causes can be mastered. This view of science, propelled by Darwin and Freud, extended to human behaviour. Humans were machines who could be fathomed. Opposed was an equally ambitious and frail notion driven by belief in the supernatural, in the essential inscrutability of the soul.

This contrast hosted the notion of discovery by a narrator when cast into fiction. So powerful is the meme and its descendants that we can rarely escape it.

So when a modern Holmes appears there is the opportunity for another fold, one which recognises that the form within affected the containing form.

The first episode starts off briskly, primarily occupied with establishing the world and the key participants. Lestrade, Holmes and brother and our onscreen reporter Watson. Here he is a blogger, rather than the more obvious film student. Holmes is less a master of deduction than of observation, and that is a disappointment. We have the chunk a chunk music from the Guy Richie film and associated action. It is very well written, including the twist of Moriarty’s onscreen identity.

The second episode is something of a failure. There is an international gang of smugglers, and some cryptography, but only because Holmes doesn’t know the characters of the most used written language in the world. The story is a hodgepodge of references to the original stories and a few screen versions, but they don’t seem placed for the viewer’s enjoyment. Instead, they seem mere fodder for the writer.

The third episode pulls us into “Se7en” territory, with serial challenges between criminal and detective. My opinion is that this is something of a lost opportunity. It doesn’t do the puzzle episodes nearly as well as the original film, and it involves the cost of removing the logic from the narrator. In these stories, the master criminal is always a few steps ahead of the fellow we have invested in. That is the nature of modern noir, but the dissonance of using Sherlock as the token is severe.

But I will advise you watch all three of these. Moriarty is revealed in the last few minutes of the third episode, and in the last few seconds we are presented with a decision. The confusion, the missteps, the inappropriate cinematic devices, the hackneyed characters… they are all forgotten in that last sweep. I cannot believe that the pitch to the producers was to make three episodes of frustration just to have ten seconds of release. But that is what has happened here.

Posted in 2011

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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