Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Hollywood's forgotten Sherlock Holmes blockbuster

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On Sunday night I attended the local media screening for Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which is released here on January 5th.

It's a perfectly enjoyable exercise in derring-do and anachronistically slick fighting scenes, but like I did while watching its predecessor, I found myself getting highly nostalgiac for the last time Hollywood attempted to make a mainstream blockbuster out of the Sherlock Holmes mythos.

For certain film lovers, 1985's Young Sherlock Holmes is one of the great family adventure films of the fertile 1980s, but it rarely ends up on lists celebrating such things, and seems to have been somwhat forgotten.

Produced by Steven Spielberg under his Amblin' Entertainment production banner, it's one of the most spirited and thrilling films he ever oversaw. Chris Columbus (a protege of Spielberg's who also wrote Gremlins, and would go on to helm Home Alone and the first two Harry Potters) wrote the screenplay and it was directed by Barry Levinson (who would go on to win an Oscar for 1988's Rain Man).

Featuring no name actors at all, it stars Nicholas Rowe (last seen getting his foot shot off in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) as a teenage Holmes who we find making friends with Watson at boarding school and getting mixed up in his first proper case, which takes on almost Indiana Jones-esque proportions.

Like a lot of Amblin Entertainment films (Back To The Future; The Goonies et al), it bears Spielberg's unmistakable mark. Because he didn't actually direct the film, it benefits from a lack of his trademark heavyhandedness.

Despite being set in Victorian times, it is a special effects bonanza thanks to the plot device of poison darts that cause wild hallucinations in their victims. One such scene feature cinema's first ever wholly CGI character - a stained glass knight that jumps out of a window and terrorizes a priest.

Another features Watson imagining that his cream puffs are trying to kill him. It's great stuff.

Guy Ritchie's first Sherlock Holmes film seemed to borrow a lot tonally from Young Sherlock Holmes by factoring in secret societies and cloaked occult figures, and positing a dashing Sherlock Holmes figure not afraid to get in on the action.

But neither of his films live up to Young Sherlock Holmes, a fantastic theoretical take on what the detective's life may have been like before Arthur Conan Doyle began chronicling his adventures.

If you've never seen it, I heartily reccommend you check it out.

- Herald online

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