Vantage point

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Re-Appreciating Sherlock

Like most of you, I read Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books in my teens. Loved them. Sherlock Holmes became an elusive nerdy ideal I dreamed of copying. His mysteries were as spine-tingling as they were educational (my first exposure to the Ku-Klux-Klan was through Sherlock Holmes). Then, like all of you, I grew up. Moved on to other literary heroes, and other practical considerations in life.

Then a couple of years back, I heard that there were two different Sherlock Holmes "interpretations" in the works. Both being conceived by creators I was a fan of - Guy Ritchie of Snatch Fame and Steven Moffat of Coupling fame. Hmm, I said to myself, reinterpreting Sherlock Holmes while keeping his "soul" intact was no easy job. I had sen Granada Television's TV series, and as faithful as it was to the original, I still had issues with it. Translating Doyle's work into something you can put on the screen seems tough. But if I had to choose 2 guys to do it, Ritchie and Moffat would be in my list.

Furthermore, Ritchie's interpretation would feature Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes. I am a BIIIIG fan of Downey's. And Watson would be played by Jude Law whom I have a healthy regard for. I also heard that Irene Adler would be played by Rachel McAdams, whom I consider one of the most talented actresses around. So all in all, I was positively predisposed toward's Guy Ritchie's Sherlock.

Then the movie came out5. I went to watch it, "first day first show". And it left a bad taste in my mouth. I didn't have any major problems with how Downey played Holmes or Law played Watson. I just plain didn't like the movie. Didn't like the underlying "mystery" which I found too Dan-Brown-ish for my taste.

That blunted my enthusiasm for Steven Moffat's BBC TV series. As a tempered Sherlck Holmes fan, I had already been disillusioned by Guy Ritchie. Did I want to give another Brit the opportunity to disappoint me? No thanks! Plus I knew that Moffat's interpretation placed Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century, a tough ask. Yup, definitely NO THANKS! I steered clear of watching the show.

But then, a bunch of my friends got the better of me. "Give it a shot, just one shot!", they said. BBC's series Sherlock, although it is set in present times, is wayyyyy more true to the original than Ritchie's abomination, they said. So I thought, fine, let me give it a shot.

The result astounded me. I loved it, no I LOVED it! Steven Moffat's Sherlock, set in the 21st century, resonated wayyyyyyy more with me than Ritchie's Sherlock, set in Victorian times. The 3 episodes, all "movie length" (i.e., 90 minutes each)felt more genuine than anything Guy Ritchie served up. I didn't know why! How could Sherlock Holmes set in 2010, with text messaging, websites, and GPS, resonate with me more than Guy Ritchie's decidedly Victorian interpretation? I had no idea! But it did!

Then recently, I moved to New York City. Started spending a long time in suubways. So I downloaded the Kindle app on my phone. Looked for free books. Found a lot of Sherlock Holmes books. Started (re) reading them during my subway rides.

And I got why I loved BBC's Moffat series! Over the years, my mind retained the "essence" of Sherlock Holmes, but had forgotten the specifics. When I watched Moffat's series, I felt he had captured the "essence". Re-reading the books told me why I felt that way. Because despite throwing Holmes and Watson into 2011, Moffat retained their basic appeal, with some amazing attention to detail that, my mind forgot, but my subconscious mind appreciated!

For example, the way Holmes asks Watson "Afghanistan or Iraq" when they first meet. It's a clear reference to the way Doyle's Holmes guessed Watson's military background in Afghanistan. How he guesses....I am sorry....deduces several facts about Watson's sibling based on his cellphone (clear and direct reference to how Holmes deduced facts about Watson's brother in the original books).

But these are blatant references. The series is full of references to facts that the generic Holmes fan, who read the books years ago, is likely to forget. For instance, in the series, Sherlock randomly shoots at the wall because he is bored. Seemed gratuitous to me. But after reading the books, I realized it was faithful to the original, in which Doyle writes that Holmes does that!

Or the cipher in the 2nd episode. Such a clear reference to the cipher in the Valley of Fear! The series is studded with loyal references like that. Which makes it, despite being set in present times, the most loyal interpretation of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes ever!

Watch it!