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Young Sherlock Holmes
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by Mel Valentin

"Light, lightweight entertainment, courtesy of 80s-era Spielberg."
4 stars

Arthur Conan Doyle’s “consulting detective,” Sherlock Holmes, and his longtime friend and chronicler, Dr. John Watson, entered Western pop culture more than a century ago. Not a year goes by without either an adaptation of one of Doyle’s 56 short stories or four novels based on Holmes and his longtime friend and chronicler, Dr. John Watson. Twenty-five years ago, Steven Spielberg attempted to rebrand Holmes and Watson with younger audiences and kick-start a new franchise by executive producing "Young Sherlock Holmes." Written by Spielberg’s one-time protégé, Chris Columbus ("Rent," "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone," "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Home Alone"]), and directed by Barry Levinson ("Wag the Dog," "Bugsy," "Rain Man," "Tin Men," "Diner"), "Young Sherlock Holmes" failed to attract audiences to movie theaters.

The events in Young Sherlock Holmes occur (two decades before Holmes and Watson’s first canonical appearance in Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet). When we first meet Sherlock Holmes (Nicholas Rowe), he’s already showing signs of the brilliant detective he’ll become in the near (fictional) future. He has a curious, quick, analytical mind and scores highly on his exams at Bromton Academy, an all-boys school in London. Holmes’ mentor, Professor Rupert T. Waxflatter (Nigel Stock), an eccentric, ex-academic and inventor, spends his time working on a heavier-than-air flying machine (several decades ahead of the Wright Brothers). Waxflatter’s niece, Elizabeth Hardy (Sophie Ward), lives and works at the academy.

John Watson (Alan Cox), Holmes’ future (fictional) chronicler, arrives at Bromton mid-year, a transfer from another school. Watson and Holmes quickly become friends, with Watson the eager disciple. Always on the lookout for a mystery to engage his mind, Holmes notices Waxflatter’s interests in the bizarre deaths of two men, Bentley Bobster (Patrick Newell) and The Reverend Duncan Nesbitt (Donald Eccles). A third man, Chester Cragwitch (Freddie Jones), lingers outside Waxflatter’s laboratory, but flees when Holmes, Watson, and Elizabeth approach. Rather than turn to his other mentor, Professor Rathe (Anthony Higgins), Holmes approaches Inspector Lestrade (Roger Ashton-Griffiths), a stodgy, unimaginative Scotland Yard detective (and future Holmes’ foil) for help. Lestrade dismisses Holmes’ ideas as fanciful and ill founded.

Not surprisingly, hardcore fans rejected Young Sherlock Holmes as a bastardization and misinterpretation of Doyle's singular creation. They also objected to the non-canon romance between Holmes and Elizabeth and the explanation for Holmes never marrying as an adult. All true, but all minor, especially since there’s no attempt to make Young Sherlock Holmes fit the canonical stories except in broad strokes. A more significant objection, however, can be found in the mystery, or rather the lack of mystery in Young Sherlock Holmes. Columbus’ screenplay and Levinson’s direction give away the identity of the villain early on (his “ultimate” identity isn’t surprising either).

Given the release of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a year earlier and Spielberg's involvement as a producer, Young Sherlock Holmes must have struck moviegoers circa 1985 as Indiana Jones-lite. They weren’t wrong. As the emphasis on action/adventure and the sequel-ready ending suggests, Spielberg envisioned Young Sherlock Holmes as the first entry in a potentially lucrative franchise. He probably saw the comparisons to Indiana Jones as a positive, not a negative. Paramount agreed, re-titling Young Sherlock Holmes Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear for British audiences.

Objections aside, Young Sherlock Holmes is far from perfect. Watson’s voiceover narration is often redundant and distracting, adding nothing narratively, presumably included to remind moviegoers of the first-person narrative device Doyle used in his short stories and novellas and/or to explain plot points Levinson and Columbus felt would be otherwise unclear to audiences. The secondary characters are caricatures, e.g., Waxflatter, the wild-haired daft genius inventor, rambling, forgetful, octogenarian instructors, and a buffoonish Lestrade. With only a handful of suspects available, the villain’s identity will come as no surprise, even to the least attentive audience member, as is the second, post-credits revelation of a new identity to match the literary Holmes’ arch-nemesis.

Two-and-a-half decades later, "Young Sherlock Holmes" remains notable for the 3D stained-glass knight that attacks a parish priest. Supervised by a young John Lasseter, then employed by George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) in the animation division and later sold to Steve Jobs under the Pixar brand name (for the computer hardware developed by the division), the stained-glass knight was the first fully rendered CG character to appear in a mainstream, Hollywood film. Animating the stained-glass knight took four months to complete. It would take another decade of advances in computer hardware and software, however, before a feature-length, computer animated film could be made ("Toy Story," of course).

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=2510&reviewer=402
originally posted: 10/13/10 15:12:22
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Features Sherlock Holmes For more in the Sherlock Holmes series, click here.

User Comments

12/19/11 skippy mcdermott Complete drivel. Don't waste your time. Spielberg, Columbus, and Levinson should be ASHAMED 1 stars
9/28/11 C.M. Chan Not perfect, but fun. 4 stars
1/23/11 bill norris 1 of my favs as a kid! still pull this out from time to time 4 stars
7/15/10 the dork knight Indiana Jones for dummies. 2 stars
12/24/08 Pav One of my top ten favorites since i saw it 20 years ago. 5 stars
9/05/08 Igor AMAZING!!!! 5 stars
5/21/06 chienne I'm not much of a Holmes fan, but I loved this film. 4 stars
5/05/06 Italo Lenta This is one of favorite films - why all the bad reviews? 5 stars
12/04/05 Marissa This is a great movie for kids! The special effects are just plain awesome! 5 stars
8/01/05 Ric Bland, obvious mystery and mediocre acting. 2 stars
5/10/05 David Fowler Criminally underrated. Bruce Broughton's incredible score should have won an Oscar. Great! 5 stars
7/20/04 Laura Enrech I liked it a lot, above all how they speak I love their perfect english, it´s amazing. 5 stars
1/03/04 Vince Excellent - one of my favorites 5 stars
10/21/03 ML This is a wonderful movie that deserves much more acclaim than it got! 5 stars
8/14/03 Romek Amazing Movie-! Has been my fav. since 5th grade 5 stars
6/14/03 Jack Sommersby Thoroughly entertaning, even with its creaky finale. 4 stars
11/22/02 Myra Breckinridge Entertaining introduction to Holmes for new generations 4 stars
10/17/02 Charles Tatum Levinson should hire himself out more often 5 stars
4/03/02 T. Pendleton Simply put, I just love this film. 5 stars
3/13/02 A. Wallace If you are a huge Sherlock Holmes fan you will want to see this film 4 stars
11/19/01 Sara My favorite guilty pleasure... I love this movie. 5 stars
9/07/01 The Love of Three Mangoes I love this film - great score, characters, plot, cinematography. Well worth your time. 5 stars
5/28/01 Sarah This is my favorite movie, along with "Almost Famous" and "Billy Elliot." 5 stars
5/13/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) This movie is amazing. I'm ashamed to say how many times I've seen it. 4 stars
11/24/00 Mic Not in any way convincing or captivating after the first half or so. 2 stars
6/06/00 Jackie Benjamin well in the information on the big case but a little vague, but overall it was great 4 stars
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  02-Dec-1985 (PG-13)



Directed by
  Barry Levinson

Written by
  Chris Columbus

  Nicholas Rowe
  Alan Cox
  Sophie Ward
  Anthony Higgins
  Susan Fleetwood
  Nigel Stock

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