Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes

Yesterday I finally sat down and started watching the first series of Sherlock, the BBC television series, which is an adaptation of the works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Scottish author and physician Doyle created the character of Sherlock Holmes in 1887, in a series of short stories.  Holmes is seen as a "consulting" detective for Scotland Yard; he uses an acute sense of logical reasoning, has a knack for disguises, and forensic science to help solve crimes.  Doyle's characterization of this man, has left an indelible mark of literature that has moved into being an important part of film and television.

In more recent years Sherlock Holmes has captivated audiences in many different methods.  One of the most interesting adaptations, or interpretations is the television series House (or House M.D.).  Gregory House (played by Hugh Laurie) is a cantankerous doctor who uses that insane acute logical reasoning, along with medical knowledge to help his team solve medical mysteries at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital.  House's confident and closest friend is Dr. James Wilson, the more kind hearted, and level headed of the pair.  Most loyal fans of the show have seen this connection, but to everyday viewer probably misses out on how Doyle's massively famous detective influenced television creator David Shore.  Shore brilliantly deduced that Holmes popularity could be translated in a not so obvious way to Laurie's sarcastic doc.  The show was a massive success and recently just ended its series run this past May.

In 2009 Sherlock Holmes received a more literal adaptation with film distributed by Warner Brothers entitled, go figure, Sherlock Holmes.  This film centered on 1891 London and the the relationship between Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his trusty side-kick Watson (Jude Law) as they investigated the supposed death of Lord Blackwood.  The film, directed by Guy Ritchie,  was released on Christmas Day, opened to decent reviews, and made a large sum at the box office proving that the legend of this famous detective had a lot of bite.  Two years later in 2011 Ritchie returned to the directors chair, and brought back Downey Jr. and Law in the sequel entitled Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.  The sequels reviews were not as strong, and audiences did not show up right away but in the slow holiday season, audiences returned to 221 B Baker to watch Holmes take on his arch nemesis Professor James Moriarty (Jarred Harris).

The real crowning achievement (quality wise) in the world of adaptations is the recent BBC adaptation of the classic story.  The television series entitled Sherlock, stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a modern day Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson his faithful sidekick.  This modern birthed by Mark Gattis, and Steven Moffat puts Holmes and Watson in similar mysterious situations, but uses modern day touches to help carefully create beautiful stories.  Steven Moffat's writing is brilliantly paced, and within what the Brits call the first series (or season) the three episodes explore mysteries with a commercial free 90 minutes that allows the mystery, and character development to unfold nicely.  Gattis and Moffat use classic Holmes stories to help construct their modern day adaptation of this story.  One of my favorite aspects of the show is that Watson is a blogger instead of a physician turned author, that minor detail never feels trite or pandering merely the sign these men know how to construct a modern adaptation of classic literature.

In the fall Sherlock Holmes is getting an American adaptation with the television series Elementary.  The differences are that Holmes is moving the New York, and his sidekick is Joan Watson a female played by Lucy Lui.  Obviously one of the differences here is that the homoerotic undertones to Holmes will be missing in this series, which are beautifully woven in the BBC version.  This show could be a massive success because of the lore of the character, and it's on CBS, which will pull in a wide demographic.  The major question is why does this character translate so well?

These television shows, and films are just a hand full of the most recent adaptations within 2000s.  Before the 2000s there were films dating as far back as 1939, and television series adaptations as recent as the 1980s.  This character's intense ways for crime solving are indelible.  Doyle left a lasting mark in literature that has evolved into more recent mediums of popular culture, much like the way Shakespeare influences popular culture today.  The character of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson are the perfect dynamic duo, they complete each other signifying this great push and pull.  There is chemistry on friend level, which allows these two men to work congruently as they fight crime, and solve the most fascinating mysteries.  People love well plotted mysteries (they even love poorly plotted ones), but within this varying adaptations we are left with incredible adaptations of one of the most complicated men, solving mysteries, what more could modern day audiences want?  Nothing.

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