Sherlock Holmes (2009)

1. Analysis of the Book

“The Mazarin Stone” is a single scene short story that takes place in Sherlock Holmes’ apartment on Baker Street. This setting doesn’t help readers get a feel of the Victorian London that Holmes is located in but the description of his apartment and its contents helps readers get a feel for Holmes personality. From what is shown through the story, Holmes is an eclectic man with varying interests ranging from music, chemistry, theatre, martial arts, and more. Holmes witty, trickster, and intelligent personality shines through in his dialogue with Watson, Billy and the Count. Doyle seems to explores themes of non-violence, self-confidence, teamwork, and the importance of brains over brawn when trying to deal with justice.

2. Analysis of the Film

Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes offers a fresh take on the literary works that have become iconic in both American and British cultures. Ritchie offers a dark, dirty, steampunk version of Victorian England, which excellent costume and set design helps to make the film feel like an authentic period piece. One of the highlights of the film is the relationship between Holmes and Watson, whose witty back and forth banter is not only entertaining but offers insight into the depth of their relationship as best friends and investigative partners. The inclusion of a new character, Irene Adler, adds more mystery to Holmes’ background prior to the starting point of the movie because of the allusion to a prior romantic relationship that has had a profound effect on the enigmatic Holmes. Adler also gives audiences another bad guy to focus on for a while, blurring for audiences who the antagonist is supposed to be. Slow motion scenes and voice over narration by Robert Downey Jr. give audiences an entertaining insight into Sherlock Holmes mind, revealing the somewhat mad genius that allows him to succeed in this film.

3. Analysis of Adaptation

Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes weaves a tale that is very much in touch with the Sherlock Holmes canon and makes it his own fresh brand of Holmes that can appeal to more contemporary or younger audiences. Ritchie leaves behind the small scale mysteries that Holmes usually solves in Doyle’s stories for something with global implications, making it a more layered work. Unlike the single setting visited in “The Mazarin Stone” this movie is set all over London with multiple antagonists at play and even a couple of subplots for viewers to chew on (Watson’s dilemma over engagement, Adler’s mysterious reappearance in Holmes’ life, and the introduction of Professor Moriarty). Christopher Bahn claims that “some of the most rewarding post-Conan Doyle works are the ones that wrestle with the canon’s inconsistencies and spin fresh tales out of them” and Guy Ritchie achieves this by not shying away from showing onscreen what Doyle merely implied in his stories, which was Holmes’ fighting experience and expertise and the possible romance with Irene Adler. Ritchie’s Holmes may be a lighter character for the sake of a PG-13 rating and may abandon what are thought to be classic lines or appearances, but the eccentricity, intellect, and comedy that readers love so much still appears on screen through Robert Downey Jr.’s characterization of Holmes. Most important of all, we get to see Holmes’ trademark power of deduction and attention to detail save the day in the end.

4. Online Research

  • Trevor Gentry-Birnbaum analyzes how faithful Sherlock Holmes is to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original work by comparing the two. He argues that the film picks up on small hints that may not be immediately understood clearly in Doyle’s stories (like how Holmes’ overactive mind may easily be overloaded and become a burden, as shown in the restaurant scene of the film). He observes how the film is authentic in its dialogue because of the inclusion of conversation almost verbatim from Doyle’s stories. Gentry-Birnbaum takes issue though with Sherlock’s appearance in the film as the original work cites Holmes as being over 6 feet tall, hygienic, and possessing discolored skin. He also believes that although Doyle’s work showed instances where Holmes got on Watson’s nerves, it wasn’t to the degree of exasperation as shown in the film so their relationship was not very in touch with the source material. Overall, Gentry-Birnbaum backs up with literary evidence that Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock is very in tune with the man Arthur Conan Doyle created.

  • An interview in Vanity Fair with director Guy Ritchie, where he explains his choice of casting an American actor for such a British role and Holmes’ costume choices. He also talks about how his version of Sherlock Holmes works well with who Arthur Conan Doyle was and his literary version of Holmes.

  • Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is compared to other contemporary versions of Sherlock Holmes in both the TV and movie mediums. Faye comments on why she believes that Ritchie’s action hero Holmes works well with the Holmes that Doyle presented to readers.

5. Critical Analysis

Should Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes remain on the syllabus for this class? Give 3 reasons it should be retained or removed.

Despite what many film critics may believe, this film is very much in the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work and the time it is set in and should remain on the syllabus as it turns into a loaded subject to analyze.

  • This film is not a bad adaptation or reboot of Doyle’s work, it is just not like every other Sherlock Holmes TV show or movie that has come before it. This version appeals to a wider audience and gives Doyle’s classic literary work more exposure to that same audience. Seeing the film in theaters and again for this class piques interest in a classic work of literature. Upon actually reading the stories of Sherlock Holmes, I found it to be in touch with what Arthur Conan Doyle had in mind for his character so it is a good reflection of the source material.
  • The source material and the film are really entertaining to read, which can’t be said for most classic works of literature especially those of the British variety. Most people I’ve come across have a misconception of Sherlock Holmes as being stuffy, high brow, British reading that wouldn’t interest them. Having to read Sherlock Holmes for this class along with watching the movie is a good gateway for getting students into other British literature from the period.
  • The controversy around Ritchie’s version of Sherlock can generate a lot of constructive class discussion outside of just the differences and similarities between the source material and the film. Discussions can go deeper and explore the media, history, and psychology of the Victorian era and our post-modern era. Students can also explore how these factors affect our own modern perceptions of the books and film, which makes discussions on this subject very well rounded and worth while.
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