Written by Joe Wiesenfeld, based on the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Directed by Rodney Gibbons
Starring Matt Frewer and Kenneth Walsh
Released by: Hallmark Home Entertianment
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Pick up the Jeremy Brett series DVDs instead.
In my ongoing research into the effluvia of popular culture, I have achieved a breakthrough. I have discovered a corollary to Widgett’s Law of Relative Development. I call it the Law of Perpetual Development, or Sherlock‘s Law. It states, quite simply, that no more than two years can pass without someone attempting a new adaptation of one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s works. This time around, Hallmark takes its turn, cranking out a quartet of 90-minute pieces starring Matt Frewer of Max Headroom fame. They fall back on some of the most popular of Doyle’s works, with the exception of “The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire,” which is a thorough departure from Doyle’s canon penned by director Rodney Gibbons.
With any Holmes adaptation, the key ingredient is Holmes himself. This is part and parcel of what makes the Jeremy Brett series so fantastic. Frewer gives it the old college try here, but can’t ever quite decide how he wants to play the Great Detective. He goes from condescending and acid to positively effervescent within the same scene, and this sort of multiple-personality Holmes is off-putting. Part of this likely stems from the constraints I suspect Hallmark Entertainment puts in place on those working in their sandbox (i.e., the strong requirement for family-friendliness), but some of it is just bad decision-making on either the director’s part or on Frewer’s.
The problem is exacerbated by some unusual choices made by the script and director regarding pacing. In “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” for example, we get ten minutes of Sherlock at the opening, and then he disappears, while Watson and Sir Henry Baskerville take center stage for the next hour (or nearly so). What exactly would possess someone making a Sherlock Holmes story to excise his presence from the majority of the film?! “The Royal Scandal” mashes two Holmes tales together, namely “Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Bruce-Partington Plans,” which makes the whole thing feel rushed (a real shame given the importance of Holmes’ encounter with Irene Adler in the broader scope of the canon). Then there’s the “Whitechapel Vampire” nonsense, which has Holmes starting to believe in the possibility of the supernatural and divine intervention. Gibbons here betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the character, which would go a long way to explaining some of the unusual decisions and missteps in these adaptations.
It’s not all bad news. Kenneth Walsh does an admirable job as Watson, though the little tweaks made to push the family-friendly angle are a little irritating–it’s a small thing, but Watson’s irascibility about Sherlock’s pipe smoking seems pretty out of place for a character that himself was written as a smoker. He’s also a good bit more peevish with Holmes than I’m used to from other adaptations, but then Sherlock is more frequently condescending towards Watson here than in other adaptations.
The sound and picture are good, and some of the locations are beautiful and splendidly atmospheric. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single bonus feature to be found on the two discs. Sherlock die-hards aren’t going to like the changes and the portrayals of the characters, and given that the Brett series is easily accessible to the same kind of audience (and is reasonably family friendly fare in its own right), there’s little impetus to pick these up instead of chasing down the older versions.
- Buy it from Amazon.
- Buy the Jeremy Brett series on DVD from Amazon.
- Buy the mondo edition of the short stories from Amazon.
- Buy the mondo edition of the novels from Amazon.