A timeless character in an all new adventure
"Crime is common. Logic is rare."
For generations, Sherlock Holmes has embodied the gift of seeing beyond the obvious--of discerning the truth from within the haze of deception. Created in the late 19th century, in a series of stories and novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the brilliant detective has become one of pop culture's most enduring figures, whose adventures are among the most widely read in the history of the English language.
"He was probably the first superhero, an intellectual superhero," states Robert Downey Jr., the Oscar-nominated actor who takes on the title role in "Sherlock Holmes." "He was, and probably still is, one of the most recognizable icons on Earth, so much so that a lot of people actually thought that Sherlock Holmes was a real person. The more you look into Arthur Conan Doyle's books, the more you see what a rich character Sherlock Holmes is. He's very adept at so many things: he plays violin, he's a martial artist, a boxer, an expert single stick fighter and a swordsman of sorts. He has a strong moral code in helping good guys catch bad guys, so he has dedicated his life to being a consulting detective. He doesn't do it to show everyone how smart he is, or that he has figured everything else out when they haven't; he's actually a crusader."
In this spirit, the cast and filmmakers of "Sherlock Holmes" set out to delve deeper into Conan Doyle's four novels and 56 self-contained short stories to peel back the layers on Holmes. "We've tried to take him back to what we believe to be his origin, which is essentially a more visceral character," says the film's director, Guy Ritchie, who has been a Holmes fan since childhood. "We've tried to integrate that and make him more streetwise. He is inquisitive about chemistry, martial arts, and the human condition. Yet he managed to percolate through all the different echelons of English society, which was tremendously complex. But then, as now, Sherlock Holmes is unique; there's really no one else like him. I think that's why his appeal has stuck. And while our story is rooted in London of the 1890s, we have tried to make it as contemporary as we possibly can."
"This film brings out qualities in Holmes that are relatively unknown but incredibly cinematic and true to the character and the adventures that Conan Doyle created," producer Joel Silver offers. "The previous adaptations of Sherlock Holmes turned the stories into something a bit more detective noir on the big screen over the years, but at their core, these were action novels. Holmes really is an 1890s man of action, with insight and intelligence that eclipse everyone else around him, including Scotland Yard."
The screenplay for "Sherlock Holmes" is by Michael Robert Johnson and Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg, from an original story by Lionel Wigram and Michael Robert Johnson. Wigram, who is also a producer on the film, has been a fan of Holmes since reading the stories as a child. "When I became a producer, I reread all the stories and realized that there was a new way to do Sherlock," he says. "Initially, I made a comic book, which was really a way to show how cool and fun Sherlock could be. I also wanted to explore his humanity and vulnerability and the issues he has to deal with because of his genius; he's as modern a character now as he was back when he was originally created."
Wigram spoke to members of the Baker Street Irregulars, a group of Holmes experts from around the world who meet once a year in New York to exchange notes and ideas and discuss their hero. "Meeting them was a humbling experience," Wigram recalls. "I thought I was a fan and knew about Holmes, but it's nothing compared to the expertise and knowledge of these people. They were also completely supportive of the film, which was an immense relief. Les Klinger, one of the Irregulars' trustees and noted scholar of Sherlockiana, even advised us on language and factual details."
The filmmakers hoped to make "Sherlock Holmes" a movie-going experience that would create the kind of excitement that made the original works so popular and enduring. "We really felt that we had an opportunity, with today's technology, to do justice to the story in bringing this incredible vision to life," says producer Susan Downey. "There is a whole generation that doesn't know much about Sherlock Holmes beyond the name. And there are longtime fans that have an affection for the deerstalker hat and the 'Elementary, my dear Watson,' which are not in this movie. But we hope to be truer to the source material by bringing out the action in the stories. We were able to take the scope of the stories, as well as what is suggested in the books, and put that on screen."
"It's certainly an adventure, just as the stories seemed to me when I first read them," adds Jude Law, who plays John Watson. "There's still the cerebral intrigue and science and suspense of the original stories, but there's also the brawling and mayhem that is faithfully brought in from the novels. My great hope is that Conan Doyle fans really enjoy it because I've become a huge fan myself and am very respectful of the legacy. I do think we've been faithful, but we've also injected our characters with dimensions that have never been brought out before. Guy Ritchie is brilliant at making drama physical and incredibly skilled at keeping the energy high."
Silver agrees, noting, "Though this film takes place in the Victorian period, Guy's edgy sensibility and fresh approach to the material give you all the rich layers of mystery and drama you'd expect, but with unexpected action and humor that make 'Sherlock Holmes' an exciting and incredibly fun cinematic experience."
Friends and adversaries: the cast and characters
For Guy Ritchie, having Downey in the title role became the key to unlocking a new interpretation of "Sherlock Holmes." "In my opinion, Robert is the perfect Holmes," says the director. "He's American, but his English accent is flawless and he has an international feel to him. In his own way, Robert's also a bit of a genius. He's tremendously smart and quick-witted, and is very comfortable playing a character like Holmes without any artifice or pretension."
Holmes would not be who he is without Watson, his enabler, his collaborator, his friend. As with Holmes, the filmmakers felt that the Dr. Watson of the books is far more of a dynamic character than the one depicted in past movies and television series. "Watson has sometimes been portrayed as a sort of bumbling fool against Holmes's great, lofty genius," says Ritchie, "but that really isn't the case. Watson is a much more significant individual than that. They really are a team."
In "Sherlock Holmes," Watson is as tough as they come. "He's a war veteran just back from the Afghan war; he's been wounded and has been through hardship," Wigram describes. "He's a strong, physical man and he knows how to handle himself. Although he's not a mad genius like Holmes, he's a very clever man."
In many ways, the casting of Jude Law as Watson was every bit as crucial as that of Downey as Holmes. "It seems impossible to imagine anyone else being Watson once we cast Jude," says Ritchie. "I wanted a good-looking Watson. I didn't want him to be subservient or inferior, but rather a bit of a hero with an equal partnership with Holmes. I believe that's to a degree what Conan Doyle was really after." Read more
First point of attack: the action
In the film, as in the books, both Holmes and Watson know their way around a fight and their skills are frequently tested. Holmes is a skilled martial artist; this propensity links him with both the star and director of "Sherlock Holmes," as Downey and Ritchie have practiced martial arts for years, and worked together to create Holmes's distinct fighting style. "Doyle called it Baritsu in the novels, which is tied to a 19th-century hybrid of jujitsu that is actually called Bartitsu, created by Edward William Barton-Wright," Downey explains. "Jujitsu is Guy's chosen martial art. Mine is Wing Chun Kung Fu. So, we developed our own combination of martial arts styles for the movie." Read more
From 221B Baker Street to the heights of Tower bridge: Piecing together Holmes's London
In creating a tangible feel of Sherlock Holmes's London, Guy Ritchie wanted to portray a city at the crossroads between the past and a newly dawning future--an expansive and gritty place with bold new architecture being layered over the old. "As the center of the Industrial Revolution, London really was throbbing with enthusiasm and creative energy," Ritchie observes. "Tower Bridge was being built, one of the many very ambitious things the Victorians were undertaking at the time." Read more
The final design element was the music of Hans Zimmer to accompany and enhance the drama, playfulness, action and intrigue. "It was such a joy to work with Guy to capture the different tones of the worlds Holmes and Watson navigate, ranging from the halls of Parliament to a bare-knuckle boxing ring to the shadowy crypts beneath a cathedral," comments Zimmer, who was working with Ritchie for the first time. "This story has so many textures and personalities, that it really gave us the opportunity to create a diverse language of music for the film." Read more
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