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Featured DVD Review: Young Sherlock Holmes

March 19th, 2010

Young Sherlock Holmes - Buy from Amazon

With Sherlock Holmes coming out next week, Young Sherlock Holmes is being re-released to catch some of the free publicity. The film is now 25 years old and it wasn't exactly a big hit when it first came out. Have the years been kind to the movie? Or will it remain mostly forgotten?

The film takes place at a boarding school with a young James Watson arriving. He tells us through a voiceover that his previous school in the country had shut down and he was forced to transfer to a new one in the city. The first student he meets is Sherlock Holmes, who immediately impresses the young Mr. Watson with his deductive skills. Sherlock Holmes introduces him to his mentor, a retired professor named Rupert Waxflatter and the professor's niece, Elizabeth. We also meet Dudley, Holmes' rival both academically and for the affections of Elizabeth. Unable to best Holmes honestly, Dudley frames him for cheating on a test, getting him thrown out of the school. The only teacher willing to defend him is Rathe, the fencing instructor. This isn't enough and he's thrown out of the school and told to leave the premises immediately.

While we are learning about Holmes and Watson, we are also shown the strange deaths of two men who suffer from hallucinations before accidentally killing themselves. However, despite Holmes pleas to investigate, the police are content to accept convenient answers. When Waxflatter becomes the latest victim of these attacks, Holmes is determined to get to the bottom of the case. And the closer he gets to solving the case, the more his life is in danger.

Any Sherlock Holmes adventure should be, at its heart, a detective story. Yes, the appealing characters are obviously a major draw, but there should be a mystery that intrigues the viewers. Sadly, this is the weakest part of the movie. I like the cast chosen to play the parts and the three leads had enough chemistry to carry the day. (Though Holmes' treatment of Watson is a little over the top at times making me wonder why they were friends later on.) I even liked the Steampunk-ish flying machine Waxflatter built, as well as the special effects, which is not something all critics agree on. Many thought the special effects were out of place in a movie like this. What was out of place was the mystery.

Shortly after Holmes meets Watson, he gives him a riddle about a room with southern facing windows and a bear. Many people reading this are probably thinking to themselves, 'I know that riddle.' It's not that hard to figure out, but in the movie it is treated as if it was a great intellectual test. This is emblematic of the main mystery. The mystery isn't handled in an intellectual way and the motives of those involved are rather simplistic. Additionally, the clues given are too often too obvious and they are revealed in a clumsy fashion. At least some of the clues should be subtle enough that viewers might miss them the first time around (this would also add replay value, something that is very important when it comes to my recommendation.) Speaking of clumsy, the narration in this movie has absolutely no grace to it. It is as if the film was made and the test screenings were poor, so the filmmakers decided to add it in at the last minute. This is especially true in the end, when narration is used to fill in the blanks.

On a side note, one of the special effects (the stain-glass window that comes to life) was the first time a fully computer generated character appeared in a movie. It was a very impressive feat at the time, though now it obviously look quite primitive. That said, it is still quite cool looking if you are willing to take into account the age of the film. One of the people in charge of this early bit of digital animation was... any guesses? John Lasseter. Cool bit of trivia.

Sadly, there are no extras on this DVD.

The Verdict

Young Sherlock Holmes is not a terrible movie, but for every part that works there's at least one part that doesn't. For all of the big sets and cool special effects, the story itself doesn't generate enough intrigue. Add in a DVD that is devoid of extras, and it is worth no more than a rental.

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