Artisan // 2003 // 360 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // October 24th, 2003
By Jove, Holmes, you've done it again!
The greatest detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes, faces his worst adversary of all time -- lousy production values, bad acting, and befuddling casting decisions.
Heck, Star Trek: The Next Generation did Sherlock Holmes better.
Four mysterious cases for the unflappable Sherlock Holmes and his stalwart companion Dr. Watson to solve are included on this two-disc set. They include:
The Hound of Baskervilles
An ancient legend comes back to haunt Sir Charles Baskerville, as he is killed by a 200-year-old curse from his family's past. Sherlock Holmes, who in his spare time apparently fights demonic hellhounds, is on the case; the truth shall be uncovered about the mysterious events in the Baskerville moors.
The Sign of Four
Every year, Mary Morstan receives an exquisite pearl in the mail, and she has no idea why. Sherlock Holmes unravels a mystery that goes back to a royal coup during Britain's occupation of India and a long-hidden mysterious treasure. Unfortunately, those who swore to reclaim the treasure are making their move...
The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire
When a vampiric killer hits the streets of London, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (fresh off their recent hellhound victory) decide to up the supernatural ante, and take the case. Holmes begins to lose the battle against logic itself, as his very means of deduction begin breaking down before his eyes; how can he hope to solve a case where every clue points toward a vampire?
The Royal Scandal
A legendary opera star has blackmailed the King of Bohemia over their long-hidden affair, in order to push for his hand in marriage. When murder becomes part of the affair, however, Holmes is on the case, suddenly neck-deep in sexual scandal and illicit affairs.
A very peculiar thing has been done here on this two-disc set. With four episodes, each running 90 minutes, each disc is labeled with two corresponding episodes, which is standard, and as common sense dictates. The first disc has the two episodes, of course -- plus the first five chapters of the third episode. The remaining chapters on the episode are available on the second disc, as well as the fourth episode.
Sounds needlessly confusing, doesn't it? If extra content, like behind-the-scene documentaries and other space-grabbing offerings, were located on the second disc, this would at least be at least an intellectually feasible (if still impractical) setup, but with no extras to speak of, this hierarchical organization is bewildering, and in itself, methinks the greatest Sherlock Holmes mystery of them all.
Never fear, Watson, for I have the answer. The first disc is of the double-layered variety, which means the perpetrator must be left-handed! I mean; the second disc turns out to be single-layered, so this must be some bizarre cost-cutting decision on the part of Artisan, in order to save some pennies. Perplexing.
Not nearly as perplexing as the casting choices, however -- Sherlock Holmes is played with infuriating audacity and perspicacity; he absolutely oozes snobbish cynicism, obnoxious arrogance, and insufferable attitude. You yearn for Moriarity to appear and give him a right proper thrashing, but sadly, it never happens.
So if you were making a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, who would you cast to fill the fill the large shoes and pipe and cap? Matt Frewer.
That's right. Max Headroom as Sherlock Holmes. It boggles the brain to think about, but amazingly, it starts to work once the initial shock wears off. Frewer lays on the attitude so astonishingly thick, and trills the letter "r" in such a pretentious way, that one can believe the hype, the ego, and the self-proclaimed "genius" of Sherlock Holmes, who is only too happy to taunt his accolades.
Dr. Watson, played by Kenneth Welsh, is the only other role worth mentioning. He plays the role with subtlety and strength and just the right amount of humor, and is the most talented actor in a wasteland of terrible, terrible extras and small bit-part actors with poorly disguised French accents.
A lot of this movie is French, actually; that is, French-Canadian. With an astonishingly French cast and crew, filmed for CTV television (a Canadian station, obviously), and very obviously filmed in Montreal (and not London), the show reverberates like a bell with the bad vibe of a Canadian made-for-TV production.
The video transfer is sharp at times, and then extraordinarily grainy and ugly at others. When it is good, it offers respectable black levels, subtle shades of browns and greens, and excellent levels of detail. When it is bad, the colors are more washed out than that 1974 Iron Maiden tour T-shirt that you bought at the thrift store one day in July and now use to wash your car. Low-lighting conditions give the image quality a terrible graininess that actually offends the eye. But being a made-for-TV movie collection, how high can your expectations actually be?
The sound is better. The soundtrack is your typical ethereal horror picture soundtrack with stabbing piano hits droning on and on, and when people jump out of corners, it sounds like somebody pounds on the piano with their fists. The gunshots (yes, gunshots) sound very loud, and background ambient noises fill the mix pleasantly. The bass rumbles appropriately during dramatic scenes, but gets muddled up in the dialogue, and occasionally people start talking through the subwoofer. Acceptable.
These four movies are pretty lame adaptations of Sherlock Holmes by almost every interpretation; even interpretive dance, which is as liberal an interpretation as one can apply to a situation. The saving graces that stop this disc from becoming a DVD debacle is the passable storylines (though weak and muddled, it is hard to really mess up a good Sherlock Holmes story to point of disaster) and Matt Frewer as Sherlock Holmes, which in itself deserves a separate DVD Verdict review to discuss the merits and drawbacks of the casting choice and psychological profiles of the casting agents working on the production.
Max Headroom? Max Headroom? Max Headroom!?!?
Wait, wait, wait...
An unfortunate made-for-Canadian-television adventure into the literary canon of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sherlock Holmes Collection has some fantastic material from which to work from, and manages to mess it up quite terribly. You can almost recommend it to your friends, just to see Frewer do his thing in the deerstalker hat, but then again, you really can't at all.
Me, I want to keep my friends.
This DVD toads the wet sprocket, which is a shame. The Sherlock Holmes Collection is watchable, and even mildly captivating at times. But lousy production values, inane casting, and terrifying acting make a misfire out of the good detective, which is unfortunate, because the script is fairly well written and comprehensive. It just gets lost under the pile of garbage.
Oh well. Points for effort, and for casting Max Headroom as Sherlock Holmes. Canadian production values at work there, let me tell you.
The verdict? Guilty, guilty, nyah nyah. Court adjourned.
Also, why can't I get me no Max Headroom on DVD? What's up with that?
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 360 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire
* IMDb: The Hound of the Baskervilles
* IMDb: The Sign of Four
* IMDb: The Royal Scandal
* Sir Arthur Conan Doyle E-Books