Paramount // 1985 // 108 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 24th, 2003
The game is afoot!
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created his most memorable character in Sherlock Holmes, super sleuth of England. In 1985 director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Wag The Dog), writer Chris Columbus (Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone), and executive producer Steven Spielberg came together to make Young Sherlock Holmes, a homage to Doyle's stories and an unauthorized theory of how Sherlock Holmes and Watson came to be friends. Young Sherlock Holmes finally sees the light of day on DVD care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
It's elementary, of course, when young Sherlock Holmes (Nicholas Rowe, Nicholas Nickleby) and his newfound partner, John Watson (Alex Cox), solve one of their first -- and most dangerous -- cases in director Barry Levinson's Young Sherlock Holmes. In this theorized account of their meeting, we learn how Holmes and Watson came together as schoolboys in the snowy end of London at a local boarding school. Holmes is one of the most respected students in his class and finds his mentor in Rathe (Anthony Higgins, The Bride), one of the school's prestigious teachers and Holmes' fencing partner. Holmes has even found himself a love interest in Elizabeth Hardy (Sophie Ward, Out Of Bounds), the granddaughter of a nutty scientist/inventor who lives at the school. Holmes and Watson are suddenly sucked into a nefarious case when seemingly sane and healthy men drop dead in what appear to be bizarre suicides. But Holmes knows better: the men have been poisoned by drug soaked blowdarts that create realistic and deadly hallucinations. Now it's up to the world's best investigative sleuth and his partner to figure out who's behind these mysterious deaths...before they end up on the slab as well!
There are actually two films at work in director Barry Levinson's Young Sherlock Holmes: a detective movie and a big budget Steven Spielberg flick. On one hand, Young Sherlock Holmes is an interesting mystery yarn about the deaths of various London citizens that Holmes must solve. On the other hand, the film quickly turns into variation of Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. At the turn of a dime, the film plunges headlong into scenes of zombies clawing at women, stained glass windows coming to life, and Egyptian temples falling apart. It's as if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Arnold Schwarzenegger cinematically had a love child and its name was Young Sherlock Holmes.
Mind you, I'm not really complaining. I found Young Sherlock Holmes to be a surprisingly entertaining film that is, at its core, a movie for geeky young boys. I was less interested in the story (a screenplay by a then up-and-coming Chris Columbus) and more fascinated by the beautiful set decorations and cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt (Batman Forever). If nothing else, Young Sherlock Holmes is a great looking movie, snowy, dark, and adventurous. Carriages race across the snow lined streets while fog always seems to loom in the darkness. No expense was spared.
And because no expense was spared on the effects, you get the feeling that something had to give a bit, and that came in the form of the screenplay. While I liked both Holmes and Watson, played well by Nicholas Rowe and Alex Cox, they never became fully fleshed out characters. Holmes is terse and egotistic while Watson is a grub who always seems to be barking lightly at Holmes heels -- that's about as far as it goes with these character's depth. The villains aren't well defined, save for one whose real identity is revealed long after the credits roll (stick around and you'll see what I mean). The end scene -- involving a batch of kooky religious zealots who look like bad versions of Hare Krishna believers -- is filled with so many bald heads I thought I was watching a Patrick Stewart lookalike convention.
But, you can do a lot worse on a Friday night than Young Sherlock Holmes. The film is slickly made and, above all else, entertaining. For those who remember it fondly from their childhood, this new DVD presentation is life a gift from the cinematic '80s gods. Hardcore Doyle fans may dismiss it as a fluffy examination of Holmes and Watson's initial meeting; for the rest of us, it's a fun little action flick with that magic Spielbergian touch.
Young Sherlock Holmes is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Fans of this '80s teen classic will be thrilled to see it in its first-ever original aspect ratio presentation on home video. The print itself appears to be in great shape -- the colors and black levels are all solid without any major defects present. Edge enhancement, dirt, and grain have been kept to a bare minimum. Overall, this very attractive print should please fans.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. This newly remixed 5.1 track is very good. There are a few well-placed directional effects, along with a vast array of background noises and ambient sounds. Though this won't tear about your sound system, like Die Hard, generally speaking it's an above average effort by Paramount. All aspects of the dialogue, music, and effects are free from distortion. Also included on this disc are English subtitles, as well as a Dolby Surround track in English and a restored Dolby Mono track in French.
Once again, Paramount has released a completely bare bones edition of a classic '80s adventure movie. What the heck does it take to get these people to include even a single theatrical trailer? Alas, Young Sherlock Holmes is void of any and all supplements. [Editor's Note: Which will be particularly galling to special effects fans; Young Sherlock Holmes was the first film to feature a computer-generated character.]
That pipe! That jacket! That hat! If you're a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories I think you'll really get a kick out of this movie -- just don't take it as Biblical record of Holmes history. Paramount's work on this disc is good, though the lack of supplements is, once again, disappointing.
It isn't hard to figure out: Young Sherlock Holmes is free to go!
Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13