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Barry Levinson
Nicholas Rowe, Alan Cox, Sophie Ward, Anthony Higgins, Susan Fleetwood, Freddie Jones, Nigel Stock
Writing Credits:
Arthur Conan Doyle (characters), Chris Columbus

Before a lifetime of adventure, they had the adventure of a lifetime.

What would have happened if Sherlock Homes and Dr. Watson had met as schoolboys? Why, the solution is elementary. Nothing but adventure! And that's just what director Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man, Bandits) gives us in this special-effects spectacular that sends the super-sleuth on his very first case!

When a plague of bizarre, puzzling murders grip London, young Holmes and his new found friend Watson find themselves unwittingly entangled in the dark mystery. So, "the game is afoot!" And the budding detective is off on an adventure to solve the most amazing case of his most extraordinary career!

Box Office:
$18 million.
Opening Weekend
$2.538 million on 920 screens.
Domestic Gross
$19.739 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
French Monaural

Runtime: 108 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 12/2/2003

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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 21, 2003)

For some reason, the winter of 1985 stands out to me as a period in which an inordinately high number of expected blockbusters generally fell flat at the box office. From White Nights to Enemy Mine to Clue, many flicks came and went without much of an impact.

Add Young Sherlock Holmes to that list as well. A big-budget action adventure complete with the imprimatur of Steven Spielberg as executive producer, it also involved future hitmakers Chris Columbus as writer and Barry Levinson as director. Despite all that, the movie failed to find an audience, and it went down as an expensive dud.

Clearly intended to launch a movie franchise that never materialized, Holmes opens with the weird death of an accountant named Bobster (Patrick Newell). Someone uses a blowpipe’s dart to inject him with a hallucinogen, and as Bobster fights off non-existent foes, he kills himself.

Then we jump to an introduction to pubescent John Watson (Alan Cox). His boarding school went out of business mid-term, so he transfers to a new one in London. He soon meets classmate Sherlock Holmes (Nicholas Rowe) and the two become friends. We quickly see that Holmes loves Elizabeth, the niece of eccentric retired schoolmaster Rupert T. Waxflatter (Nigel Stock). We also encounter Holmes’ classmate rival Dudley (Earl Rhodes).

The mystery man soon injects the poison into a clergyman (Donald Eccles) who dies when he thinks a painted knight attacks him. Holmes suspects foul play in the deaths, but the police ignore him. When Dudley sets up Holmes to implicate him as a cheater, the headmasters expel Sherlock. As he splits, Waxflatter becomes the next victim of the dartist. With the loss of his girl’s uncle and his mentor, Holmes formally takes on the case.

The remainder of the film follows his exploration of the case. Holmes presents one of those flicks that I want to like and feel like I should really enjoy, but it never quite takes flight. I can’t recall the last time I saw the movie, and that doesn’t seem like a good sign. Honestly, other than the film’s pioneering use of computer animation – the attacking knight presented an early example of those techniques – I maintained virtually no memory of the tale at all.

A lot of that stems from the fact that Holmes suffers from a fairly generic plot. The movie doesn’t employ a very interesting villain, and it takes an awfully long time to get where it wants to go. In many ways, Holmes feels more like a pilot for a new series than a full-fledged film. It becomes apparent that those involved intended it to launch a movie franchise, so it attempted to set the stage for later affairs more than explore the matters at hand. By the time the flick actually explains its plot, we don’t really care, and the convoluted tale doesn’t muster much to make us interested in it.

Not that Holmes lacks any charms. One sequence in which our protagonists get injected with hallucinogen stands out as a good one. It becomes fairly dark, as we get a sense of Holmes’ inner demons. The way it explores Watson’s fears provides a clever piece of comedy, as he imagines cookies and pies come to life to assault him to avenge all those the tubby boy ate throughout his years.

The young actors provide more than ample support for the story. British kids usually do better than Americans just because they present less precocious and cutesy personalities. Our leads here seem believable and concrete. Rowe presents a particularly good performance, as he makes Holmes three-dimensional and convincing. He brings a weight to the role one might not expect from such a young actor.

Despite these various positives, Young Sherlock Holmes remains a fairly ordinary flick. It manages to maintain our interest reasonably well throughout its 108 minutes, but it rarely elevates the material to become anything particularly special. It includes the occasional spark, which makes the general drabness more frustrating. Holmes provides a moderately intriguing tale but little more than that.

Footnote: make sure you stick with the film all the way through its end credits. An intriguing tag appears after they finish. (One that supports my contention that this was meant to be the first in a series, by the way.)

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus F

Young Sherlock Holmes appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A visually dense film, Holmes occasionally betrayed some problems, but it mostly demonstrated a satisfying picture.

Sharpness consistently appeared solid. Despite the many scenes with low lighting, the movie came across as nicely detailed and well defined. None of the shots looked too soft or flat. I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, but a little light edge enhancement popped up at times. As for print flaws, the movie mostly lacked them. The occasionally speck or bit of grit showed up, but these remained infrequent and minor. I did notice some weird frame bobbing around the 25:30 mark, though; it looked like someone wanted to find the matte line but couldn’t do so with certainty.

Given the dark setting, colors remained a relatively minor element of Holmes. Nonetheless, the DVD displayed the tones with good fidelity and clarity. The subdued hues looked clean and concise. Black levels also looked deep and tight, and shadows were clean and precise. Low-light shots showed nice delineation and didn’t suffer from any excessive opacity. Overall, Holmes presented a satisfying image that nicely replicated the source material.

In addition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Young Sherlock Holmes appeared quite solid for its age. The front soundstage displayed a nice sense of environment. It created a good feeling of atmosphere and opened up the material well. Music demonstrated fine stereo imaging, and effects meshed together cleanly. Those elements moved smoothly across the front and gave us an accurate depiction of the information. Surround usage mostly tended toward reinforcement of the forward pieces. Though they came to life a bit more actively during some of the film’s action sequence, the flick didn’t use them with great involvement.

Audio quality seemed positive. Speech consistently came across as natural and well defined, and I noticed no signs of edginess or problems connected to intelligibility. Music seemed fairly full and detailed. The score was concise and distinctive as it featured reasonable range. Effects also avoided harshness. Those elements were pretty clean and accurate, and they presented acceptable dynamics when necessary. Although the audio didn’t compare with more modern efforts, Holmes sounded quite good for an 18-year-old mix.

Unfortunately, the DVD featured absolutely no extras. Given the stature of the flick’s creators, this came as a particular disappointment. The package failed to include even a trailer.

Young Sherlock Holmes failed to launch the movie franchise it seemed to desire, probably because it offered such a lackluster tale. The film presented occasional signs of freshness and creativity, but it never rose to a level of brightness that made it something very memorable. The DVD enjoyed very good picture and sound, but it included no supplements. Despite that, fans of the flick should feel pleased with this release, especially since it comes with a low list price of less than $20. For others, Holmes might merit a rental, but I can’t endorse more than that.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 38
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