Classic Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Stars:  **** out of 4

Summary:  Breathtaking.  Visionary.  Unequaled.  Terrifying.  Different.  Dfdndononcmnieowidnosjnd.  What?

Dude... don't touch the monoliths, man, they turn you into, like, a space baby.

Dude... don't touch the monoliths, man, they turn you into, like, a space baby.

Review:  Hey, look, I’m reviewing another “Best Movie Of All Time”.  I guess it’s unavoidable.  I went into the late night experience of watching ‘2001’ with a healthy amount of skepticism.  I’m not much for judging a movie solely on its reputation, I mean, that just takes the art out of the whole thing.  I’ve known the plot and the details for a long time, and that fueled my early criticism, as it didn’t grab me on paper.  I hoped, truly, that the film would far exceed my expectations, and I was pleased to see that it did.  I also hate it.

klndklnfknkdnfonsiondo!  What’s that, you ask?  Oh, that’s art.  Don’t ask me to explain it. Create your own interpretation.

I love this movie, but woe to the monkey-ness at the beginning.  Seriously, it opens with twenty minutes of people in monkey suits, with the excuse that it is “The Dawn Of Man”.  Very well, then, I’ll buy that for a dollar, and I’ll buy the set up with the black monolith and influenced evolution, but did it really have to drag on for so long, Mr. Kubrick?  Naturally, I have to remind myself that I’m looking at this late ’60s motion picture with 21st century eyes, but I grew up on ‘Ben-Hur’.  I think I have a sense of patience when it comes to movies, and the monkeys were really pushing it.  But, all bad things must come to an end, and when the monkeys are gone, then the good stuff starts.  I really, really don’t want to get in-depth in ‘2001’, I’m sorry, reader, but I can’t do that.  You have to watch the film and experience it.  You may find yourself strangely captivated.  The special effects, for instance, look real.  Forget the hubub about James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’.  That’s a cartoon (but kudos to the artists behind it, because they’re swell!).  This stuff is real.  A good chunk of it I have no idea how in the world they accomplished, much less in the ’60s, and there’s no kidding about it holding up today.  It doesn’t just hold up, it surpasses, because of its elegance and simple photo-reality.  Of course, I would be amiss if I didn’t take time to laud the amazing use of music.  Since space is silent, and too much dialog would detract from the mysterious atmosphere, classical music plays over a large portion of the film, to great effect.  In fact, it seems to me that the space travel scenes are constructed in a similar way to the music accompanying them, giving a sense that humanity is in some kind of gorgeous, patient dance through space.  You bet I dig it.  The slow, almost real-time pacing on some portions of the film works to its great advantage, I’m glad to say, and Mr. Kubrick’s reputation is officially lived-up-to, in my book.  The sequences with HAL 9000 are warming, chilling and unforgettable, thanks to some great voice work by Douglas Rain and an emotionless red “eye”.  Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea play two astronauts, whose encounter with the apparently insane computer changes them both forever, for better or worse.  Earlier on, William Sylvester gives us necessary humanity and warmth in the form of Dr. Heywood Floyd, who’s dispatched to help deal with the discovery of an alien artifact on the moon.  He’s a big part of why you stay watching the movie, especially after the debacle with the monkeys.  Unfortunately, after the HAL 9000 scenes draw to their end, the film goes all psychedelic for like, another twenty dragging minutes, and an astronaut ages in a kind of unreal room, dies, and gets reborn as a Star-Child, or space baby, if you will.  It’s all wonderfully unexplained (through dialog, that is), even though it is pretty obvious that it has something to do with an ever-watchful alien race assisting with the evolution of humanity, which the Star-Child appears to represent as the first new member of a higher human race.  It’s not too terribly cryptic, actually, which makes the ridiculously long psychedelia segment, which is basically content-less except for cool special effects, kind of pointless.  Kubrick could have realistically shortened it, considerably, as he could have with the opening ‘Dawn Of Man’.

But let’s have a go at ‘2001’ from a philosophical/theological angle, shall we?  The central theme appears to be that humanity is part of a grander scheme in the universe, being guided ever higher, progressively, by powers they can not possibly understand.  Yet humanity must also, in synergy, respond, and reach out.  The monoliths, the faceless symbols of the alien powers, react to human touch, and every time they are interacted with, something greatly powerful happens.  One could argue, from a religious perspective, that the film’s underlying assumptions are godless, but I would argue the exact opposite.  They perhaps unwittingly express a very real desire to connect with the Divine, and to enter into the unfathomable mystery that exists “out there”.  It used to be in popular imagination that heaven, that is, the sky, was the place of the Divine, but it seems to me that this has lost its power over the imagination of a post-moon landing world (I don’t suggest, however, that in Christianity that it be changed).  Now, as in the final segment of ‘2001’, we are constantly reaching and searching ‘Beyond The Infinite’, to where we sense we can evolve — by which, we mean we can become more human.  So humanity, as long as it is practical and taught in schools, will look to space in its search for God.  It’s the final frontier, according to ‘Star Trek’, but ‘2001’ disagrees.  There’s always something beyond.  In all this, I see orthodox Christianity reflected beautifully.  Humanity, even before the much-contested idea of macroevolution entered the philosophical scene, has always understood that it must grow up.  Christianity in particular sees humanity as the image of the Infinite, and as such we will always be developing and changing and growing and reaching out.  As with the monoliths, this requires synergy, a combined effort of the Divine power and our own curiosity and willingness to, well, evolve.  Yet unlike the black, impersonal monoliths, in Christianity, God has become man, so that man may become god, that is, fully human, whatever that will look like (hopefully not as terrifying as ‘2001’s Star-Child!).  In Christ, we touch God Himself, and we are taken beyond the created order into the energies of God, where our dark, corrupted nature dies and we are reborn as the new humanity.  So ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ has got my interpretation, now, and I hope you like it, Mr. Kubrick, wherever you are.

All things considered, though, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is quite a trip.  What it lacks in overall coherency and clarity in makes up in beauty, simplicity, tension, drama, and just plain real art.

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Batman Begins

Stars:  ***1/2 out of 4

Summary:  A splendidly dark little picture, which, like all good movies, led to a whole lotta imitators and the latest craze of rebooting everything.  Gee, thanks Chris.

Holy Batman, Batman!

Holy Batman, Batman!

Review:  The man in the batsuit had experienced some crummy luck in the cinema.  The ’80s and ’90s ‘Batman’ series had a promising start, but quickly fell into unentertaining garbage, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of comic book fans, cinephiles and the general movie-going public.  And even worse than being boring, the cinematic Batman was shallow.  No longer would the Bat-fans accept a simple hero in tights, no, they demanded the complexity and incredible writing that Alan Moore, Frank Miller and others had poured into the comic books.  Thankfully, the Bat-fans had an advocate in the ‘Wood who felt exactly the same way.  Enter Christopher Nolan — and let’s not forget David Goyer and Chris’ brother, Jonathan.  The Nolans were rising stars, having blown minds via their disturbing and visionary movie, ‘Memento’, and they now had the clout to do something about the state of Batman. Thank God that Warner Bros. had the wisdom to hire them.

‘Batman Begins’ pressed the restart button on the franchise, even disregarding the much-loved Burton’s ‘Batman’ from ’89.  This gave them the freedom to do whatever they wanted to do with the character and the series, and they milked it for all it was worth.  Christopher Nolan drew influence from one of the best dark sci-fi films in existence, ‘Blade Runner’, to construct the new Gotham and its accompanying tone.  Appropriately, then, ‘Begins’ feels downright dystopian, and could just as easily be set sometime in the far, apocalyptic future.  Though we are given clear indications that Gotham is part of the present day world that you and I know, at times it seems that the city could be an oasis in the middle of a destroyed America.  In contrast, Burton’s Gotham from ’89 and ’92 seemed more fantastical and gothic, almost storybook in quality.  For the ultragritty, post-modern Batman, the ‘Blade Runner’-esque anarchic structure works quite beautifully.  This structure isn’t just part of the set design.  It’s part of the psychology of Bruce Wayne and the story itself, harkening back to Nolan’s ‘Memento’, which was all about that same cinematic interplay.  But while ‘Memento’ was played almost entirely in chronological reverse, which mirrored the mental defects and self-deception of its protagonist, ‘Begins’ is fragmented, with Bruce’s tragedies, bittersweet memories, and journey towards creating his famous caped persona all slowly being put together until they become present.  He’s been shattered, and in picking up the pieces he overcomes himself and becomes the hero.  Brilliant stuff, that.

Christian Bale fills the role perfectly.  There are times I wished he’d shown more of Batman’s trademark maturity and inventiveness, but seeing that this is Batman, you know, beginning, it’s all right that those elements can be growing.  Michael Caine’s Alfred is great, of course.  There have been some complaints about how well Katie Holmes’ Rachel Dawes may or may not work in the movie, but I found her character performance really wasn’t lacking.  She’s a good romantic character and makes Bale’s Bruce feel more at home in Gotham.  The villains, unfortunately, were a bit weak, though not unmemorable or lacking in good qualities.  Because Nolan insisted on putting more emphasis on Batman this time ’round (again, contrast with Burton’s movie), he ended up putting the main villain, Ra’s Al Ghul, more in the background, so even though the bad guy’s played by the always kickass Liam Neeson, he doesn’t turn out as strong as, say, Nicholson’s Joker, or even DeVito’s abominable Penguin.

Now, onto the philosophy.  The Nolans do love their brainteasers and soul searchers, thankfully, and they more than happily filled the need for complexity.  The sum of the movie’s themes is (taking a deep breath, now!) that humanity has inestimable value even in the midst of moral degradation and chaos, and this value extends even to those playing the role of villain, therefore mercy is more powerful than vengeance, and true fairness and justice serve rather than manipulate.  Okay, breathing normally again.  So Batman, even though he uses fear and intimidation against the darker denizens of Gotham, shows surprising compassion and mercy throughout the narrative.  Early on, he refuses to kill a murderer while under the tutelage of Ra’s Al Ghul, and ends up having to betray the villain’s League of Shadows to keep his integrity (by blowing stuff up) when he learns of Ra’s plans to destroy Gotham.  On top of that, while turning against the villain, he ends up saving his life, even though he didn’t know it was him (watch the movie, it makes sense).  Ra’s later chides him for this, expecting better from a pupil of his.  This comes back to bite the villain in a big way, later, as Batman grants his wish to not be saved and lets him die in a train wreck.  Not only does this stay in line with Batman’s classic code of no-killing, it makes a pretty good point, even theologically.  According to Christ, Ra’s behavior is a good way to be self-damned. By refusing to embrace mercy and to show it, some people refuse it for themselves and end up destroying themselves.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  The inverse, unfortunately, is also true.

‘Batman Begins’, of course, was a hit.  It is dark, gritty, dystopian, philosophical, and it is still pulpy fun.  If you’re among the aforementioned Bat-fans, this deserves your notice, and it certainly deserves to be on your movie shelf, and regularly spinning in the player of your choice.

It Might Get Loud

By contributor Patrick Zabriskie

Stars: ★★★☆

I knew it.  I knew that no human could be that talented.  It had to be sentient guitars.

I knew it. I knew that no human could be that talented. It had to be sentient guitars.

Review:  About three years ago, during an especially mundane Christmas break, I found myself bored enough that I taught myself how to play guitar.  Naturally, I started off rather clumsy and unsure of myself; the fact that I was learning on a cheap acoustic didn’t help matters.  Over the next few months, though, I gradually got better on it, learning more complex songs and improving my technique.  Then, for my 16th birthday, my aunt bought me an electric guitar.  I couldn’t put it down.  I stayed up into the early hours of the morning playing it.  I would dream at night about it.  Many moons have passed since that time, and I still can barely put it down.
I say all this not to boast or because I think people particularly care about my own experience with guitar; rather, I say it to show how personal an experience I’ve had with the instrument.  It’s something near and dear to me, and I truly love it.  After watching the documentary It Might Get Loud, I found out I wasn’t alone.

Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White are three famous guitarists from three legendary rock bands.  It Might Get Loud sits them down to discuss their passion for the electric guitar and for music in general.  There is a real beauty in how this documentary examines each guitarist’s unique approach to the same instrument.  The Edge relies heavily on effects and technology to produce the “perfect” sound; Jack White takes a simpler approach, creating rawer, unpolished jams.  Jimmy Page mixes a plethora of styles into his own distinctive sound.  Though each has his own spin on it, they all love the guitar with the same burning passion.
Learning how similar these musicians’ experiences with the guitar were to my own was touching.  Jack White, the Edge, and Jimmy Page weren’t always superstars; they struggled when they first started learning.  They got giddy when they got their first real guitars.  They stayed up late in the night playing guitar only to dream about it when they finally fell asleep.  Just like me.  And there is the true magic of this film—that it takes three men whom most of us worship as cultural deities, symbolic of all we want to be and achieve, and brings them down for two hours to show us that they aren’t quite so different from the rest of us.  They are human; they are relatable.

This film is a love letter to anyone who enjoys the guitar or music in general.  The film boasts an impressive soundtrack, obviously containing Led Zeppelin, U2, and White Stripes songs but also featuring lesser known blues and rock artists as well.  Good music, good guitarists, good directing. Great Film.  Those who enjoy rock and roll ought to check it out.

Classic Review: Forbidden Planet

Stars: **** out of Four

Summary:  A masterpiece of tension and atmosphere!  With slick special effects, too!  You won’t believe your eyes and ears as MGM transports you to another world, 1950s style!

That says it all. Even if that scene doesn't happen in the movie.

That says it all. Even if that scene doesn't happen in the movie.

Review:  The 1956 science fiction classic, ‘Forbidden Planet’, is a good movie.  I’m not sure I should say anymore, except that’s it’s really, really awesome.  No, I think what I should say is, it succeeds in being better than it has any rights to be.

Okay, seriously, I’m going to review this movie.  Here’s what makes it great.

This film is the perfect midnight fare.  I highly suggest a viewing experience with a large television, surround sound, and absolutely no lights, in the dead of night.  Try not to talk during the film, either.  ‘Forbidden Planet’ is so atmospheric that it’d be a shame to not dive in.  It’s like MGM Studios was kind enough to fill a hot tub with fresh, hot water and some sort of weird but healthful Italian herbs, spices, and soaps.  Sure, you’ll have to adjust to the weirdness, but that’s what makes it a singular and unforgettable experience.  Just soak it in.  One of the coolest features of this particular experience is the music, which is credited as ‘electronic tonalities’, because apparently the musician’s union at the time didn’t think it qualified as music (or so I heard) — I mean, this was the first film ever to have a completely electronic score.  In any case, these strange, otherworldly sounds definitely fulfill the old maxim that “sound is half the picture”.  Without this score, the film wouldn’t have near the sense of mystery that it needs to succeed.

The technology, though stylized and sometimes already a bit run over by the actual science of our day, looks beautiful and functional.  The set-design is superb, with gorgeous matte paintings substituting for an alien sky.  All in all, the special effects are ahead of their time, surpassing similar concept films of the same era with ease.  Particularly impressive is the landing sequence of a flying saucer and the combat scene between the ship’s crew and a giant, invisible monster, which stops in a force field and is unveiled in its grotesque glory.  I would be amiss to not mention the incredible artwork put into rendering the ancient Krell city, however, which gives us a fantastic sense of scale and complexity.

The story, well, I’m sure you’ve heard.  An earth ship lands on an alien world, to investigate the status of a science vessel that arrived there 20 years ago.  Only one survivor and his young daughter remain, however, and things get sinister quickly as it is revealed that the stranded scientist is not telling everything he knows about the horrible disaster which overcame his colleagues.  It is slow in pace, which is great for creating real tension and fleshing out the characters.

Philosophically, the issue is the inherent badness of human beings.  Buried deep in our “id”, our subconscious self, is what the film calls “the mindless primitive”, and what St. Paul calls “the flesh”.  Whatever you call it, the message of the movie is that humanity can never afford to be without caution in however much power it attains.  Without something keeping the dangerous, bestial side in check, humanity’s advances in technology will only lead to the most destructive outlet for the “monsters from the id”.  We may well destroy ourselves, as the ancient Krell did in ‘Forbidden Planet’.  The way I look at it, with this in mind, the classic warning that “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” is something of a misnomer.  It is not absolute power which corrupts; it only amplifies that which already exists within a person, for good or ill, and universally, humanity has a lot of ill will.  As the film concluded, “We are, after all, not God.”  And even then, orthodox Christianity teaches that God willingly humbles Himself and refuses to abuse His power, and sometimes even to use it without being asked directly.

Well, anyway, the film is great.  Don’t rent it.  Buy it.  Or better yet, find a way to see it on the silver screen.  I’m sure somebody out there has a print of it.  It’d be worth the sacrifice just to go for a walk on the ‘Forbidden Planet’.

Classic Review: The Secret of NIMH

Stars: **** out of Four

Summary:  A staggering (and under-appreciated) achievement in animated movies, and a serious and seriously good morality tale.

An uncommonly good poster for a movie of equal value.

An uncommonly good poster for a movie of equal value.

Review:  I had seen Don Bluth’s adaptation of ‘Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH’ about, I don’t know, 7 or 8 years ago.  At the time, it seemed too dense, dark, and scary to make much sense to me, let alone leave a lasting impression beyond bewilderment.  Recently, I got into watching fellow reviewer Doug “The Nostalgia Critic” Walker’s material online, and he pointed out in his top ten favorite animated films ‘The Secret of NIMH’, which I had all but forgotten.  Intrigued by his very positive take on the movie, I made a mental note to see it again, but hadn’t gotten around to it.  Thank Jesus for Hulu.com, however, as I was pleased to find it in their library, and watched it immediately.

The first thing that struck me was how fast they set the tone.  In some movies, the tone is so confused or varied that it is very difficult to tell just what kind of movie you are watching from the get-go.  Not so here, as death, struggle, mysterious plans, friendship, and magic are all introduced in the first few lines.  Now, instead of going through the individual aspects of the film, such as voice acting, music, art, etc., which are all marvelous, I’m most attracted to the themes.  I should say, before going on, that this is not really a children’s film, though mature kids will get a lot out of it, I think.  It’s actually pretty scary and violent, though funny and heartwarming, too.

Mystery in the midst of crisis is the very essence of the story, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a part of a very much bigger epic, which is a kind of shadow that looms over the works of Lewis, Tolkien, and other great fantasy writers.  I believe G.K. Chesterton would have aptly pointed out, as he does in his famous ‘Orthodoxy’, that this fairy tale quality is an essential element of the Christian faith, and indeed of all stories of magic.  In fact, I observed that the action of the magical elements was sacramental.  In ancient Christianity, sacraments are ordinary objects that by the power of God mysteriously (sacrament is actually synonymous with mystery) become something more.  Suddenly, bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood, oil becomes the healing power of the Holy Spirit, water becomes the agent of regeneration, and similarly, in ‘The Secret of NIMH’, a courageous heart and a simple jeweled amulet together can unleash unimaginable power.  I point out all this to show that this pervading belief in a kind of magic enigmatically invested in common objects is universally human, and makes for great storytelling, when played with the proper sense of awe, a kind of holiness.

Particularly interesting is the presence of mystery in the midst of such a dangerous and climatic environment as ‘The Secret of NIMH’ presents us with.  There are constant threats, and as the tension mounts throughout the story, so does the presence of magic.  “Where sin abounded, so did grace much more abound,” St. Paul said, though I am paraphrasing a little.  I like to think he wasn’t talking about the legal terms of sin and grace, but something closer to what happens in this movie.  Magic is a redemptive force here, and works in tandem with science.  In fact, in ‘The Secret of NIMH’, we’re never quite told if there is any distinction between the two, though I think I could draw one.  Electrical power, and the intelligence of the rats, are both fruits of science, and the narrative makes clear they can be abused, which creates conflict among the rats.  The character of Nicodemus, the leader of the rats and the most intelligent, is also some kind of magician, a benevolent sorcerer or something, and he seems to be able to tap into a power beyond the fruits of innovation.  The power he draws on, it seems, cannot be abused, because it works in synergy with the one who uses it.  This seems to imply that magic has a will, which is, incidentally, what distinguishes sacraments from other kinds of magical objects, as a sacrament is a meeting place of God’s energies and mankind.  Synergism is key to the sacramental.  Though we never get a chance to see what would happen if the villain of the story, Jenner, had been able to try to use the amulet McGuffin, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had an effect on him similar to opening the Ark of the Covenant, face-melting and all.

Which leads me to the next interesting tidbit.  The rats are sentient, you see, if you hadn’t guessed already, and even though they live in a world populated by your typical cartoon anthropomorphic animals, they’ve been given the privilege of true human-like intelligence, which evolves.  The big moral message of the story is about the struggle between the rats’ inherent animal nature and their gift of higher spirit, which they have to choose to pursue and nurture.  As rats, they would steal, including the electricity they use to power their under-rosebush city, but as rats reborn, they know such behavior is beneath them, that they can’t steal or be self-seeking anymore.  This, of course, is humanity’s struggle transposed.  We battle with our selfishness, our raw survival instinct, to pursue a higher ideal, to become better and to better everybody around us.  Once again, it’s a theme that Christianity has captured quite well, and watching this film I was able to muse on it.  Therein lies its brilliance.  Despite the gorgeous art and everything else that’s so great about it, ‘The Secret of NIMH’ is truly great because, well, it manages to be something of a sacrament itself.  It goes beyond just being an animated film and becomes a timeless gem of spiritual insight, by a power not its own.

Oh, and did I mention there’s a killer swordfight in it?  This movie ROCKS!

Classic Review: Captain Blood (1935)

Now in video!

Stars: **** out of Four

Summary:  It’s heroic.  No, it’s epic!

He's a doctor, a pirate, an Englishman... and he's out to draw BLOOD!

He's a doctor, a pirate, an Irishman... and he's out to draw BLOOD!

Review: So yeah, ‘Captain Blood’.  Imagine swashbuckling pirates, battles at sea, escaping slaves, clever dialog, romanticized romance, and swashbuckling pirates.  Now put them into a blender.  Now pour the smooth, delicious mixture, which I’m sure you’re quite proud of, into a baking pan, set the oven for 425 degrees, and bake the sucker for an hour.  Now, do the toothpick test.  Is it ready?  Good.  Now cut, and serve to all your friends.  Top with popcorn butter, or if you’re daring, chocolate.  Is it good?  Probably.  But you see, there’s a problem with your latest experiment in the metaphysical culinary arts, as there is with all postmodern pirate movies.  You see, the problem with all new pirate movies is that they are not ‘Captain Blood’.  Only one movie is ‘Captain Blood’, and this is… well, you know.  ‘Captain Blood’.

So I won’t bother spoiling it for you.  Like a truly succulent dish, like great sushi, ‘Captain Blood’ can only be compared to tastes similar to it, which assumes that you have partaken of them.  This movie is so good, dear reader, that at the very moment that I was watching it, it had already climbed up my ladder of favorite films into the coveted realm set aside for ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Jaws’,  and ‘Casablanca’.  This film is a rollicking good time, a complete package for the whole family and the individual adventure enthusiast.  This is one of those landmark movies that makes us think of pirates in popular culture not as unwholesome murderers who spat in the face of the law, but as goodhearted sailors forced into a life of rulebreaking because the rules were not human enough.  Whatever moral and historical inaccuracies there are in our common perception, we can lay in large part on the shoulders of Errol Flynn and his cool, witty and moral Irishman Dr. Peter Blood, who charms and swordfights for love, revenge, and England.  But, faith! why wait and read about the film when you could be watching it right now?  Go on then!  Take a bite out of adventure!

What do you think of that, Orson?

That’s what I thought.

Sherlock Holmes

Stars:  *** out of Four

Summary:  An old-school, fast paced adventure that resurrects neglected elements of one of the most famous people who never lived.

If this reminds of the poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark, it's probably intentional.

If this reminds you of the poster for 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', it's probably intentional.

Review:  So my brother is this huge Holmes fan.  I’ve read a little bit of Holmes, I think only the first adventure and a smidgen after that, and I’ve always admired the character from a distance.  One of my favorite movies growing up was Disney’s strangely dark, animal version of Holmes, ‘The Great Mouse Detective’, which, come to think of it, would be fun to see again.  I also remember seeing a version of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ on the old Public Television edutainment show ‘Wishbone’, which was kind of creepy.  So I learned from my brother that the literary Holmes was not the self-assured, all-together character we know from the Basil Rathbone movies of yore (though Rathbone’s Holmes was pretty killer in his own right), but was a bit more like the protagonist of Disney’s rendition, who was irritatingly eccentric and just a little bit mad.  In fact, he would shoot holes in his wall, experiment with drugs (especially opium), and craved difficult cases in a similar manner.  He was a boxer, a martial artist, and a swordsman.

Then I went to go see Guy Ritchie’s new film, ‘Sherlock Holmes’, with ‘Iron Man’ star Robert Downey Jr. in the title role.  And now, in my own way, I’ve found myself an overall fan of the character, opium, bullets, and all.  Not only does Holmes himself get a truer treatment (though with the drug content toned down), but so does Dr. John Watson, who on screen has often been the unfortunate victim of being made something of a buffoon to enhance Holmes’ reputation as the genius.  Instead, like his literary counterpart, Jude Law’s rendition of Watson restores him to the military man who was wounded in action (if you watch the film carefully, you see him favoring a leg), and whose own wits and abilities are complimented and honed by his friend.  Ritchie, an action director, uses Holmes’ and Watson’s physical abilities to the limit, unleashing Holmes as a master of lightning quick fistfight stratagem.  Everything is amped up, just a little beyond what was canon in the books, but not far at all.  Really, it’s pretty grounded in the continuity and style Sir Arthur Conan Doyle envisioned.  The tone that the film strikes comes closer to the classic Indiana Jones adventures and their forbears, the thrill-a-minute serials of yesteryear, than basically anything in the past decade.  It’s a refreshing trip to the movies that I heartily recommend.  My critiques go to the villain, who I felt could have been just a little stronger, and to the pacing, which made the film a little hard to digest on the first viewing.  It roars by, so I suggest seeing it again and again to catch every little detail, which keeps it fresh.

A solid, though imperfect, beginning to what promises to be a fun franchise.  Here’s hoping they don’t make it a trilogy.