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DVD Review: Sherlock Holmes

Mar. 30 2010, Published 7:59 a.m. ET

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Sherlock Holmes stars Robert Downey Jr. as the classic, crime-solving hero in Guy Ritchie’s thoroughly modern take on the iconic character. While the film is a lively, action-packed affair, the DVD edition -- which arrives Tuesday -- features little else to tantalize fans.

The DVD’s single extra segment, “Sherlock Holmes: Reinvented,” is self-congratulatory, feeling less like an inside glimpse at the making of the film than one long awards-season speech. There’s more than enough praise to go around -- Ritchie is “generous,” Downey is “disciplined,” the ladies on set called Jude Law “Hot-son”  (he plays Dr. Watson). Yet, the DVD leaves us out in the London cold without so much of a mention as to how Ritchie created the brilliant fight scenes, or where the gigantic bad guy came from, or how the crew managed to build green screens over the Thames.

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Sherlock Holmes Trailer

Instead, the slick piece of propaganda simply lets everyone from producer Joel Silver to Rachel McAdams, who plays love interest Irene Adler, let loose with mutual adulation. It’s fun to see Downey Jr. joking around with Law and observe Ritchie thriving in his own element, far from tabloid turf. But his take on Sherlock has so many fantastic flourishes, from the period costumes to truly inspired closing credits, that it’s a let-down to find that all the good stuff was reserved for Blu-ray.

Still, Sherlock Holmes, while a little light on substance, deserves fresh attention for its incredible performances, impressive aesthetics and fearless approach to well-known material. Downey and his capable co-stars are able to transcend a script that doesn’t offer any of them much to work with, but each actor brings vibrance to the roles. While Sherlock seeks to unravel a mystery that weaves together magic and a quest for power, Downey imbues his character with an unabashed geekiness that’s both endearing and compelling. As the duplicitous object of Sherlock’s affections, McAdams’ Irene is believable as the only real foil for Sherlock, if only she had more depth. Jude Law, meanwhile, is allowed dignity in a role that lets him play a more serious (if not dashing) adult.

Robert Downey Jr.
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Gossip Hits Sherlock Holmes

The stars aren’t the only ones who bring personal style to the film. In the DVD, Downey Jr. aptly comments that, while Ritchie was reinventing Sherlock, he was also reinventing himself. With small but cult-status films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and RocknRolla, the director has been a niche artist with a devoted but narrow fan base.

London Premiere

With Sherlock, Ritchie transcends his past (including that critical bomb, Swept Away) without eschewing it. Sherlock Holmes benefits from a big budget that allows for lavish sets and intricate outfitting, but also from the director’s vision and very specific aesthetic. Sure, the DVD release is thin on extras, but it doesn’t diminish a fun film that, like its hero, thrives on a big imagination and astonishing attention to detail.



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