Or: why I am disinterested in BBC's Sherlock
and dislike the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies. (Yeah my first real dreamwidth post will be complaining about two very popular things. Sorry about that.)
I have two works which have largely formed how I approach mystery fiction- the television series Homicide: Life on the Street
and the Watch books in Discworld
. These are, admittedly, two rather atypical sources of influence. Homicide
is in a lot of ways a workplace drama where the workplace happens to be the Homicide Unit in Baltimore, and the Watch books are, well, Discworld
. But among the other things I've picked up from these works are two attitudes which are really relevant to this post.
1- Detectives solve cases, major and minor, through a combination of a lot of hard work and sheer luck. In Homicide
a detective can spend weeks going through anything that might
be evidence before getting to a breakthrough, and sometimes cases are solved just because the criminal is dumb enough to write things down and the detective is lucky enough to find it.
2- Genius observational deductions are frequently pretty stupid. There's a point in one book, I forget which one, where Vimes outright dismisses Clues like a guy having plaster on his sleeve, because while that could mean he's a professional plasterer, it could also mean his house or office are in the process of being replastered or are falling apart, or a number of other things. That passage always struck me as a jab at a particular type of fictional detective, but a jab I happen to agree with.
These actually cause problems with me and a number of works, but you can probably see how it's a particular issue when dealing with Holmes.
But that's not to say I'm against Holmes in any form. I admit I've never read the stories, but a few years ago I was introduced to the Granada t.v. series
starring Jeremy Brett, and I genuinely love it. For one, Jeremy Brett is brilliant and the casts of the week are usually pretty strong, for another, it does in many ways frequently take something of a procedural approach. But I think it also does two things that other adaptations don't always do. First- Holmes may be the smartest guy in the room, but that doesn't mean we're instantly supposed to admire him and it doesn't mean he's infallible. And second- for the vast majority of the series, Holmes is challenging himself not by battling an evil genius, but by solving ordinary crimes committed by ordinary people in a way that is more competent than the police seem able to manage. In 36 episodes, Professor Moriarty appears in...3. And he's in none of the 5 movies.
Now the 2009 movie, which I did end up sitting through, is a different story (for one, I do not think it is a good film, but I'll leave that issue aside for the moment). Holmes is so much of a genius
that we're clearly supposed to find him just irresistibly cool. His quirks seem meant to be strange but charming, and also cool. Basically, instead of just a brilliant detective and questionable human being, Downey Jr.'s Holmes seems meant to be a totally awesome
action-mystery hero! And frankly, I find that uninspired and I don't think the movie pulls it off. But worse than that, it's all about Holmes thwarting a HUGE CONSPIRACY and also about setting up the great criminal genius Holmes will take on in a later movie! And while I am frequently fine with huge conspiracies and criminal geniuses in my fiction, there's an assumption of "this great genius is only suited to battle another great genius or at least someone who is vastly powerful" in this approach to Holmes that just doesn't sit well with me at all. (Not to mention it's pretty rare for screenwriters to really pull a battle between geniuses off.)
To be fair to BBC's Sherlock
, I haven't seen it and if it happens to be on or if my parents happen to be watching it I'll give it a try. And from what I hear about it it doesn't seem like it takes the "above us mere mortals" approach to Holmes' character. But what I've heard about Moriarty's prominence in the show makes me wary enough that I am not going to seek the series out.
I'll be over here praying for a Wallander
series 3 instead.
(Thanks to Homicide
episode one for the quote I used in the title.)