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Movie Reviews: Sherlock Holmes, Avatar


I can do little more than echo the praises that have been coming from elsewhere. Will Avatar change filmmaking forever? Actually, I think it will, although not as dramatically as writer/director James Cameron has been saying. Other filmmakers just aren’t as good as he is.

The planet Pandora and its flora and fauna are so richly imagined, the detail in the effects so deep, the use of 3D so subtle, other filmmakers will be playing catch-up for a long time to come. I’d love to be a 13-year-old kid seeing this movie and getting inspired to make movies. For some lucky kids out there, this is going to be their 2001, their Star Wars, their Fight Club.

I was a skeptic early on, and I still think Fox publicity made the wrong choice in showing extended scenes of the movie out of context (just showing the first ten minutes which economically sets up the story would’ve been more effective), I always said don’t count Cameron out. The story he’s put together is more than the sum of its 3D parts.

No, the movie isn’t perfect. Some of the dialogue is a bit obvious and some of the story elements so iconic as to be over-used… but, jeez, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a story that has more all-ages appeal. It has the hero’s journey, the love story, the action epic all in one. There’s even a Celine Dion song in the credits to try to convince you it’s Titanic all over again.

It’s true, Cameron made the mold with Titanic, but he’s pushing it into three dimensions. About that –while the movie will still tell the same entertaining story in 2D, I fully recommend seeing the movie, if you have a choice, in 3D. And if you are lucky enough to live in a place that offers a choice of 3D, choose RealD. One of my criticisms of the preview screening was the way the IMAX 3D caused flickering, especially with lateral panning shots. Dolby 3D has a similar problem, as well as rainbows at the edges of the field of vision. RealD is brighter and, while I did notice some minimal flicker when the camera pans or tilts in the live action shots, the 3D-rendered sequences were flawless.

In Cameron’s 60 Minutes interview, correspondent Morley Safer pointed out the irony that Cameron has spent so much money and developed so much technology to make a movie that is anti-corporate and pro-back-to-nature. Cameron shrugged it off. All I’ll add is this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

MORE: Rob Beschizza does a good job of teasing out some plot strands that could’ve been better (without making audiences scratch their heads too much).

Sherlock Holmes

I am happy to say that, contra the trailer, the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes actually engages in deductive reasoning. True, he sometimes uses it in the manner of an action hero, analyzing the physical weak points of an opponent — but, still, it was a great relief to find that the movie contains at its heart a serviceable mystery.

The mystery, involving a secret society full of mystic symbolism, sometimes surfaces in the midst of the central male-bonding love story between Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes and Jude Law’s Dr. Watson. The only thing that truly threatens this duo is their respective women, Kelly Reilly as the steadfast fiancé of Watson, Mary Morstan; a dreadful Rachel McAdams as the con-woman love interest of Holmes, Stella Irene Adler. Thankfully, they have a good mystery to keep them from the fair sex.

The movie, predictably, is set as a launching pad for a sequel involving Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty. I wouldn’t mind seeing it get franchised, if the other adventures are as entertaining. The script, by Michael Robert Johnson (first credited screenplay) and Anthony Peckham (Invictus) and Simon Kinberg (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) is full of wit and clever ruses (although many my feeble mind was to figure out before Holmes stopped to explain them. I particularly like the idea of envisioning Holmes as an autistic, someone who needs a mystery to distract his restless brain from an acute sense of detail. They seem to have chosen to minimize the literary Holmes’ opium addiction, even as they increased his muscles.

The musical score is interesting, if not entirely successful, at least a good attempt at doing something new. You would expect a Guy Richie movie to be wall-to-wall pop music; instead, it relies on rollicking Celtic folk tunes and an Eyes Wide Shut-esque minimal-note theme plucked out on a violin.

The production design is phenomenal – a great recreation of Victorian London. Some of the digital backgrounds are a bit obvious, and the final battle on a partially-constructed Westminster Tower Bridge is never convincing as being a set. But what you want in a Sherlock Holmes movie is a good mystery that will challenge Holmes & Watson. This movie has it. Recommend.


  1. Tone in Cardiff, Wales

    March 10, 2010 at 10:18 PM

    It's the partially constructed TOWER BRIDGE, not Westminster Bridge.

  2. Fixed, thanks!

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