London Bridge is… Going Up
Sherlock Holmes’ Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) is a perfect British villain, manipulating people through fear and promising nationalist expansion, as if colonialism wasn’t part of the country’s code in this 1890s setting. Historically, Britain still occupied multiple countries, and Gandhi was already beginning his crusade for independence. Blackwood is only a marginally exaggerated figment, at least in his ultimate goal.
Blackwood uses religion and the occult, contorting reality through clever tricks, sleight of hand, and technology. Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) dismisses it all – religion isn’t logical, he claims. Citizens rally in a panic, believing rapture is near, or end times are descending amid Blackwood’s supposed resurrection; it’s all a ruse, giving Sherlock Holmes a rather fervent worldview by depicting believers as reckless, allowing Blackwood to rule as a dictator.
Holmes is interesting too, an isolated genius, unable to cope in social circumstances and as Sherlock Holmes begins, he’s locked himself in a room, depressed. Sarcasm and wit hide those truths, or maybe bury them in the recesses of his mind. Self-destruction appears as Holmes becomes an underground fighter, taking punches even while displaying the skill to know every move. This Sherlock Holmes considers the character as a superhero, a smart update as the comic book genre upticked in popularity, if betraying the subtle intellect Holmes existed on for a century.
It’s new, it’s different; if there’s need for a refreshed Sherlock Holmes, may as well bring the character into another century with vigor. While Holmes still carries with him CSI-esque deductive reasoning, predictive abilities let him gauge physical opponents too. Sherlock Holmes’ world is one where everything is foreseeable, from a punch to Blackwood’s sinister plans, and the ease in which people fall into a cultish fervor. Everything exists in a pattern, sorted out piecemeal in Holmes’ head.
Guy Ritchie’s style leaves Sherlock Holmes scattered, jumpy, and erratic. It’s overlong too; even the CG-dosed action can’t offer long enough reprieve to cinematic dead air. Sherlock Holmes leaves the best stuff off-screen – like London’s descent toward madness – to focus on a shaky, vulnerable relationship between Holmes and Watson (Jude Law). In franchise building terms (of which Sherlock Holmes is clearly begging to become), the duo’s origin story is sensible. The lackluster, routine payoff though plays to big budget studio norms, with a distressed damsel (Rachel McAdams), last second saves, and sequel bait climax. Britain is saved from their mistakes, if not in the real world.
Finished at 2K, this upscaled presentation looks the part. Spotting small detail and texture is certainly common. Set design flourishes thanks to added resolution, CG composites become visible, and facial definition thrives. All of this happened on the Blu-ray too, albeit with lesser encoding (old enough to use VC-1 as a codec). The jump to 4K adds a little. Only a little.
Cinematography leans dark, giving hope HDR might bring greater shadow delineation, but no. Crush is persistent and dominant. Black levels only recede to murky levels too, leaving Sherlock Holmes visually dry. Cloudy London doesn’t offer much contrast either. A few highlights push some energy into the image, but not often.
Graded in sepia tints and occasional blues, deep color isn’t much of a performer either, although this is certainly a case of source material dictating that depth. The few decent primaries jump out during a brief chase through a circus, then dipping back into the restrained, restricted palette. Other than better compression, there’s little reason to upgrade.
While Beetlejuice is given a Dolby Atmos makeover in Warner’s latest catalog release rush, the (much) newer Sherlock Holmes sticks with the same Blu-ray mix, in DTS-HD 5.1. That’s not the worst case scenario since prevalent surround use is noted from the opening credits. Fantastic ambiance makes London’s streets sound lively, its restaurants engaging, and prisons crowded. Action spreads gunfire around, and positional danger in a slaughterhouse brings characters closer to blades even when off-screen.
If not the deepest, there’s solid low-end support. Slow motion kicks and punches all dip low, a few explosions joining that crowd. A brawl near a boat dock brings scale, from support beams smacked aside to the ship’s eventual release.
On the Blu-ray, Warner delivers “Maximum Movie Mode,” which allows director Guy Ritchie to walk onto the screen to chat about the film, in addition to picture-in-picture featurettes. Turning this on extends the movie three-minutes due to pauses by Ritchie, or you can watch the featurettes by themselves (eight in total) running 31-minutes. A basic making-of featurette titled Sherlock Holmes Reinvented runs 15-minutes.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Treating Sherlock Holmes as an intellectual action hero, the modern take is clever and carries a great villain, but it’s overstuffed.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 57 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: