Eye For Film >> Movies >> Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) Film Review
Originally planned as the first of a series, Young Sherlock Holmes was a bit of a misfire at the box office. It cost $18 million and only grossed about 20 per cent of its budget back. In the years since its release it has become a cult film for those who can appreciate it for the blockbuster it never was. I personally discovered it on a Christmas Eve showing on BBC in the late Eighties. Even then, I thought it was great despite it being a darker Christmas film than we're used to.
In a snowy and sinister December at the height of the Victorian Era, Watson, as a teenager, is sent to Brompton, a private school in a fogbound London, when his old one is shut down due to lack of funding. Upon arrival, he meets a violin-playing smart Alec who deducts his character from his mere appearance. It's the beginning of a life-long friendship.
Holmes' life on campus is rather cosy. He has a pretty girlfriend Elizabeth (Sophie Ward) and her uncle, Professor Waxflatter, is a crackpot inventor of the Doc Brown variety who lives in the school attic with all of his crazy inventions. At first, Watson and Holmes have fun getting up to mischief on campus but a series of bizarre suicides soon distracts them.
The local Inspector Lestrade is too lazy to do anything about it, leaving them free to investigate. Apparently the victims are all sane, happy men who seem to go suddenly mad with fear and hurl themselves to the nearest oncoming death. Things get personal when Waxflatter suffers the same fate and stabs himself in fit of madness.
Why are ordinary men going crazy? Who is the mysterious black robed person hiding in the shadows? What dark secret was Waxflatter hiding? All questions to which Holmes demands answers and he drags along the nervous Watson and Elizabeth as he scours all the dodgy areas of Wapping talking to loads of cockneys and people who call you 'Govna'. What they discover is an ancient blood oath and a huge conspiracy brewing in the spooky alleyways.
In the Eighties, Chris Columbus penned a string of imaginative movies from Gremlins to The Goonies and later he directed the Home Alone films as well as Bicentennial Man (yes, I like it) and the first two Harry Potters. He's one of those writers who can hide a surprising amount of darkness in a kid's film and Young Sherlock is a fine example of his most sophisticated writing.
With strong direction from Barry Levinson and enchanting production values from Steven Spielberg there's no denying that this movie looks absolutely great. But it's how it sounds that'll really impress you. Bruce Broughton - a tragically under-rated composer who has talent equal to John Williams - has been unfairly slumming most of his career in TV movies. Here, he delivers one of the most spellbinding and gothic scores you have ever heard. There are dozens of themes, moments of real magic, evil menace and breathtaking action. If this film had been a hit it really would have become as famous as themes for Jaws, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter.
And speaking of Harry Potter, one cannot deny that JK Rowling was inspired by this film in many ways when creating her Potter universe. I'm not crude enough to list all the similarities in this review but let me just say that while there may not be anywhere near enough to call it plagiarism there sure is more than enough to call it a coincidence. Watch the film and you'll know what I mean.
Originally the critics dismissed Young Sherlock Holmes as another effects-filled Spielberg fantasy, but that's an unfair judgement. The visual effects (really quite something for its time) are essential to the story as well as being pioneering. You may not believe it but YSH was actually the first ever film to feature a fully CGI character (a stained-glass knight who comes alive), created by Pixar. Future Toy Story director John Lasseter was even one of the computer wizards who helped bring it to life. Unfortunately it lost its well-deserved Academy Award to the inferior effects of Cocoon.
Even 20 years on a sequel definitely needed. Chris Columbus has stated he was upset that a sequel never got off the ground and that the series never took off. He shouldn't sell himself short. Of course it would need new actors but so many have put on the hat and coat of Sherlock Holmes that the role doesn't belong to just one man. There is still life in this spin-off franchise. All it needs is the right story and some of the magic that is missing from most kids' films these days.
And when I say kids' films I should really play-down the negative connotations of such a label. As one of the first PG-13 rated films, YSH has a bit of a savage edge, a hardness unfamiliar the condescending kids' films of today.
Sir Arthur would be proud. He may have felt indifferent towards his most famous creation, but if he were alive today he would have loved this film. And it well and truly deserves The Gator MacReady Claw of Approval.Reviewed on: 20 Dec 2005
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