1985 in Film – Young Sherlock Holmes

Release Date: December 4th
Box Office: $19,739,000

Has sticking “Young” in front of a franchise name ever been good? Or Junior, if we want to bring in James Bond Jr. Although Young Frankenstein was pretty good. Muppet Babies was good as well.

The point is, Young Sherlock Holmes doesn’t inspire confidence. The poster is a bit dour, unless it’s one of the alternate ones with Young Holmes with a flaming torch riding a chandelier but then you’re thinking “thats not very Sherlock Holmes-y”.

Barry Levinson feels an odd fit for the film. His last film, The Natural, was a Robert Redford film about baseball and before that was Diner. Yeah. The script was from Christopher Columbus, a man on who had just written Gremlins and The Goonies so there was some form there. Spielberg’s Amblin produced the film which gave them access to create the scene that the film will forever be remembered for.

Yep, the first computer generated photo realistic characters in a film. Well, by photo realistic we mean panes of stained glass that look like a knight. Created by John Lasseter, yes that guy from Pixar, it remains a genuine moment of movie history.

In this way, the rest of the film is over shadowed. It speaks to the era of the blockbuster that a special effect would overwhelm character and plot, of course things would get a lot worse than this for some films.

The story isn’t that bad; it shows a Young Holmes and Watson meeting at a school in London and getting mixed up in a bunch of bizarre murders. Mix in an ancient Egyptian curse and a silly looking flying machine and you have a decent family romp.

The cast don’t let the side down either. Nicholas Rowe makes for a good Holmes, showing both the cold and calculating side of his nature but grounding him as a young impetuous man. Alex Cox makes for a decent bumbling proto-Watson and the older cast members seem to be enjoying themselves. Neither feel too far from Conan Doyle’s original creation, although Cox’s Watson errs towards the Nigel Bruce slightly bumbling interpretation of the character. Its the rest of the film that strays away from the source.

The whole Egyptian cult feels like something from the Rathbone/Bruce-in-World-War-II era of Holmes, something that doesn’t quite fit with the original character. It’s not that its bad, just feels like something from a different film that Sherlock Holmes has wondered into. There’s also a pretty weird hallucination sequence involving cakes that sticks in the memory for the wrong reasons.

The film, then, ends up being a series of decent moments. Decent characters, decent plot, decent action. It doesn’t quite have the energy to be properly exciting or be properly mysterious. As a Holmes film there are certainly worse out there but there are a lot better. As an origin tale, though, it pretty much stands alone as not many other people have tried it. Is there a reason for that though? Do we really need that much detail into the origin of Holmes? All we really want to seem him do is solve complicated mysteries whilst swanning around Victorian London.

It seems like the audience agreed as Young Sherlock Holmes barely broke even at the box office. The sequel hinted at in a post credit sequence was never seen. It would be about twenty years before we had the twin Holmes attack of the BBC TV series Sherlock as well as the Downey Jr take on the character. Oh, and the US TV series Elementary. All of these would be successful proving that there was still a market for the consulting detective.

You’ll note, however, that none of those feature Holmes as a young man. Make of that what you will.

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