I think I’ve made it obvious in the past that I really do like a good Sherlock Holmes story, and I was going to do a whole thing about all my different favourite Sherlock Holmes adaptations but I felt I wanted to narrow it down to this one in particular for now. If you haven’t seen it, Young Sherlock Holmes was a film that came out in 1985, produced by Steven Spielberg, directed by Barry Levinson just before he directed Good Morning, Vietnam and Rain Man, and was even written by Chris Columbus. That is an all-star team for a production which makes you wonder why this film has been forgotten. Well, it’s mainly because, for all of these writers and directors, this film was a financial flop. It’s never sold very well at all and it didn’t do too brilliantly with critical responses, although it does currently hold a 65 score on Metacritic and a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes, so it wasn’t considered a total failure. Most of the criticism came from the fact that it was trying too hard to be a blockbuster, though that being said I bet you those critics would feel a bit foolish after seeing the Guy Ritchie films. Again, nothing against the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films but they are trying way harder to be a blockbuster production than this film was.
But, for many reasons, I actually kind of think Young Sherlock Holmes is possibly my favourite Sherlock film for several reasons which I’ll obviously dive into. But even then, I can actually recognise some of the faults. For one thing, while I’m going to go into some of the things I like about the special effects, they are rather ropey and do kind of date the film. Though again, we’re living in 2021 now—we’ve been spoiled by some of the best special effects ever made. What’s more, there are also a lot of moments where you had to suspend your disbelief in order to buy into something, especially with the whole thing of Sherlock’s favourite teacher trying to build a machine to fly in Victorian England; that was a bit of weird one.
You’re also not going into this film to get the source material. In fact, this is a re-written origin for Sherlock Holmes since, in the books, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson meet as adults in ‘A Study In Scarlet’ after Watson comes home from a war in Afghanistan. The basic premise of this film is that a teenage Sherlock Holmes who’s played by Nicholas Rowe befriends a new student at his boarding school, John Watson, played by Alan Cox, and they’re investigating a series of mysterious deaths which were brought on initially by the deceased seeing violent delusions. That’s another thing about the film I should also mention: the cast list in this one is really unknown. The only one you might recognise is Roger Ashton-Griffiths who plays Lestrade but that’s only because he turned up in Game of Thrones as Mace Tyrell, though I did also appreciate that Nicholas Rowe did get a cameo in the film Mr. Holmes which had Ian McKellen play a much older Sherlock Holmes reflecting on his life.
And if you don’t think this film has been forgotten, remember, this film never got a Blu-Ray release; it did get a DVD release which you can get but it’s getting rarer and rare to find a copy. Though, thankfully, in my research I did find that is available on Amazon Prime’s video service, though it does come with an additional charge. But don’t expect to spent much—you can actually get this film for less than £5. But here we go: four reasons why young Sherlock Holmes shouldn’t be forgotten.
The set designs
I really like the set designs in Young Sherlock Holmes; they bring a lot of energy to many of the scenes and they do a very good job making a Victorian London feel cold but also very bustling, especially considering the fact that they made the smart decision to have a lot of extras to make it feel like an actual lived-in city. However, this is slightly undercut by the later portions of the film where the staff ran into a problem with the fact that most of the cast were not in the film by that point. Yeah, that’s something I will say against the films: there are a lot of characters that just sort of disappear after a while, and the more of them that disappear, there are less people on set. And also, it becomes clear towards the end of the film that they only had a limited number of sets since they start repeating locations quite a bit. That being said, they all do look fantastic. The team behind them should really commend themselves for that one.
The effects are kind of revolutionary
I did say the effects are kind of dated but we can really see a lot of not only what effects were going to be like going forwards but kind of the transition of effects. These are mainly used for the scenes that involve the victims seeing their delusions, and these mainly involve a good mix of stop-motion. But there were also early computer digital effects being used, one prime example being a particularly revolutionary scene involving a stain glass window coming to life. In fact, it was so good it actually got an Oscar nomination amazingly; didn’t win it though. But the reason why this is so revolutionary is even bigger when you realise where Steven Spielberg would go with a production he would make just a few years later. See, when Spielberg was making Jurassic Park he was originally going to have the dinosaurs made using stop-motion; it would have been rather similar to the success that had been in a film like Jason and the Argonauts which used similar effects. But Spielberg wasn’t happy with how they moved and thought the audience wouldn’t buy into it, which was then when he was pitched on the digital effects that had been used in Young Sherlock Holmes, and used them to an amazing degree. In that sense, this film is kind of a metaphor for the evolution of special effects, especially with the career of the person who was in charge of the project.
It’s actually an engaging mystery
It’s really hard to do these, especially one where you know what the solution is going to be. And believe me, with Young Sherlock Holmes you will know instantly what the solution is. It really suffers from that major problem of not introducing enough characters in this story, so as a result there not being enough red herrings to throw you off. But that being said, you don’t quite know the reasons why and what exactly is going on at all times and it does unfold pretty well. And we do see the beginnings of Sherlock’s deductive thinking being applied. Now, it’s not like he completely figures it out that way; in fact, the solution kind of just comes to him. But as a whole, it really works out pretty well. In fact, it actually has a pretty good solution which leads to an excellent climax. By the way, if you don’t want a lot of this film spoiled for you, do not look up what the alternative title for the film is when they actually planned to make this a film series. There’s actually a post-credit scene that was going to set up a future sequel which never happened.
Sherlock is actually allowed to be a full character
By that I mean he’s allowed to show a lot more emotion than a lot of writers give him to do. It’s very hard to do this idea of a teenager Sherlock Holmes and make it believable but they do a pretty good job. Granted, they do introduce a love interest for him which feels a bit out of left field but it works as a whole, and Sherlock gets a full arc in this one and is a complete character. He actually feels like a real human being. True, the film does go out of its way a bit too much to try and show the origins of everything about his character, and you’re not getting the full Sherlock experience. But as a whole, in this film he’s a pretty well-rounded character. Nicolas Rowe really nails it too—he’s allowed to show real deep sadness and regret during several scenes, but they also managed to keep his intelligence and his deductive reasoning.
It also feels like a nice tribute that a lot of a Sherlock’s personality and intelligence was inspired by one of his favourite teachers given that, well, that’s how Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired to create the character of Sherlock Holmes. He also has a very believable friendship with Watson, and, to be fair, Nicholas Rowe and Alan Cox have very good chemistry on-screen. He actually does create a decent puzzle for Watson to show that he has some intelligence in and of himself which Watson inevitably solved by the end of the film.
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