- Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
early 25 years before Guy Ritchie gave Sherlock Holmes the slick Hollywood treatment, Steven Spielberg, Barry Levinson, Chris Columbus and Henry Winkler did much the same with Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation. Much like everything that carried the Amblin logo during the ‘80s, the results were rip-roaringly charming, and not entirely unlike Spielberg’s far more famous “Indiana Jones” flicks from the same time period. The movie didn’t do especially well at the box office, but went on to become a home video staple in the years that followed. Perhaps its biggest mistake was in placing the word “Young” in the title. It made the film sound as if it were aimed at children, which it isn’t necessarily, as evidenced by its well deserved PG-13 rating. Like the Ritchie film, this isn’t based on anything written by Conan Doyle himself, but rather it’s a fevered inspiration of Conan Doyle’s ideas.
A teenage Holmes (Nicholas Rowe) attends a boarding school in London, where he meets the wet behind the ears Watson (Alan Cox) for the first time. The two hit it off right away, and quickly find themselves, along with Holmes’s love interest Elizabeth (Sophie Ward), involved in a creepy adventure involving an Egyptian cult. One by one, various men around the town are being picked off, but their deaths are unusual in that they seem like accidents and suicides. Holmes pieces clue after clue together, which leads to his discovery that the deaths are spurred on by hallucinations.
Each of these sequences is a film highlight, and it’s within these moments that the movie makes its mark and becomes very un-kid friendly. Most involve inert objects coming to life and horrifying the victims, but midway through the film, when the central trio fall prey to the hallucinations, the film juxtaposes an eerie, potent vision for Holmes involving his parents alongside an array of pastries coming to life and terrorizing Watson. The Watson sequence – which by all counts shouldn’t work – is one of the most effective in the film. All of these moments combine to make a movie that will probably give anyone under the age of 10 nightmares – but for older kids and adults, they’re delightfully warped.
The third act turns into an action-packed adventure, and it’s there where the film most closely resembles “Indiana Jones.” However, through the lens of today, the film also has a great deal in common with the “Harry Potter” flicks, which should come as no surprise as Chris Columbus, who would go on to helm the first two “Potter” films, wrote this screenplay; right around the same time he wrote two other ‘80s staples, “Gremlins” and “The Goonies.”
In addition to all the flash, whizz and bang “Young Sherlock Holmes” offers, there’s also an undercurrent of intelligence and class. The film has aged remarkably well, no doubt due mostly to the fact that it’s a period piece. The performances are solid across the board, but Rowe undeniably comes out on top, with his pompous yet gentle take on a boy who will someday find himself a man devoted to ideas over people. (Interestingly, Rowe would one day play a role in Ritchie’s debut film, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”) This script cleverly plants the seeds for Holmes’s emotional undoing, and in the process creates a storyline that isn’t necessarily one that Conan Doyle would’ve written himself, but nevertheless would likely have found highly amusing.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
This is a totally bare bones affair, and appears to be nothing more than a reissue of an older DVD with a new cover. It’s of course being trotted out by Paramount to take advantage of the Ritchie film’s DVD release, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that, provided you know going in that all you’re getting is the movie. Yet it is an affordable disc, and chances are a Blu-ray version is a long way off.