Josh Rosenfield and Søren Hough often find themselves at odds with one another over topics in film and television. Below is a transcript of one such conversation wherein Josh and Søren debate the merits of the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies versus Stephan Moffat’s BBC Sherlock television series. The scope of the back-and-forth then broadens to property adaptation as a whole, with Batman and Christopher Nolan taking center stage.
Yet another thing Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes gets right that Cumberbatch’s Sherlock gets wrong:
Costumes. Disguises. It’s straight out of the book, people.
Yeah, but you know what Cumberbatch’s gets right that RDJ’s gets wrong? Cumberbatch’s is good.
I can’t even begin to get into this right now… But suffice it to say that no matter how good Cumberbatch and Freeman are as actors (and they are, no doubt – and I like both of them immensely), they can’t fix what was fundamentally broken at the outset of their interpretation of Sherlock. It’s the writers’ fault, I suppose.
I’d say the exact same thing about RDJ’s.
Have you read Sherlock Holmes?
Not all of it, but yeah.
Mmm… Well I find it hard to reconcile anything in that book with what we see in the BBC Sherlock.
But happy days, I found my explanation that I typed out in advance of this conversation way back when!
Here it is:
The biggest issue I had with the show is that they’ve gotten the character of Sherlock completely wrong. Instead of an aloof genius, he plays a snarky, condescending jerk who looks for opportunities to make other people feel stupid and insignificant. Conversely, the Sherlock of Doyle’s books is socially inept and does occasionally offend unintentionally, but it’s never with that distinct air of malice or vindictiveness.
Now, getting the title character wrong would be bad enough on its own (or maybe not, creative license and all that), but it’s even worse because it affects the entire premise of the series: namely, the relationship between Watson and Sherlock.
Watson is our “in” as an audience in the book – the stories are all written from his perspective. He gets sucked into Sherlock’s life due to the man’s fascinating, mysterious, and oftentimes brilliant persona. He’s almost endearing in how out-of-touch he is with the rest of the world. And therefore, we as an audience are drawn to Sherlock – just as Watson is. Watson loves Sherlock and their companionship drives every story.
It is actually this relationship that, ironically, the Sherlock movies do much better than the BBC show. In the show, Sherlock is just some jerk who likes to make people look stupid, and so it’s hard to believe that anyone would stick with him longer than a few hours. This isn’t the fault of the actors, of course – Freeman and Cumberbatch do well with the scripts and stories they’re given. It’s really the writers’ faults…
Meanwhile, Downey, Jr. has some redeeming features and never does anything to intentionally offend – he’s just out of touch with reality. That is, to me, a much truer take on the character.
Anyway, this is all to say that I stopped watching after the first season. Screwing up the Watson/Sherlock relationship really ruined it for me.
Well, I think we have a fundamentally different view on what an adaptation is allowed to be, especially with such a classic character. When you’re making such drastic stylistic changes, you have to be able to judge the movie/show on its own. And when looked at on their own, yeah, the RDJ movies are more faithful, but as movies, they just aren’t very good. They took Sherlock Holmes the detective and made him an action hero. The show stayed much closer to the roots of the character, but there’s nothing wrong with giving him a different personality. Because the RDJ Sherlock is barely a character beyond his quips. The Cumberbatch Sherlock is a lot more fleshed out and fun to watch. Anyway, my point is that it doesn’t matter how faithful the work is if it can’t stand up on its own. And the RDJ movies are pretty bad.
I should clarify, though:
The BBC Sherlock is generally of higher quality overall. Neither Sherlock movies were masterpieces. I am simply talking here about getting the character right.
As an analogy, I’d say The Dark Knight trilogy was a fine set of films, but terrible as Batman movies.
Your Dark Knight argument is exactly what I’m talking about when I say we disagree on what adaptations should be. I don’t think it matters if Nolan changes who Batman is. Who cares? That’s a comic book, this is a movie. They’re different.
I agree on quality – but on the subject of faithfulness, I think it is important when one adapts a property that fundamentals are kept intact. Most things can change, but there’s not much more to Sherlock other than that Watson/Sherlock dynamic and his ridiculously superior intellect. Sherlock the show only hits one of those points, while Sherlock Holmes the movie hits both.
Again, it’s in terms of faithfulness that I’m talking here. For example, Nolan’s Joker was a very different version than we see in the comics, but his fundamental nature was identical – and that is key, because Joker serves as a critical counterpoint to Batman’s code. In that, Nolan was very successful.
But not as successful as he would have been if Batman had been done right, as well.
But my point is that Nolan is totally successful in making his Batman movie. If he had done a more ‘faithful’ Batman, it would have been a totally different movie, and that’s not the movie he was trying to make. And the movies he made are great, so it doesn’t matter.