Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Game of Shadows & Stardust

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

First, let me just say, I love the subtitle. I tend to be fond of subtitles, but A Game of Shadows is a great title or subtitle. I wish I'd thought of it. [Because, if I had, I might would use that for my Tib stories, which are still untitled.]

Second, I'm a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. I've read (and own) all of the Holmes stories, so, when I say I like Holmes, it's not just some vague notion of Holmes formed when I was a kid from watching movies and television shows about Sherlock.

Having said that, Guy Ritchie has done an excellent job of adapting the stories into movie format. There have, of course, been some changes (like with Sherlock's fastidiousness), but, overall, he kept all the fundamentals of Holmes and has made a faithful adaptation rather than just making some detective story and calling the character Sherlock as in many of the previous incarnations of Holmes.

Of course, the acting by Robert Downey, Jr. is superb. Looking at these movies through a James Bond lens, I would say that Downey is the Sean Connery of Sherlock Holmes. He's more rugged and less refined. More of a brawler than a fencer, which, actually, also holds true to the character; although, I'd be interested in seeing someone do a Roger Moore version who is more of the gentleman and fencer. This also falls within the realm of Holmes. Okay, so, maybe Pierce Brosnan for those of you out there hating on Roger (but I grew up with Moore Bond films, and I love them most). However, I can't actually think of anyone that would be better at Holmes than Downey has been.

Add Jude Law to that, and you have a pretty perfect team. I'm not a huge Jude Law fan. Not that I dislike him, but I think he often comes off the same from movie to movie. However, I think he's been the perfect pairing for Downey in these movies. Their combination is... well, they make an excellent team.

I've heard a lot of mutterings about how this one wasn't as good as the first, but I don't know that I can agree with that. Sure, they've removed the romantic element (and I was sorry to see Rachel McAdams go), but, really, the romantic element is not exactly appropriate as an ongoing thing in Sherlock Holmes. In almost all ways, Holmes is above romance. Adler was the only woman Holmes was ever interested in even remotely and that was because she bested him. They do add the tension of Watson's wife to the mix, and I think that serves adequately as a substitute for any romance for Holmes. His romance is with "the game."

Jared Harris was an excellent choice for Moriarty. He's not someone I would have thought of, but he was great. Quiet and under spoken, rather like a spider. He was quite chilling.

If you saw the first Holmes with Downey and liked it, this one is definitely worth seeing. For those of you that haven't read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, be aware that many of the smaller details are actually from the stories and not just inventions for the movies. Those kinds of things being included made these movies a very enjoyable experience for me. If you haven't read Doyle, you should.

But don't spend a lot of time looking for Moriarty. He's really only in two of the stories and was an invention by Doyle to provide an adequate nemesis for Holmes in order to kill him off. Which he did. And, then, brought him back later because of public demand. See that thing with bowing to public pressure in writing goes back a long way.


Stardust is another excellent title, but, then, Neil Gaiman tends to come up with some pretty excellent titles. Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book come to mind.

As I've stated previously, I've been a fan of Gaiman for quite a while. For much longer than he's been writing novels. I was introduced to The Sandman fairly early on (definitely before 1990) and often described Gaiman to friends as the best writer in comics (as opposed to Peter David (who also wrote novels) whom I described as the best writer of comic books writing novels)). I waited a long time for Gaiman to get around to the whole novel thing. And, then, sort of missed out on some because I was busy having kids. Good Omens is one of my favorite books, and I caught it right away, but Stardust and Neverwhere slipped past me, and I'm only now catching up.

But I loved the movie! Stardust is a beautiful movie, and I've been wanting to watch it again for quite a while (but it's buried in a box in the closet that still needs to be unpacked). Reading the book, finally, has only heightened that desire.

The problem here is that the movie and the book are not exactly the same thing. Rather like with Coraline. I really enjoyed reading Stardust, but I loved the movie. The book is less streamlined. It has a lot of fairy tale type elements in it, like people showing up to help at just the right moment. But, then, it is set in fairy land, so I'm sure those things are that way on purpose. They do add so amount of whimsy to the plot.

What I like most about the book is that it is unconventional in telling its love story, which is, also, unconventional. The movie makes it more of the kind of love story we expect from a movie, but the book, although containing the same love story, approaches it completely differently and doesn't really provide a happy ending. Not that it's not happy... well, you'd just have to read it to understand, because I'm not giving that away.

At any rate, if you like Gaiman, Stardust is definitely worth a read. I don't think it's as good as what he's been putting out more recently, but the same elements are there, and it's a good story with interesting characters. Be warned, though, if you're a fan of the movie, it's not quite the same.


  1. I thought Game of Shadows was excellent. Downey and Law really played off each other well. Some snappy dialogue and excellent action in the film.
    I enjoyed Stardust but it's been a while since I saw the movie. Liked the book as well. Think it's the only 'young adult' title I've ever read.

  2. Have you seen the recent BBC take on Sherlock? We love the movies and the Downey/Law pairing, but have decided Benedict Cumberbatch is possibly our favorite Holmes ever. He's just brilliant. And the integration of the characters into modern day is very well done.

    I enjoyed Stardust (the book). It was one of those books where the value lies in the words and the telling. Beautiful fairy tale - sort of Patricia McKillip-like. My favorite Gaiman books are probably Neverwhere and Coraline. Anansi Boys was clever, but didn't quite capture my heart the way some of his others do.

  3. Good review! I liked the first one and agree that I was glad to see a robust breath of life in Holmes with Downey. I think Sherlock Holmes as acquired an unjustifiedH reputation in popular culture as stuffy, which he was not.

    The only thing lacking, I felt, was a believable intellectual prowess. Have you seen the PBS version? It is available on Netflix Streaming and I adore it. Cumberbatch is superb.

  4. I saw that movie a few years ago on cable. It was good. Didn't rock my world or anything. About all I remember is didn't Robert DeNiro do some cross-dressing in that one?

  5. I haven't read the book "Stardust" nor the Holmes books. But I have absolutely loved the movies. I recommend Stardust to anyone that loves The Princess Bride.

  6. Holmes' fastidiousness? I recall Watson complaining about his untidiness in the stories. Another big Holmes fan here as well (read and own all the stories) and these movies hands down present the best interpretation of Holmes I've ever seen. I've heard a lot about the TV show Sherlock, but I'm honestly not interested in a modern version. It defeats most of the point for me.

  7. I have the Stardust (Book) and keep reading on it

  8. Like you, Andrew, I am not a huge Jude Law fan. Even in Cold Mountain, one of my favorite period movies, I thought someone else could've just as easily filled his role. HOWEVER, I can't think of anyone better for Watson in the Sherlock films. The same goes for Sherlock himself; Robert Downeyet, Jr. personifies just the right amount of quirky brilliance that keeps us coming back for more.

  9. Oh, and I totally want a castle on a snowy mountain with a waterfall. Just sayin'.

  10. Great reviews. I think Robert Downey Jr. is an amazing Sherlock Holmes, and these kind of movies restore my faith in humanity just a little bit.

    I've never read Stardust, or watched the movie, but I've just gotten into Gaiman (American Gods) and think I might check out Stardust next.

  11. I didn't really like the Holmes movie, but I do LOVE the BBC Sherlock series, but then I'm not a big fan. As for Gaiman, I love him, loved Sandman, loved Good Omens, but for some reason I just haven't read his other novels. I must remedy that.

  12. I'm in the camp that feels the first Holmes movie was superior. Some of it could be that it caught me off guard and this one had the weight of my expectations to deal with. But at the same time, it seemed like there was an awful lot of gunfire and explosions in this one. I'll watch it again when it comes out for home viewing and see how I feel about it then.

    As for Stardust, I read the book (and Neverwhere) and saw the movie. But for the life of me I can't recall how I felt about the flick. I thought the book was fine, it had moments I loved, but in the end I think it was too fairy tale-ish for me to appreciate it as a truly great novel.

  13. Alex: Is Stardust YA? I certainly wouldn't call it that. But, then, I recently found out that The Belgariad has been reclassified as YA when it used to be fantasy.

    Sarah: I've seen the first 3, yes. Excellent show. I'm actually torn between which I prefer. The BBC show has more of the science, but the movies have the street stuff and disguises.

    Have you read The Graveyard Book? That's probably my favorite.

    Pish: I don't think they leave it out; it's just not what they focus on. As I just mentioned, yes, the BBC series is excellent, but, then, it's done Moffat, and he may be the best TV writer going, right now. He certainly is in Britain.

    Grumpy: Yeah, DeNiro is great in the movie. That part is not such a big deal in the book. DeNiro really brought it to life.

    Michael: Yeah, I can see that; although, I think Stardust is vastly superior to Bride. I just never got into that one.

    Sarah Mc: Oh, yeah, Holmes is a slob, but, except when he's in disguise, he keeps himself pretty well groomed. It's been so long since I read them, at this point, that I'd have to go back and look, but I think there are some contrasts between his personal grooming habits and the way he keeps the apartment.

    And you should check out the BBC series. You might be surprised. I sort of had the same view you do before I watched it.

    Jeremy: Let me know what you think.

    Alyssia: Downey is amazing. I don't really think he has the right look for Holmes, at least not the way I picture Holmes in my head. That's more Law. But he really just becomes the character. He's great!
    And the castle was awesome.

    ABftS: Make sure you read The Graveyard Book! And Good Omens!

    Michele: >gasp!< Okay, I forgive you a bit since you like the BBC show.
    And, yes, remedy that! Get on it!

    Rusty: Well, I wouldn't say it's a great novel. It's certainly not as good as what Gaiman's doing now. I think it was so influenced by Vess' art, but you can't see that in the novel. I may have to see if I can find the graphic novel to see how that changes it.

  14. I think Downey and Holmes are perfect for each other. I know, I know, typecasting, but I love it when Downey plays a character who is a snarky troublemaker, and imperfect.

    As far as Bond, I tend to say Connery was my favorite, but many of my favorite Bond films were Moore ones. Really, I liked them all but Dalton. There was just nothing suave about that man; well, he didn't tickle my fancy, anyway. Moore was more dapper, Connery a cad. I do like the newest version of Bond found in the most recent movies, but I fought the change tooth and nail at first. I like him being a bit tougher.

  15. Shannon: I like Dalton a lot more, now, than I used to. I think he's a bit underrated. Not just as Bond but in everything.
    I also really like the Craig Bond films. However, that's more for the story telling than the actor (although, I do think he's quite good). It's the first time they've ever given the films any real continuity, and I like that.

  16. Hmmm, I've been considering watching one/some of the Dalton films again. I never revisited them, and haven't seen them as an adult. I'm not really sure what else he was in.