AKA Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear
Starring Nicholas Rowe, Alan Cox, Sophie Ward, Anthony Higgins, Susan Fleetwood, Freddie Jones, Nigel Stock, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Earl Rhodes, Brian Oulton, Patrick Newell
Directed by Barry Levinson
Expectations: High, this is a childhood favorite.
Young Sherlock Holmes tells a “What if?” story about what might have been if Holmes and Watson had met during their school days. The filmmakers make it a point to inform the viewer (twice!) that this tale is non-canonical and purely a fantasy dreamt up by the creative team; Holmes purists ’round the world must have protested the shooting of the film or something. I think I might know how they felt, though, I was that Holmes purist scoffing at the most recent films with Robert Downey Jr, and to this day I haven’t seen them (and I still refuse to). But where those films seem to take extreme license with the characters (judging from the trailers), Young Sherlock Holmes is quite respectful to the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary work, even though the script is specifically crafted around hallucinations that allow the filmmakers to create blow-out special FX sequences.
But those hallucinations are awesome! Not only are they a highlight of the film, they’re stunning examples of FX done right to punctuate scenes instead of overwhelm them. The film’s opening scene sets the stage marvelously, and has always been one of my favorite film openings. An English gentleman rushes into a restaurant, but not before a shadowy, robed figure shoots him with a blow dart. The man sits down to dine on a roasted pheasant, but when he cuts into it, a head sprouts out of its body and starts pecking at him relentlessly. The other diners see nothing, but when we return to the man’s point of view, the terror strikes hard and fast. He leaves the restaurant, only to have the nightmares follow him home! And that’s just the opening scene!
I should probably note that there are few films I’ve seen more than Young Sherlock Holmes. Without hyperbole, I’ve probably seen this movie somewhere around 40-50 times. When I was growing up, we had a small rotation of favorites that got played over and over again. The films on that list will forever hold a special place in my heart, and whenever I revisit them in my adulthood it’s always quite the occasion. I’m happy to say that Young Sherlock Holmes holds up, even if it doesn’t have the hypnotic power over me that it had in my youth. Just the fact that I’ve seen it so many times and I can still look to it fondly and draw entertainment out of it should speak to the quality of the film at hand.
And when I say fun, you should definitely make note of the production year if you’ve never seen this movie. In 1985, the ideas of fun at the movies were much different from the ideas of 2013. In the carefree ’80s, it didn’t matter so much if a film had unbelievable elements; it’s a fantasy, so why not go fantastic? So just as a word of warning to those that perhaps might be persuaded into watching this based on my praise, it’s a decidedly ’80s film, even if it doesn’t give off that vibe on the surface.
I can definitely see the film’s flaws as an adult, but it’s a movie made for younger audiences, so that is to be expected. Besides, I can also personally attest to the fact that it was completely awesome to the kid version of me, so that should also count for something. Purists be damned, I love Young Sherlock Holmes.