Top positive review
6 people found this helpful
on 6 March 2013
Shot on location in Devon, the cinematography of this film is absolutely stunning, capturing perfectly the gloomy, foreboding atmosphere conveyed so brilliantly in what is undoubtedly Sir Arthur's masterpiece. The moor was everything I imagined it to be, replete with fog and some unidentifiable aura of mystery, a place which becomes the perfect setup for the gothic horror tale about to unfold. We can imagine, no matter how many times we have read the book and know perfectly well what occurs, that some dark, evil purposes are afoot, and as Holmes mentions in HOUN, if the devil were to meddle in the affairs of men, this is precisely where it would occur. Even the London scenes were richly atmospheric, the detail paid to historical accuracy and the brilliant colours of autumn one of this film's most striking features.
Then there is the actual case, which on many instances followed the plot faithfully, leaving in scenes omitted from most other adaptations - only to deviate from the story or move events forward too soon, so that the pacing did at times seem a bit awkward. That being said, this surpasses most others and makes the attempt throughout to never stray too far from the source material. In fact, many of the tweaks were not so much an attempt at surpassing Doyle, but to flesh out vital side characters such as Laura Lyons and her husband, the latter of which is merely mentioned in the book. We are also - for once - given a Sir Henry who is not portrayed as the complete imbecile he appears as in far too many adaptations to name, but a confident, adventure seeker intent on fulfilling his position as heir to Baskerville Hall. The other supporting cast are equally strong, and I particularly loved the absent minded Dr Mortimer (who most will recognize as Marcus from Indiana Jones). Truly, the casting delights just as much as every other element here.
From the opening scene, the story moves quickly. Holmes' initial investigation in London underwent some minor changes to further speed the pacing and add an element of action. One gripe I did have was with the treatment of Watson here - this is a case that pivots around the doctor, so it was somewhat disappointing that once in Dartmoor, he tends to be something of a bumbler; though by no means is he the buffoon that was Nigel Bruce. This is also a different actor who played Holmes' Boswell in Sign of Four, and the difference is palpable, unfortunately. I regret to say that this was the one issue I had, as the movie would have benefited tremendously from a more capable Watson.
Ian Richardson, however, is an absolute pleasure to watch. The best portrayals of the Great Detective tend to play up a dark, brooding nature, neurosis, or brashness never really present to any great degree in Canon, though this is not the case with Richardson. He plays Holmes as the eccentric genius he was - unconventional, yet in every respect the Victorian gentleman. He exudes some intangible Holmesian quality that gives credibility to his deductions without resorting to the overused trope of troubled genius. Even his dumbed down Watson shines in his presence.
In short (possibly too late for that), I was never too overly fond of HOUN film adaptations, but this one has ruined me for all others. It is, in the opinion of this humble Sherlockian, quite possibly the definitive adaptation.