VOL. 13, No. 18
"THE HOUNDS OF BASKERVILLE"
Martin Freeman, left, as Dr. John Watson and
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in
"The Hounds of Baskerville."
PBS gives another twist
to the Sherlock formula
By RON MILLER
There is no Sherlock Holmes story that has been dramatized more often than "The Hound of the Baskervilles." I have half a dozen different versions in my film library already and there are loads more to collect, dating way back to the silent movie days.
Conan Doyle wrote scores of short stories about Sherlock Holmes, but "The Hound, etc." is one of only four full-length novels Doyle wrote featruring his great master sleuth--and it is by far the most popular and certainly the most familiar to mystery fans.
In the original storyline, Holmes and Dr. Watson look into the legend that a giant hound haunts the Baskerville family and routinely seeks out and kills the latest male heir to the estate on the English moors. It has all the trappings of a horror story and it's famous for the fact that Holmes sends Watson to start the investigation alone, which he does until he ultimately discovers that Holmes has been there all along, hiding out on the moors, waiting to catch the perpetrator of the crimes against the Baskervilles.
Today, more than a century after the original story was published, Sherlock Holmes has become an iconic figure in the mystery genre, his popularity kept alive by the fact that all the stories are still in print, virtually all of them have been filmed for television countless times and a great many made it to the motion picture screen.
But the storires are now so familiar that we're currently in a new era where film and TV producers feel it's necessary to re-invent or re-imagine Sherlock Holmes in order to make him relevant to modern filmgoers and TV viewers. This isn't a new trend. In fact, Universal studios did it in the 1940s when it moved Sherlock and Dr. Watson (Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce) ahead 50 years so they could help fight the Nazis in World War II.
The new big budget Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. have been tremendously popular. They've come up with new stories for him and turned him into an action hero who's witty and more James Bo;ndian than Sherlockian.
Equally popular in England and now in the U.S. is the new British television series caleld "Sherlock," which brings Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Mark Freeman) into the 21st century and re-imagines the original stories in terms of today's world. The series has become a regular feature on PBS' Masterpiece Mystery" showcase and a second season of episodes began this past Sunday (May 6).
Next Sunday, though, the second episodeof the season arrives and it turns out to be "The Hounds of Baskerville," which not only changes the title of the famous novel a bit, but changes the storyline a whole lot more than a bit. This program will premiere at 9 PM Sunday night on most PBS stations.. (Check your local TV listings for exact date, time and channel.)
This time Sherlock is desperate for a case and is thrilled when a young man calls upon them at 221B Baker Street in London claiming that he's afraid the giant hound is going to get him just like it got his father 20 years ago. His father was torn to bits by the giant hound and his body was never found.
Now, frankly, I happen to believe that Sherlock Holmes belongs in the Victorian era, searching for clues on those foggy London streets lit by gas lamps. I like it that he travels by horse-drawn carriage or a train drawn by a steam-powered locomotive. I find it jarring to see Watson looking for clues on his laptop and Holmes driving out to the moors in his Land Rover.
Holmes and Watson don't ever get to Baskerville Hall because there isn't any. In fact, Baskerville is really a top secret government research facility on the moors. When we learn that secret experiments are conducted there using animals, one can almost picture giant dogs on steroids breaking loose and terrorizing the countryside.
The original story has been turned quite inside out. Dr. Mortimer is now a woman named Louise. Even Stapleton has had a sex change and is now a female researah. I don't recall that Sherlock's older, fatter brother--Mycroft Holmes--has anything to do with "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in Doyle's original story, but I guess we all know that Mycroft was closely linked to the British government, so the writers here have Sherlock using Mycroft's security clearance to get into the Baskerville research facility.
Holmes and Watson are no longer the pair that Rathbone and Bruce played in the movies. Fortunately, the modern writers have gone back to the original Doyle concept that they were about the same age and were long-time friends. The new Watson is not a doddering old fool, but rather a young and physically active fellow who constantly challenges Sherlock to be more normal than he's prone to be.
There's a secret to the "hounds" that I won't reveal here because it would spoil any fun you may derive from watching this new take on the old story. The film has some tense moments, but I think they squandered a grand opportunity to make this a more exciting adventure than it turns out to be.
Fro my money, the best re-invention of this story was done by Laurie King in her novel "The Moor," in which the older, retired Sherlock revisits the Baskerville case in the company of his young wife rather than poor old Watson.
There's some fun to be had in these new Sherlock adventures, but I'd be just as happy popping one of the old Jeremy Brett episodes into my DVD player and watching him solve his mysteries on cobblestone streets where he belongs.
©2012 by Ron Miller. The photo is courtesy of PBS. This column first posted May 7, 2012.
You can comment on this column online via our TALKBACK page. Please address your e-mail message to either "The Editors" or RON MILLER at Syndpack @aol.com
HOME About Us Index To
Talkback Contact Us