director Barry Levinson
In canvasing my memory for flicks that the kids would enjoy, Young Sherlock Holmes vaguely came to mind. All that my recollection had with it was that it was produced by Steven Spielberg and had more than a small portion of an Indiana Jones adventure to it. That and I recalled thinking it was pretty good. I didn’t recall that it was directed by Barry Levinson (Diner (1982), The Natural (1984), Bugsy (1991)). I probably had no idea that it was written by Chris Columbus (Home Alone (1990), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1991)). And for some reason, I thought it was a little later in the 80’s than 1985. While that is not much to go on, it was enough to give it a go.
Columbus, who had also written Gremlins (1984) and The Goonies (1985) before going on to a mixed kid-friendly career as a director, puts together a reasonably fun concept. Instead of meeting as adults as they do in the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes meets John Watson at boarding school in London, and much like the more recent Sherlock Holmes (2009), modernist or post-modernist adventures ensue. Of course, under Spielberg’s production, the adventures are crafted much like those of adventure serials and the film is more an Indiana Jones-type adventure, with sword-fighting, hooded villains, and a little bit of mysticism to boot. Also, like the more recent Holmes, the story of deduction and wit give way to action.
The film opens with a hooded figure blow-darting a man with a hallucinogenic drug that ultimately causes him to kill himself. The intrigue builds as more men start offing themselves whilst in delusions of madness, including Holmes’ mentor, a wacky old professor who tries to build flying machines. Really, when the story is finally spelled out, it’s so convoluted that I didn’t bother trying to sort it out for the kids. It has to do with an ancient Egyptian sect, revenge, virgin sacrifices, and a giant wooden pyramid in Wapping, London.
Maybe the story doesn’t hold up to the concept, but beyond that, it doesn’t seem that Barry Levinson was necessarily the best director for this film. Perhaps if it was a slightly stronger story, Spielberg would have taken the reins himself, squeezed a little more verve from the young actors, a little more life and magic in the action sequences. Whatever the case, the film bops along at an entertaining enough pace and is generally pretty fun. Just not as exciting and memorable as it could have been.
Maybe that’s why most everyone that I mention the film to gives me a searching look of blankness. Maybe that’s why it fell into the crevasses of my memory rather than staying toward the forefront.
The film also features one of the first CGi action sequences, featuring a stained-glass knight jumping down and attacking a priest. This was animated by a guy named John Lassiter, an up and comer in computer animation, if there ever was one.