Sherlock has made a strong reentry into pop culture in the past few years. Starting with Robert Downey Jr. and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes in 2009, Sherlock made a successful comeback back into pop culture. One year later, Benedict Cumberbatch and Steven Moffat brought Sherlock into the modern world with the BBC Sherlock mini-series. Fast forward two more years, CBS revealed Elementary, a reinterpretation that introduced more than a few twists to the classic detective story. Each version has its own strengths and weaknesses but all give a fun and entertaining take on the worlds first real superhero. I will go through each version displaying their unique elements and styles.
Let’s start at the beginning, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. This version is possibly the closest to the original stories of the great detective. Based in the same time period as the Victorian detective, Guy brought his signature flair to the detective. Guy stayed incredibly close to the original material, including everything from the love-hate relationship between Lestrade and Sherlock to the detective’s incredible knack for disguise. Out of all three of these Sherlock’s, this is easily the most direct retelling of the classic stories. What Guy did really well was take these classic skills that Sherlock has, deduction and analysis, and apply them in ways they haven’t been applied before. Specifically, these skills where applied to combat. This resulted in a very slick scene where Sherlock breaks down his opponents weaknesses and exploits them in the most effective way possible. Easily one of the most inventive and cool uses of Sherlock’s powers of deduction. Now what kind of representation of Sherlock would this be without Watson. This version of Sherlock and Watson takes place later in their careers, with Watson moving out and on his way to getting married. Watson, while still a doctor, is a little more rough and tumble than he is normally portrayed. Adds a nice comparison to Sherlock’s more surgeon like qualities. While Guy’s action hero take on the classic detective is a very nice rendition, it is a little far from the original telling of Sherlock. Sherlock was always elevated above violence, able to essentially deduce his way out of any situation. Regardless, a great take on the detective with some well placed and believable action to update the classic tales for the modern audience.
The BBC Sherlock mini series is simply a modern retelling of the classic detectives adventures. Stephen Mofatt and Mark Gatiss took the history’s greatest detective and his trusty sidekick and placed them in the modern era. This isn’t a direct retelling since they often twist and change certain aspects of each mystery. For instance, the very first episode of the series they tackle A Study in Scarlet, which makes sense since that is the mystery where our two heroes first meet. However, there are a few key things they decide to change. Both versions had the final victim scrawling Rache in their last moments. The difference is, the original had Scotland Yard thinking it was meant to stand for Rachel, Sherlock deduces it is the German word for revenge. In the modern retelling, it gets flipped. Scotland Yard believes it to be the German word while Sherlock deduces it is most likely the name Rachel. These kind of little changes are pretty common in these stories which helps to update them and keep them fresh. Not to mention the most notable part of this Sherlock series is the representation of Sherlock himself. Thanks largely to Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting capabilities and his portrayal. They take the idea of Sherlock’s social ineptness to the extreme, to the point where Sherlock is about as rude and anti-social as you could get, which Benedict just nails. His performance elevates Sherlock to a different level which amplifies the struggle he has interacting with everyday people. This whole concept of being on a different level is amplified by the representation of Moriarty, who is essentially an insane, evil version of Sherlock. This duality between the two with Moriarity representing what Sherlock could become adds a level of tension to the series that further elevates the actors representation of their characters. All in all, the BBC Sherlock likes to elevates its characters to a superhuman level, which creates this world of hyper intelligent people wrestling for control in a world of chaos. A very comic book take on the classic detective.
The last entry in this series is the CBS crime series Elementary. This version of Sherlock is the furthest from the source material so far. Essentially they took the basic idea, a brilliant deduction based detective, and placed him in a more familiar setting for American audiences. They take Sherlock and place him in a partner crime drama with Watson in New York, you’ll start to notice more than a few similar shows when you start looking into fall line ups. However, the changes don’t stop there. John Watson in this series actually goes by the name of Joan Watson and is played by Lucy Liu. My initial fear was of a romance that would eventuaaly bud between these two partners, thankfully it doesn’t and this switch actually pays off. The other biggest change is how they represent the Sherlock character. They humanize him a little bit and make him more fallible, unlike the BBC Sherlock who is beyond any normal person. The best way to describe this Sherlock is that he actually cares for others, it’s just hard for him since he can see through pretty much all deceptions. Joan helps to anchor him down and show the importance of relationships. Not to mention they turn their relationship from just Watson kind of tagging along to actually learning from Sherlock and become a consulting detective in her own right. A nice little twist on the classic pair to help keep things fresh. However, I have to say their version of Moriarity is by far the biggest twist and best version I have see. Partly because Sherlock can’t beat Moriarity in this version, he is far too close and it requires those around him to help him overcome. There you go, three different takes on Sherlock with each just a little bit different from the last. My suggestion for watching these, watch the two Guy Ritchie films, followed by the BBC Series, finishing with the Elementary. That way you watch the two most similar followed by the most original take. Regardless how you watch them, you’re in for a treat.