Release Date(s)2009 (September 1, 2020)
Studio(s)Silver Pictures/Wigram/Village Roadshow Pictures (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
[Portions of the film review below are by Barrie Maxwell. The rest is by Bill Hunt.]
When director Guy Ritchie turned his attention to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective, there were certainly questions about what the result might be, given Ritchie’s oeuvre of films about the lower strata of British gangster life. Some of that staccato, bone-crushing approach has made its way into Sherlock Holmes from Warner Bros., but otherwise one need not have worried.
Yes, Sherlock Holmes is much more of an action figure here, with the sense of a James Bond in the Victorian era, and there’s no deerstalker hat nor Meerschaum pipe in evidence, but the cerebral nature of Holmes and his relationship with Dr. Watson are both intact. Robert Downey Jr. provides an eccentric but engaging characterization of the famous sleuth that dominates the screen whenever he’s on it and Jude Law also makes his version of Dr. Watson a much greater man of action than we’ve heretofore seen on screen.
Many of the changes here from the Rathbone/Bruce approach to the duo are very much in line with Conan Doyle’s descriptions of his characters and the backgrounds he attributed to them. They work well in the context of Ritchie’s view of the Victorian world. In that connection, the most striking aspect of the film is the production design, which delivers a vibrant and detailed portrait of Victorian London that captures the blend of dirt, squalor, and opulence that actually coexisted.
With our eyes and ears preoccupied by Downey and Law and their environment, the actual plot almost seems like an afterthought. It has something to do with the effort of a group involved in the black arts to take over the British government and further its influence around the world, all headed by Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Complicating things are the involvement of Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), the only woman to ever get the best of Holmes, and the apparent mysterious hand of Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty. Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan) and Kelly Reilly (Yellowstone) also lend their support to the cast as Inspector Lestrade and Irene Adler.
Sherlock Holmes was shot on both 35mm photochemical film using Arriflex cameras (in Super 35 format) and digitally in the CineForm RAW codec (at 2K resolution) using Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL and Phantom HD cameras, all with Panavision Primo spherical lenses. The film was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. For this Ultra HD presentation, we assume that what original camera negative exists was rescanned in 4K, while the VFX and digitally captured footage was upsampled. Regardless, the result is a new 4K DI, with a new color grade for high dynamic range (HDR10 is included on this disc). There is an improvement in texturing and facial detail over the regular 1080p image, but it’s modest as one would expect. Image grain is medium and a little more coarse due to the upsampling, but it’s in keeping with the tone of the film and is true to the filmmakers’ intent. The HDR does lend a bit more of an improvement to the various nuances of color, though nineteenth century London isn’t exactly bursting with it. The contrast is also improved, however, with highlights that are more oppressively bold and shadows that are a hair deeper, with perhaps a bit more detail than is apparent in HD. Don’t expect a reference-quality image here, but this is probably as good as Sherlock Holmes has ever (or can ever) look.
Audio is presented in the exact same lossless English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix found on the previous Blu-ray, and while some may be disappointed by the lack of an object-based upgrade, this mix was already fantastic. Dialogue is presented across the front of the soundstage and is clear at all times—an important consideration given Downey’s rapid delivery and quick repartee with Law. The surround channels are alive with the ambient sounds of London, as well as panning and directional effects, not to mention Hans Zimmer’s energetic score. Bass is full, firm, and punchy, giving the action a pleasing energy and heft—particularly effective in gunshots, punches, crashes and the like. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; this is a great 5.1 sound mix. Additional audio options include English Descriptive Audio, French (Québécois), French, German, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Czech, Hungarian, Polish Voice-Over, and Thai, all in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Optional subtitles are included in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, German for the Hearing Impaired, French, Castilian Spanish, Dutch, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Latin Spanish, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Swedish, and Thai.
There are no extras on Warner’s 4K disc, but the package also includes the film 1080p HD via the previous Blu-ray (it’s not mastered from the new 4K DI), a disc that adds the following (all in HD):
- Maximum Movie Mode (with director Guy Ritchie)
- Focus Points (31:17 in all)
- Draw Bridges & Doilies: Designing a Late Victorian London (5:00)
- Not a Deerstalker Cap in Sight (4:15)
- Ba-Ritsu: A Tutorial (3:58)
- Elementary English: Perfecting Sherlock’s Accent (4:04)
- The One That Got Away (3:44)
- Powers of Observation & Deduction (4:01)
- The Sherlockians (3:03)
- Future Past (3:08)
- Sherlock Holmes: Reinvented (14:06)
The feature length Maximum Movie Mode is hosted by Ritchie, who appears off and on throughout the film to offer a wealth of making-of detail. The highlights of this material are also included as Focus Points clips that you can view separately, both on their own or with a Play All option. The Sherlock Holmes: Reinvented piece is inconsequential—your basic EPK. A Digital Copy code is also included on a paper insert in the packaging.
It’s fascinating to revisit Sherlock Holmes after Robert Downey Jr.’s turn as Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has run its course. Ritchie’s period take on the material holds up quite well, even if it’s not as interesting as the BBC’s more modern try with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and it would be intriguing to see Downey Jr. and Law have one more go in these roles. In any case, Warner’s 4K Ultra HD isn’t a huge upgrade, but it is a solid one, and one that fans of the film will surely appreciate.
- Bill Hunt with Barrie Maxwell