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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nicholas Meyer on Sherlock Holmes

In a recent online essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Nicholas Meyer writes about the current state of movie adaptations.  While he mentions several reinvented franchises, his article centers in on director Guy Ritchie’s recent Sherlock Holmes movies.  He suggests that Robert Downey, Jr.’s action hero interpretation is intended for moviegoers who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder in a post-literate age, who care little about narrative coherence or remaining true to the source material.  While he accepts that “Downey’s Holmes is not completely implausible, everything that surrounds him is unrelated to the genuine Sherlock.” 

Nor, in his opinion, does it seem as if Downey’s Holmes is alone in diverging from the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories.  He mentions other actors who have played Holmes, including the “ineffably patriotic (and anachronistic)" Basil Rathbone, the “twitchily neurotic” Jeremy Brett, the "drug-addicted” Nicol Williamson, and “the modern dress version,” Benedict Cumberbatch.  Of these various adaptations, he writes, “I’ve almost never seen a Holmes movie I didn’t dislike.”  Although it’s difficult to be certain, given Meyers love of double negatives, I get the distinct impression that he’s not a big fan of most Sherlock Holmes adaptations.

While Nicholas Meyer is best known for his work on the Star Trek movies, including directing “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” he also wrote three novels about Sherlock Holmes, the first of which came out in 1974, and reached the Bestseller lists.  The novel was called The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.  In the introduction, Meyer, writing as John Watson, explains that the Sherlock Holmes stories “The Final Conflict” and “The Empty House” were fabrications, and four more were “forged drivel.”  He then goes on to tell a story about a Sherlock Holmes so under the influence of cocaine that he can no longer discern the real world from fantasy.  Watson tricks (outwits) Holmes into traveling to Austria, where he convinces Holmes to accept psychoanalysis and hypnotherapy from none other than Sigmund Freud.  When clues turn up which suggest that not all of Holmes’ suspicions may have originated from his addiction to cocaine, Freud joins forces with Holmes and Watson, and the three embark on an exhilarating adventure.

While I’ve not read Meyer’s novel, I recently watched the movie version of his book, which was directed by Herbert Ross.  At first, I found it hard to immerse myself in the story.  Of all the fictional characters in whose judgment I’ve been taught to trust, surely Sherlock Holmes would reside at the top of the list.  Also, I found the tone of the movie rather uneven, as if the director never decided whether he was making a comedy or a drama.  I gather that the revelation at the end of the movie, which casts an entirely different slant on Holmes' relationship with Moriarty, differs from Meyer’s novel. Ross also diverges from tradition by hiring a light-haired Nicol Williamson to play Meyer's "drug-addicted" Holmes, and his version, like Robert Downey, Jr's portrayal in the recent Guy Ritchie movies, seems more interested in women than the Holmes of Doyle's source material or most adaptations.  But it's unfair to compare a novel with a movie adaptation, as the two are entirely different art forms.  With a movie, it's the director's vision that ends up on screen, regardless of what's in the original novel, or who wrote the screenplay.  Personally, I enjoyed Ross' movie, even if I found it difficult to square this version of Sherlock Holmes with the other portrayals I've enjoyed. Nevertheless, I find the reported differences between the book and the film ironic, as Nicholas Meyer wrote the screenplay.  

Perhaps Nicholas Meyer isn’t responsible for many of the ways that the film differed from his novel.  But I do find it interesting that he complains about how other people are changing, adapting, and reinterpreting Arthur Conan Doyle’s character, when he begins his novel by stating that the author didn’t write some of the original stories: in other words, that they weren't true Sherlock Holmes stories. But then, what do I know?  I suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, remember? And since I don't care, let's see, I, sorry, it's just gone, vanished. Sorry.

Does anyone remember what I was talking about?

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Nicholas Meyer on Sherlock Holmes

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