Blu-Ray Review – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

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When Guy Ritchie’s vision for Sherlock Holmes was released to theaters in 2009, I found myself slightly disappointed by the Hollywoodization of such a intellectually based character.  As a kid reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories, I never visualized him as the pseudo-superhero the film made him out to be.  That isn’t to say I disliked the film.  Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law had fantastic chemistry as Holmes and Watson, and the hyperkinetic visual style, while not entirely suited to the source material, was always engaging.  Such it was that I came into the inevitable sequel with elevated expectations.

Knowing that Moriarty, one of literature’s great villains, would be serving as Holmes’ nemesis this go-round, I really hoped the filmmakers would reign in the spectacle in favor of a more high-minded depiction of the character.  Unfortunately, I discovered quickly that this wouldn’t be the case.  With a relatively elaborate action set-piece prior to the credits, it was immediately apparent that I was in for more of the same.

Having said that, almost every performance is spot-on.  Jared Harris is a fantastic addition to the series as Moriarty, and Noomi Rapace adds a great deal to the proceedings in her performance as the gypsy Madam Simza Heron.  Stephen Fry is also a welcome addition as Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft.

The story this time around focuses on Moriarty’s plan to bring about “the end of Western civilization” through the creation of a World War.  The means to this end get occasionally convoluted, but it’s an interesting journey, cleverly executed.  We repeatedly see the world from Holmes’ perspective, and with Moriarty being his equal, we get to see that perspective as well.  The most interesting aspects of the film involve the battle of wits between them, culminating in one of the most creative chess matches I’ve seen depicted on film.  I really wish the rest of the film had followed the formula of this sequence, as a battle of the minds can often be as compelling as a shootout or chase sequence.

Of course, production values are top notch, which means that the shootouts and chases are spectacular.  Of particular note is a gunfight in the woods, shot in extreme slow motion.  By allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the sequence, Ritchie lets the audience truly absorb each and every impact.  It’s a masterfully done setpiece that belongs in another franchise.

As always, Warner Brothers has put together a fantastic Blu-Ray release for this film.  They have developed a formula for their Blu-Rays, and it works everytime.  Not only is there a flawless picture and sound mix, but the bonus features are as entertaining as they are interesting.  They can be watched individually as “focus points” or integrated into the film as “Maximum Movie Mode,” hosted by Robert Downey Jr. himself.  There is also a “Movie App” where you can sync the film up with your mobile device or tablet and explore behind-the-scenes material in conjunction with the film itself.

Personally, I love watching Maximum Movie Mode.  This is like an audio commentary, but where you can see the person giving the commentary.  They even have the ability to stop the film in order to present behind-the-scenes analysis.  Scattered throughout are also picture-in-picture features, storyboards, etc.  Downey Jr. seems to be having a great time while presenting this material, and that really enhances the experience.

As for the Focus Points, these are short vignettes detailing various aspects of the film.  There’s a lot of history of the characters discussed, along with a great deal of analysis of the film itself.  If you watch all of the Focus Points and Maximum Movie Mode, you will pretty much know everything you could ever want to know about this film.

I really do wish I enjoyed this franchise more.  There is so much potential with this cast and these characters, but the elaborate special effects and setpieces just make the film feel too modern.  There are great stories to be told in this world; stories that would be enhanced with just a little more subtlety.  However, the films are still immensely enjoyable, and I find myself eagerly anticipating the inevitable Sherlock Holmes 3.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is available now on Blu-ray™ Combo Pack or Digital Download. Also be sure to check out the free Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows movie app for iPad2 or Kindle Fire. The app synchs with the Blu-ray disc to start exploring the rich and exciting history of Sherlock Holmes.