Film Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles (2002)

June 16th, 2009 | Tags: , ,

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Holmes: Richard Roxburgh
Watson: Ian Hart
Year: 2002
Case: HOUN

Rating:

Richard Roxburgh as Sherlock Holmes

At the risk of starting this review on a bad note, I must start by stating that Richard Roxburgh makes for a terrible Holmes.  It is not the blonde hair (Cushing won me over, after all), nor is it the misplaced accent (Roxburgh has a very difficult time hiding the fact that he is Australian): in fact, there is not a distinct characteristic which makes Roxburgh’s Holmes a bad Holmes.  He simply wasn’t meant to play the role.  Holmes, despite his aloofness, and despite his misanthropy, is still a likeable character.  Roxburgh’s Holmes is not.  He is dull and uninteresting, vain and condescending, boorish and crass — the list goes on.  There are a lot of problems with this adaptation, but Roxburgh’s Holmes is perhaps its largest stumbling block.

Ian Hart as Doctor Watson

Perhaps in commiseration with Roxburgh’s Holmes, Ian Hart’s Watson is also significantly lacking.  He is not a terrible Watson, but he is not a particularly good Watson either.  Part of this steams from his appearance (who ever heard of a scrawny Watson?), but there is also something decidedly off about Hart’s portrayal of Watson.  The character doesn’t ring true.  It is only rarely that Hart seems to nail the essence that is Watson; the rest of the time the character falling flat.  It is quite hard to tell if this was the fault of the actor, or the script, but having seen Hart in Silk Stockings, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest it is the actor.  While Hart does manage to portray Watson’s strength and courage, he completely misses Watson’s compassion and warmth.  Without these last two traits, Watson is far from recognizable.

Quibbles

Usually, I begin a review on a positive note, before jumping into my quibbles, but with this particular film, the quibbles were so numerous they required immediate attention.  As these reviews are meant to give the perspective of a student of subtext, I want to first begin with the slash.

Or lack thereof.

Throughout this film, it is painfully apparent that Holmes and Watson do not like one another.  In fact, they rather seem to hate one another.  I’m not even sure they’re actually friends.  They come across more as colleagues, with Watson secretly plotting Holmes’ death, and Holmes plotting how he can best use Watson to his advantage without completely pissing Watson off.  In fact, there were times when I honestly expected Watson to pull out his service revolver and shoot Holmes dead.  “Should have done that years ago,” he’d say.

Not that I blame Watson.  As mentioned above, Roxburgh’s Holmes is not likeable.  I spent the better part of the film contemplating his death.

This is not, of course, to say that the film was lacking in slash.  It existed in abundance, just not between Holmes and Watson.  Watson and Sir Henry, on the other hand….

Still, slash aside, the core of these stories has always been Holmes and Watson’s unending friendship.  This film not only neglected to highlight this, it seems to have forgotten it existed altogether.  And to think the film opened on such a promising note (I speak, of course, of a the half naked H/W Turkish bath scene).  It really is a pity.

Under most circumstances, I can ignore the absence of subtext in favour of a film’s other qualities.  What I can’t ignore, however, is the brutalization of a character.  I have commented above on the deplorableness of Roxburgh’s Holmes, but here I want to touch on the writing of Holmes (in addition to a poorly cast Holmes, this film also gives us a poorly written Holmes).  Holmes is, in fact, so out of character at times that it is hard to reconcile the character onscreen with the Great Detective we know and love.  A few examples:

Apparently, Holmes has taken to injecting cocaine as a means of stimulating his deductive skills, thereby helping him to solve the case.  Holmes of Canon would have never used (or needed) cocaine during a case.  His 7% solution was reserved exclusively for alleviating boredom in between cases.

Then there is Holmes’ vulgarity.  Gone is the witticism and deductive genius that first made Sherlock Holmes a household name.  In its place we have Holmes insulting Watson (don’t be an idiot, Watson), slamming doors in Watson’s face, and in general behaving less like a gentleman and more like a common street brawler.

If Holmes’ character assassination isn’t bad enough, there are the numerous Canon deviations, which, while not all terrible (some were quite delightful), they did distract from an already bad retelling, making the story more long and drawn out than was otherwise necessary.  It was hard, too, to reconcile the need for a lot of these changes (the minute changes to the Hugo backstory, comes to mind, for it served absolutely no purpose).  I have no problem with Canon deviations, but they should always have some logical purpose behind them.  Taking away Dr. Mortimer’s dog and giving him a wife, for example, did nothing to further the story (save to create a medium character, so that the writers could add a completely unnecessary, and overly dramatic, seance scene — a testament, I know, to the Rathbone films, but I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now).

Finally, there is the Hound.  In the age of CGI, I cannot even begin to understand why someone, somewhere, couldn’t have created a better Hound.  I wanted to feel terror at spotting the Hound.  Instead I was too distracted by the obvious failings of the CGI department to feel anything but disappointment.

Delightful Elements

Stapleton.

Let me say that again.  Richard E. Grant’s Stapleton is the only reason this film earns a full two pipes.  Not only did Grant’s portrayal of the character elevate this film from ho-hum to worth renting, but he gives what I consider to be the best performance of Stapleton I have ever seen.  The canon deviations surrounding this character, too, were brilliant.  Making him the amateur archaeologist provided an interesting twist, while focusing on his abusive nature towards his wife (whom he kills in the end!) added an aura of darkness that was perfectly fitting for the story.  Truly, Grant’s portrayal of a psychotic and villainous Stapleton is award-worthy.  What I wouldn’t give to see him play Sherlock Holmes.

Aside from Stapleton, it should also be noted that this is a very well put together version of Hound.  It is obvious that the production did not suffer from any budget restrictions.  The costumes are stunning, the setting/sets are exceptionally well done, and the cinematography breathtaking.  All things considered, this is a very pretty version of Hound.  Sadly, it’s not enough to save the film from its other failings.

Overall

Overall, the film isn’t terrible (it does have some redeeming qualities), but it certainly isn’t good, either.  It’s mediocre.  It does manage to earn its two pipes (and were it not for Grant’s performance, I’d be hard pressed to give it one), but only just barely.  I’d recommend watching it if you haven’t anything better to do, but really, if you miss it, you’re not missing much.  If, however, you secretly believe that Holmes and Watson hate one another (with a vengeance) than this might just be the film for you.

  1. wild_haggis
    September 6th, 2009 at 16:42
    Quote | #1

    Highly accurate review of the many, many things wrong with that film. However, I would like to put one point in favour of it, the scene where Watson pulls Holmes from the bog and they’re both lying panting on the ground “inspired” me to search out Holmes/Watson slash for the first time in my life. So despite it being one of the worst Sherlockian films I’ve seen it actually led me on to a path that has given me so many hours of reading and viewing pleasure that it will always have a special place in my heart. There’s a silver lining to every cloud after all!

  2. admin
    September 14th, 2009 at 19:09
    Quote | #2

    @wild_haggis
    That is a lovely story, and actually made me like the movie a little better. Silver lining, indeed!

  3. Christina
    October 29th, 2009 at 17:32
    Quote | #3

    Oh yes, everything you said about Stapleton! I first noticed Grant in “Case of Evil” (which is a VERY terrible movie, I’d love to read a review from you on that one :)!) as Mycroft Holmes, and my first thought was “this man should play Sherlock Holmes”. To my great surprise, he apparently already DID play Holmes in 1992, although I fear it is almost impossible to find the movie. It was made for TV, and was “a surreal drama series on BBC2”; information on it is here: http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/476533
    Look at that, he’s really young (and the set and costume looks kind of cheap): http://i287.photobucket.com/albums/ll134/John-Watson/TheOtherSide.png
    There must be a way to get to see this?

  4. admin
    November 8th, 2009 at 21:43
    Quote | #4

    @Christina

    Having read your comment, I have spent a few days searching high and low for a copy of Encounters, but to no avail. I’m so utterly intrigued by the synopsis on that page, too — it’s vexing me greatly that it is likely lost to the ages. If you ever stumble across a copy, do let me know where you found it. Oh, Grant, you were born to play Sherlock!

  5. Christina
    November 9th, 2009 at 14:32
    Quote | #5

    I think I have good news for you :)! After I found out about this “surreal drama”, I first wrote the above comment, then proceded to look for it. I must confess, I was VERY surprised to find it (I normally don’t really get these torrent thingies). It is downloadable here: http://www.thebox.bz/details.php?id=46350. You’ll have to register, but it’s free, and after that you can download (I think) 2GB of British TV rarities… there are other Sherlockian documentaries / movies on there, which at least I hadn’t seen before!
    On “Encounters”: they didn’t exaggerate when they labeled it “surreal”… I found it was real fun :)!

  6. Christina
    November 9th, 2009 at 17:31
    Quote | #6

    Oh, and there’s another Grant-Sherlock connection: “”Elementary My Dear Viewer”
    Richard E. Grant looks at the history of Sherlock Holmes, including the many movie and TV adaptations.” http://www.thebox.bz/details.php?id=61110. Have you seen it? It’s a documentary on Sherlock Holmes, presented by Grant, and although there’s not that much new information or insight in the programme, it features Grant in costume (deerstalker and cape, but I take what I can get), and strengthes my belief even further that SOMEONE SHOULD MAKE A MOVIE WITH GRANT AS SHERLOCK, dammit!!!

  7. OctoberHoliday
    December 27th, 2009 at 17:27
    Quote | #7

    Sorry, bit of a question here. Did Jeremy Brett ever do an actual movie? One that wasn’t part of a television series?

  8. OctoberHoliday
    December 27th, 2009 at 20:15
    Quote | #8

    Oh, and another thing, quickly. If you’ve seen the newest Sherlock Holmes movie, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as John Watson, did Downey and Law perform better than these two men here? And for that matter, how did they compare to the others who have portrayed the characters?

    Was it better than Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (I’ll wager it was)? Was it even better than Jeremy Brett and his two Watsons?

  9. admin
    December 28th, 2009 at 20:46
    Quote | #9

    @OctoberHoliday
    The Granada series did several feature length episodes, which aired on television as made-for-tv movies. Aside from that, no.

    I will review the Downey film after I’ve seen it a second time this week (I like 2 viewings before attempting a review), so you’ll have to come back to read my impressions of it later in the week.

  10. OctoberHoliday
    December 28th, 2009 at 21:11

    @admin
    Thank you very much for responding so promptly. Am I safe in guessing that the feature length episodes included The Hound of the Baskervilles?

    Also, I am very excited to read your opinions on the new movie.

  11. OctoberHoliday
    December 28th, 2009 at 21:18

    @wild_haggis
    Right on. I still remember my first thought of Holmes and Watson being togeter. . . in the Speckled Band, when Holmes is frightened and takes hold of Watson’s wrist. Too cute.

  12. JL82
    December 29th, 2009 at 18:10

    I am not a fan of Watson/Sir Henry slash because Sir Henry seems to be one of the few Sherlockian male characters who really has a big romantic thing (in a prim, Victorian way) for a woman. The fact that she turns out to be married is no reflection on him. He also doesn’t seem to have a really close male friendship, like Holmes and Watson have with each other, or some other male clients and suspects have, like Godfrey and James in BLAN, or Douglas and his friend in the Valley of Fear.

  13. Christina
    March 22nd, 2010 at 16:27

    Hey, it’s me again :).
    Have you succeeded in getting “Encounters – The Other Side”?
    I thought of you today, when I uploaded the video to Megauploads for a friend (sorry that I didn’t suggest that to you in the first place, but I seriously didn’t know it was that easy…). If you haven’t seen it, here’s the link: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=EBGWFKZO . I hope you don’t mind me writing this here on your board… but the video is so old and the quality (unfortunately) so bad, that noone could really object to me sharing it. I hope, haha.

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