Christmas Blockbuster Face Off: Avatar vs. Sherlock Holmes

Okay, I know neither of these films is horror, but don’t worry we’ll get back to my bread and butter after this brief sojourn into mainstream popcorn fair. So without further ado, my take on this Christmas’ box office heavyweights:
Avatar is a cult film. Wait, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not saying that James Cameron’s ludicrously expensive scifi flick is in the same category as Rocky Horror or The Evil Dead.
I mean it is literally a Cult film. As in: James Cameron returned after ten years underwater wearing a blue satin robe and demanding that the American movie-going public drink his Kool-Aid. Which they did.
Not just your average Joe moviegoers either, Avatar is a critical darling and one of the best reviewed movies of the year. I’m beyond baffled. I’m not complaining about the film’s much talked-about environmental message (quite the contrary, I’m in favor of it…preach away). It’s not a deal breaker that the film’s story is remarkably similar to a myriad of “going native” pictures, I certainly don’t mind a simple story done well, and I have nothing against the digital wizardry on display.
No, Avatar‘s fatal flaw is how boring it is.
There is so much time spent watching cookie-cutter characters we care nothing about do things that are pretty to look at, but not much else.
The first 40 minutes and the climactic battle sequence are intensely enjoyable, a fun, if shallow, ride. The problem is that that’s only a third of the movie. This third is especially spectacular in Imax 3D, but if a gigantic screen, 3D effects and bone-shaking sound are on the menu, a film has to be trying extra hard to bore me.
I didn’t hate Avatar, but I didn’t like it either. There are some bright spots, most notably the bad guys. Giovanni Rabisi play’s the film’s wormy company yes-man and Stephen Lang plays a space-marine so grizzled that he makes Rambo look like a toy poodle. When these characters are on screen we get glimpses of the film as the hammy blast that it could have been, but when they leave we are left with a bunch of blue cat people who take themselves (and the movie) way too seriously.
If Avatar was an over-hyped let-down then Guy Richie’s take on Sherlock Holmes was the movie that nobody expected to be any good in the first place.
What a nice Christmas present it was to see that Sherlock Holmes is a fresh, funny and surprisingly faithful adaptation of one of literature’s most iconic characters.
When the initial trailer for Richie’s film came out, I was concerned. The trailer played more like a spoof of Holmes than an adaptation. The internet was abuzz with bad mouthing, Ritchie was “MTV-izing” Conan Doyle’s creation. Well, as I think it was Shakespeare, who said: “Haterz b’ Hatin.”
This movie gets Holmes right through and through: his manic depressive binges when he doesn’t have a case to “stimulate him,” his homosocial relationship with Dr. Watson, his repartee with the police (especially Lestrade), his many disguises: it’s all here, there’s even a reference to his brother Mycroft! Of course their is a bit of light Hollywood tinkering going on, but even Holmes’ boxing and karate antics (which every “serious critic” has poo-poo’d) are present in the original stories and novels.
The story is a cobbling together of a bunch of Holmes tales, most noticeably The Sign of Four, while combining them with a new twist that introduces a “Da Vinci code-esque”(trust me, it’s not as tiresome as it sounds) element to the story.
It’s no surprise, at all, that Robert Downey Jr. is excellent. But probably the biggest winner in Holmes is Jude Law. Just when he was all but counted out as “movie star” material he turns in this terrific performance. When you can steal even one scene from the sly Downey Jr. then you are one helluva actor.
This is what big franchise movie making should be: great characters played by great actors, plus some well-placed explosions and humor mixed in to ensure everyone can enjoy themselves. “Franchise” being the operative word here:
You can keep Pandora, James, because 221b Baker St is the place I want to visit again in a few years.

2 thoughts on “Christmas Blockbuster Face Off: Avatar vs. Sherlock Holmes

  1. I haven't seen Avatar, but I agree completely about Holmes. My husband is the hugest AC Doyle fanboy, and he gave the same reasons for why the movie met with his approval. (I've only read about half of the stories myself, but I agree personally too!)

    Avatar… well, I want to see the special effects, though the last thing I need is another “What these people need is a honkey” movie. But maybe I'll wait for the DVD.

  2. Conversely, I have seen Avatar but not Holmes yet, and I think you're right on the mark as far as it's concerned. It would take an especially tedious plot to distract me from the effects, but distract me it did.

    I really hope you're right about Holmes. It's been a long time since I've read any of the stories so I hope that its virtues extend beyond faithful reproduction.

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