The new series of Sherlock Holmes, season four, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the Great Man, started on January 1. The episode was named “The Six Thatchers.” I confess here that I am a Sherlock fan, revering the fourteen films of Conan Doyle’s stories between 1939 and 1946 and Basil Rathbone as the hero, and Jeremy Brett’s portrayal as Holmes between 1984 and 1994. All things considered, I was considerably frustrated by “The Six Thatchers.” I have long felt, with increasing irritation, that the special effects in the Sherlock series and other films are overdone and thus overshadow what should be a strong story and an equally well-made, fascinating plot. There are often too many special effects that dominate these films and spoil them for the part of the audience looking forward to an excellent Holmes adventure. Why, in this particular effort to depict Sherlock Holmes, does the film fail?
For one thing, the characterization of Holmes is so weak on Conan Doyle’s side that the detective is often impossible to impersonate, explain, or analyze. The list of famous actors who have tried to bring Sherlock to life is long. Conan Doyle depicted Holmes as scarcely human. Sherlock says of himself, “I am a brain, Watson. the rest of me is a mere appendix.” The detective lives only for the next case, one that will challenge his great brain, and when he can’t find a puzzle, he escapes consciousness by taking drugs. The only person he really puts up with is Dr. Watson, a buffoon in the early films, and a decent and earnest man in the Brett films. The only thing that can impress viewers in this whole character is his monumental brain and what he does with it. And that is the problem writers and producers have when they try to bring Holmes to public view.
This film fails in large part because the writers, knowing full well the problems of Sherlock as a human character of interest, must depend on the plot to succeed. But the story lacks coherence, making people like me want a fuller story with the obvious gaps filled in. For example, what exactly did Mary Watson do wrong and how exactly did it come about? Now if the main character can’t be developed well because of his great defect of being unrealistic, and the story itself doesn’t work well, what else can writers do but fall back on special effects?
In attempting to make up for these problems with Holmes as a human being, the writers roll everything into a colossal, bewildering extravaganza of special effects; they make the film so visually exciting but often so bewildering that the audience forgets what is supposed to be happening in the story. Sherlock moves in a world of special effects that are shadows upon shadows. People and things are sometimes murky, as if the effects are drug-related. There are spots of coherence that make sense but then more effects that give the appearance of nightmares. Audiences are starting to see this overuse of CGI. Ebony Bowden writes, “In the early days of CGI, filmmakers could only superimpose a computer-generated component onto a real scene…. Today, they’re able to generate entire sequences using computers….Movies saturated with CGI can become too ‘glossy,’ say some animators, and audiences are seeing right through it.” And in the rush to use more and more CGI which has become tiring and sterile, we have lost Holmes.
The Preakness Stakes is one of three prestigious races that make up the Triple Crown series of races: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. Horses that manage to win all three are famous: you’ve heard of Citation? Whirl-away? Secretariat? This year’s Preakness was held in Baltimore. Writing of the tragic deaths in the Allied News, John Morlino’s article of June 7 illustrates “our conflicted relationship with animals,” by pointing out that people who race horses tacitly accept the fact that horses may die early deaths from what Morlino calls “transgressions,” crimes committed against horses. Here is Morlino’s list of human crimes that contribute to horse injuries and too often, premature death. They are “greed, corruption, performance-enhancing and pain-masking drugs, and breeding practices.” Homeboykris won the first contest of the day but died from what looked like heart failure, said those who performed the necropsy. He collapsed on his way back to the barn and had to be euthanized. Pramedya tried to run in the fourth race but suffered a fractured leg that Morlino describes as “dangling grotesquely in front of her.” She never made it back to the barn, but had to be euthanized on the track.
The reasons for these deaths? When asked why Pramedya died, her owner, Roy Jackson, said “We haven’t fully digested the whole thing,” but “life goes on.” It was found that Homeboykris had an elevated level of dexamethasone in his blood, said the Maryland Racing Commission. The accepted level of pictograms per milliliter is 5, but Homeboykris, nine years old, had 30.
Much more research is needed into the dangers of racing older horses and perhaps rewriting the rules that govern the acceptable age of a race horse to run.
Thank you, Fathom Events, for making it possible to see the National Theatre International broadcast of the play Frankenstein. The play starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, who alternated the roles of The Monster and The Scientist every other night. There are excellent reasons for this practice that you can see explained if you research the play and its writer, Nick Dear, online. There you’ll find discussions about the challenges the distinguished British company faced in preparing and presenting this play, and doing justice to Mary Shelley’s novel. On the evening I saw the play in a Nashville theater, Cumberbatch was starring as The Monster.
The play is the result of the efforts of highly trained, highly creative, and deadly serious actors, writers, and a host of others who were intent on showing us, the audience, that the old story of Frankenstein can have new meaning. It was a real delight that I had not experienced for too long being engaged with a play again, even though it was photographed and not on a stage with the live actors “in the room.” Most of us going to see this play or other Fathom Events would never be able to see them as audiences watching the live action on stage. Even though we were watching a filmed performance, the unrolling of the story was so absorbing I didn’t even want to look away from the screen. The story was presented in a new way while remaining true in all important respects to the novel and what Shelley was telling her readers. The theater-goer is shocked into a heightened awareness of Shelley’s conception of man and monsters too. In the story, she is saying that man and monster are alike. The playwright Nick Dear opened up the novel into a play that affects all of us and makes us think about what we’ve seen in the play and in the world. I wish that I could have gone to the National Theatre to see it presented, where I could have experienced the actors at fairly close range using all their powers of magic and stagecraft to open our eyes to the truths presented. I also wish I could then have gone straight to a discussion group elsewhere in that famous complex and hear what everyone else had to say. The way it was presented, using new stage technology, opened my eyes, and I remember vividly, for instance, the birth of The Monster and the fabulous train representing new technology chugging into the scene. When you go to see the play, you will be called upon to accept things you have probably never imagined about the old story, and you will find yourself changed permanently as you think about what you have seen and the ways in which the theater, that ancient institution, has changed in putting on plays. I urge everyone reading this to see the play. The Fathom Events web site can show you where it is being presented as well as the other riches of its other offerings.
I haven’t written about soring horses for too long in this blurb. But I haven’t stopped writing about them. I have finished four novels now. All have horses in the plots; they are often in trouble. I had hoped when I did some new research about soring, I would have found some progress in the fight to stop this torture of horses. It’s still going on. It is hard to imagine why humans who think of themselves as good people commit this crime. A person I met just today who has plenty of experience to make this statement, told me she thinks it has to do with their fragile egos. It’s “mastery over a large animal” that is behind soring. Open the link below to read more.