January 01, 2012

Of Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood and Shakespeare

As I caught up with a few movies over the new year weekend, it got me thinking over a tool many filmmakers seem to have been using recently - that of retelling a standard classic. Since there is no longer anything of value to be added, they tweak a little something: either set it to a different time, or provide additional layers to the characters or the plot. While most of the time it is an interesting exercise in that it tries to provide an answer to some of the 'what if..' situations we think of, other times the filmmakers take the idea so far out we have a tough time convincing ourselves we are watching the same movie the title seems to suggest!

I must admit I had my apprehensions when Guy Ritchie's 'Sherlock Holmes' came out a couple of years back, but the movie was a pleasant surprise. Ritchies' achievement lay in getting away from the stereotypes that Holmes, and especially Dr. Watson, had becomes in the earlier versions and not retelling any of Conan Doyle's original plots. That, combined with the typically edgy way Ritchie filmed the action sequences with the London thugs, gave us a Holmes with a spunk never seen before.

Where the sequel to the movie fails though, and spectacularly at that, is when it starts taking itself too seriously. While I merely squirmed in the seat when we had Holmes predicting the impact of wireless communication in the first installment, here he goes as far as to saving the world from a 'world war' - in circa 1880! I am not even sure when the particular term was coined! In an instant, Holmes thus gets promoted from a master detective to a political analyst of the highest order - as if Holmes and Watson dodging 'machine guns' was not bad enough. Another example was Ridley Scott's 'Robin Hood' which suggested that our beloved thief in fact contributed to the scripting of the Magna Carta!

Some of the little touches, like the shots of the Tower Bridge under construction in the first Holmes movie and those of the underground in the second one, are crafty and useful since they map the events into a historical timeframe but attributing undeserving, and must I add unnecessary, achievements to the subject just makes it more complex than it really is, as if to tell the viewer 'look, this is important stuff, we aren't making a trivial action movie here!'

The very next day though, I happened to catch BBC's 'Sherlock', which is basically Holmes in a contemporary setting. It is definitely more watchable since other than changing the setting of the stories, and adding the necessary technology aids to Holmes, it retains the characters from the original to the T.

One of the movies which managed pull the trick off must be 'Shakespeare in Love', one of the finest romantic movies in recent years. Being a fictional account of the Bard's own romance, it followed many of the themes from his plays making it fun spotting the various Shakespeare references throughout the movie. The banter between Romeo and Juliet being mouthed by Ralph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow as they make love gives a whole new meaning to those immortal lines and takes it to an altogether different level.

Back home, Vishal Bhardwaj's Shakespeare adaptations must rank as one of the finest in the world. As is the case with the best adaptations, he takes the basic premise and transports it to a drastically different setting. His understanding of the rural Indian landscape combined with the sheer dramatic nature of the Bard's works results in a heady cocktail. I only wish he signs of a trilogy by adapting 'Hamlet'.

Then of course there are those who stick to a retelling of the stories without deviating from the written word. The challenge here is recreating the time period and getting the casting right. The LOTR trilogy had the toughest challenge in this regard and it is only due to Peter Jackson's love and admiration for the source material that he was able to recreate middle earth so convincingly, pleasing even the most ardent LOTR fans.

Now only if Jackson would read the Mahabharata and come up with a trilogy!

1 comment:

Viswanath Padmanabhan said...

Retelling Mahabharatha would be a hard task indeed. But it would be better if a person like you or me undertook the arduous journey. No offence to PJ or his telling of LOTR, but I find the parochial bit in me rearing its head when an epitome such as Mahabharatha is broached! :P