DVD Review: Sherlock: Season One

Sherlock: Season One
DVD | Blu-ray
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Rupert Graves
BBC Warner
Release Date: November 9, 2010

With the large and pricey marketing campaign that accompanied the re-imagined Sherlock Holmes film from director Guy Richie, it’s entirely reasonable that the latest iteration of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work went unnoticed — especially for anyone living in the U.S. I’m of course talking about the BBC television series Sherlock conceived by writer/producer Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Coupling) and Mark Gatiss.

Unlike previous adaptations to the screen, this Sherlock is set in the modern day, which both Gatiss and Moffat explain was fairly easy to do and added a lot back to the basic premise of why the classic stories were so great to begin with. Therefore John Watson writes a blog instead of keeping a diary (though, he was still wounded while serving as a medical doctor in Afghanistan, only in the most recent war); Sherlock writes texts messages instead of letters, and street informants aren’t orphan children but members of the homeless population in London. Sherlock uses a small magnifying glass that is encased in leather and fits in his pocket rather than the large lens that’s become iconic with all sleuthing fiction.

Admittedly, these modernized changes may cause concern for those who haven’t seen the show, but Moffat makes a very good point in a behind the scenes video included on the DVD. He recalls the conversation he had with Gatiss while filming Doctor Who in which he explains that most Sherlock stories were so in love with the original time period that it became more focused on the romanticism of the era — clothes, style, slang, etc. — than the core aspects of why Conan Doyle’s original stories were so wonderful to begin with. Modernizing was a way for them to strip all the unnecessary historical bits to make room for phenomenal storytelling.

And phenomenal is really an understatement.

Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Sherlock Holmes as an almost impossibly intelligent genius who speaks a mile a minute without a hint of pause of hesitance. His interactions with others is brilliantly done by bordering on many of the characteristics of someone with Asperger’s syndrome, but always pulls back ever so slightly to let everyone watching his performance know that it is Sherlock who is in control of every conversation. Watching him go on makes your feel smarter — almost like you’ve been elevated to the kind of divine thought process granted to Sherlock. All subtle details become clear as day and pieced together as quickly as they’re explained, which happens not only with the brilliantly written dialogue from the show’s writing team, but also through various visual cues. For instance, any time a text message is received, the words are shown within the shot rather than clunkily repeated for the audience. The only genuine dialogue you hear from Sherlock comes from the back and forth between him and his assistant Watson, played by Martin Freeman, who is the perfect complement to Cumberbatch.

The 2-disc Sherlock Season One DVD includes all 3 episodes, as well as a pilot episode that was later refilmed when BBC greenlit the show and thus was never broadcast on television. While this doesn’t seem like much, keep in mind that each episode is about 90 minutes long making it competitive with feature films in both length and entertainment value. The DVD also contains two behind the scenes video reels with the show’s producers that are well worth the viewing.

For fans of Moffat, Sherlock Holmes or sleuth fiction, buying the DVD set prior to actually having seen the show should not be a barrier to entry. Sherlock is definitely worthy of multiple viewings.

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