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Hallmark Home Entertainment presents
The Sherlock Holmes Collection (2003)

"This business needs some thinking through."
- Sherlock Holmes (Matt Frewer)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: August 19, 2003

Stars: Matt Frewer, Kenneth Welsh
Other Stars: Jason London, Emma Campbell, Gordon Masten, Robin Wilcock, Arthur Holden, Leni Parker, Linda Smith, Sophie Lorain, Marcel Jeannin, Michel Perron, Edward Yankie, Liliana Komorowska, R.H. Thomson, Daniel Brochu, Seann Gallagher, Julian Casey
Director: Rodney Gibbons

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: approx 06h:00m:00s
Release Date: August 19, 2003
UPC: 707729143376
Genre: mystery


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
C C-C+B- D-

DVD Review

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce will always be the definitive Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson to me, as I was weaned on their adventures every Sunday afternoon, along with Warner Oland as Charlie Chan on alternating weeks. Over the years, there have been some erstwhile challengers to the Rathbone/Bruce crown, most notably the great duo of Jeremy Brett (Holmes) and Edward Hardwicke (Watson) in the 1990s. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle unleashed the mysteries of the logical, super-smart Holmes and his faithful friend Watson in the early 1900s, I don't suppose he could have envisioned how long-lasting and endearing his characters would become.

In my estimation, there wasn't really an outcry for a new cinematic version of the detective, but that didn't stop director Rodney Gibbons from churning out a few titles featuring Max Headroom himself, Matt Frewer, as the one and only Sherlock Holmes. Once you take a minute or two to absorb that weird casting fact, and stop giggling, you might be able to see that from a visual standpoint, Frewer has the stature and angular facial lines to carry off the lanky British sleuth better than you might expected initially. That is, at least, before he starts speaking, because he has to use a rather forced London accent that sounds like someone imitating a London accent, and when combined with his habit to over-enunciate words like he's doing a Jim Carrey imitation it can become unbearably distracting at times. Kenneth Welsh does a fine job as the loyal Dr. Watson, so much so in fact that during The Hound of the Baskervilles, when Holmes is offscreen for much of the story, he was not even missed, thanks to Welsh's steely-eyed performance.

These four entries in the series, only three of which are actually based on Conan Doyle stories, play like the simple teleplays they are, seemingly designed for the Murder, She Wrote or Diagnosis Murder crowd, or anyone who appreciates fake Cockney accents and occasionally horrible fake moustaches.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (2000)
01h:30m:35s

"Very interesting, Dr. Mortimer, if I were a collector of fairy tales" -Sherlock Holmes

The first film is a treatment of one of the better-known Holmes adventures, about a mythical, yet very deadly, spectral hellhound. When the last descendant of the wealthy Baskerville family, a brash young American named Henry (Jason London), arrives from "the colonies" after the mysterious death of his uncle, he is put under the protective thumb of Dr. Watson when Holmes suspects the young heir may be in mortal danger. A very skeptical Holmes comes off very Dana Scully-like as he openly mocks the suspicions that supernatural events might be at work at Baskerville Hall, and he sends the not-so-doubting Dr. Watson to carry on in his place.

There are some slight alterations and omissions to Conan Doyle's original work here, but for the most part the story plays true with the more familiar elements (the escaped madman, the mysterious butler, the dangerous moors), despite Frewer's almost distractingly frenetic portrayal of Holmes. The Canadian locations look properly English, but the titular hound, looking more like an unkempt German shepherd with bad choppers, never appears as menacing as all the various characters reactions might indicate.

This installment is decidedly Watson-centric, with Holmes' himself only appearing in the opening and closing sequences. And that, despite what you might think, is not necessarily a bad thing, thanks in no small part to Kenneth Welsh's enjoyably gruff and serious Watson, who shows himself able to carry the film handily. There are plenty of shadowy hallways in Baskerville Hall for him to explore, though his treks across the moors never seem as dangerously foggy or dark as in some earlier film incarnations of the story.


The Sign of the Four (2001)
01h:28m:30s

"If this little mystery doesn't resolve itself this evening, I intend to speak with him." -Sherlock Holmes

Compared to earlier film versions, this is a remarkably dull, convoluted re-telling of Conan Doyle's tale of the murderous lure of hidden treasure, with Holmes getting plenty of screentime, but not much to do. When the daughter of a missing British officer comes forward with what appears to be a treasure map, it leads Holmes and Watson to the twin sons of a deceased military man, who just may hold the secret to a long lost cache of jewels.

One of the things that made Conan Doyle's stories so entertaining were the colorful characters, but in this rendition they come off with a one-dimensionality that borders on the miserable. Even Frewer's Holmes, here thankfully more restrained than in The Hound of the Baskervilles, does not get to dabble in the usual trademark, quick-witted deductiveness and reasoning, and instead acquires one of his most important clues thanks to a lowly tracking hound.

The only degree of pleasing quirkiness comes from some bickering between Holmes and Watson that dared to breathe a little life into things, but when a protracted chase scene (and the ol' antidote-in-the-nick-of-time plot device) cropped up, I had long since lost interest in any of the proceedings. Even the first appearance of the Baker Street Irregulars in the series, here looking like a batch of very clean theme-park street urchins (complete with "Allo, guv'na" accents), are trotted out like some so much set dressing.


The Royal Scandal (2001)
01h:27:47s

"Only the German is so uncourteous to his verbs." -Sherlock Holmes

In this confusing reworking of Conan Doyle's A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes finds himself pitted against the mysterious and lovely Irene Adler (Liliana Komorowska), a woman from his past, who may be involved in spying for the Germans. Holmes and Watson are hired to retrieve a compromising photo of the Crown Prince of Germany (Robin Wilcock), and along the way end up at odds with the brother of the great detective, one Mycroft Holmes (R.H. Thomson), who is an intelligence officer for England.

Aside from hints of Holmes smoldering sexual desires for Miss Adler, we get our first glimpse of a young Inspector Lestrade (Julian Casey). Outright laughable moments in The Royal Scandal include Dr. Watson going into disguise by simply putting on a hat different from the one he ordinarily wears, Holmes donning a pair of fake sideburns that make him look more than a bit like Neil Young, and Robin Wilcock's wandering German accent.

The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire (2002)
01h:28m:01s

"I have no fear of offending the gods, for I know that there are no gods to offend." -Sherlock Holmes

The final entry in this collection makes no pretense at all about even being based, ever so slightly on a Conan Doyle story, and instead thrusts Holmes and Watson into an original tale about, you guessed it, vampires, here written by director Rodney Gibbons. When robed monks of a particular abbey start turning up dead with suspicious fang marks on their necks, it looks like the work a vampire, or more specifically, the Guinea demon god, Desmodo. That is, of course, unless you are Sherlock Holmes, and then you have to work to prove that the cause is not supernatural, but is likely someone with a very personal agenda.

Ironically, of the four films in this set, The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire somehow ended up being the most entertaining of the bunch, which is really a polite way of saying Gibbons' renditions of Conan Doyle's work are remarkably muddled. Taking literary characters and putting them into fresh adventures isn't a completely new idea, but having the agnostic Holmes confront spiritualists and fervent religious persuading allowed Frewer's character to show more personality than he did in the previous three films.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: All four films are presented in 1.33:1 full frame, and none of them are particularly impressive, from an image transfer standpoint. While some are very grainy (The Curse of the Whitechapel Vampire) others are horribly dark (The Hound of the Baskervilles), with intermittent sequences in all four where everything looks just fine, with colors and fleshtones periodically looking natural and warm. There isn't any consistency to any of the transfers, and some occasional specking is also apparent, to make things even worse.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Like the image transfer, the audio portion, presented in 2.0 Dolby Surround, has moments when the rear channels add a some depth to the onscreen action, and voices seem to move appropriately across screen. Then, without warning, dialogue becomes difficult to understand, probably thanks in no small part to the fluctuating accents, but certainly no less a result of a sloppy mix that tends to deaden and flatten many of the speaking voices. I was constantly replaying segments not because I couldn't understand the accent, but because I just couldn't make out the words at all.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 55 cues and remote access
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Nothing but chapter stops (a total of 55 spread across the four separate films) and English close-captioning to be found here.

Would an Arthur Conan Doyle bibliography have been so bad?

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

I don't think the world was really crying out for yet another version of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and this pairing of Matt Frewer and Kenneth Welsh doesn't bring much new to the table. Welsh's serious Watson is spot on, while Frewer turns the great sleuth into a real smartass.

Honestly, is there anyone who would feel the need to seek this stuff out?

 


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