DEDUCE THIS: SHERLOCK HOLMES IS AWESOME

Tonight Mrs. Greenbean and I watched the new episode of PBS’s excellent Sherlock. It was so great to see Cumberbatch and Freeman get back to their real work and stop playing around with hobbits and Star Trek. I thought I would reblog this old post from almost four years ago. Enjoy!

Last night I finished the final Sherlock Holmes full length novel, The Valley of Fear.  When I was a boy I read many of the Sherlock Holmes Shorts but never a full length novel and never as an adult.  Last year I read two collections of shorts, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Return of Sherlock Holmes.  Since spring break I have read the four novels.  The process has been, to say the least, enlightening.

When I read a classic novel, whether it is Dostoevsky, Dickens or Doyle I read as a writer admiring the greatness of another writer.  I do enjoy these stories, but more than that to learn from them.  From Doyle I have observed several trends.

1.  Character is not something independent of plot.  One of the great discussions I often encounter is which is more important—plot or character.  Doyle deftly uses the plot to unwrap the character.  It is in the process of chasing clues that we learn of Holmes OCD-like knowledge of every kind of cigar available in London and exactly what kind of ash it leaves.  Without the plot and the details of the story we would not have knowledge of many of Holmes curiosities.  Doyle does not spend a chapter telling us about Holmes’ obsession with tobacco, but unpacks it in one of the clues.  This has the benefit of wanting us readers wondering what other mysterious and compulsive tendencies this man has which are not relevant to the case at hand.

2.  Doyle is not afraid of the flashback.  In their own way each of the four novels uses extensive use of flashback storytelling.  One story has the flashback in the English countryside, another goes back to the American West, the other to the far-flung British Empire in the East, and the last one involves American coal mines.  Doyle uses this device to take the reader far away from London’s smog, squalor and crime to other parts of the world.  Since all the flashbacks are distant–years back, they serve to provide historical gravitas to the whole story.  Holmes work of consultant detective is not just the here and now—but part of a longer story.  The flashback gives the characters and the plot a depth which would be missing in a straight-line chronology.

3.  Another thing I’ve noticed, especially in a Baskervilles or Fear is how much Holmes is “off-screen.”  Dr. Watson has far more face time than the title character, as well as the benefit of being the narrator.  The special character of Holmes is developed carefully and then held at a distance.  I compare this to the trend in most stories—Dickens for example, and almost all modern writers, of having the main character in virtually every scene and on every page.  I wonder if it reflects a lack of ego on Doyle’s part in that his own personality flows through with the understanding that the world is in action even when he is not present.  How many of us live as if nothing important occurs when we are not around?  The technique works with Holmes powerfully as one who picks up the clues other shave left behind.

4.  I found it interesting how Doyle taps into ‘secret’ groups or ‘conspiracy’ ideals in his plot development.  In Scarlet, Doyle spends considering time painting the most negative possible picture on early Mormons.  Indeed, Brigham Young himself serves as a villain.  The secret society in Fear is clearly a reference to the Freemasons.  Added to this is the feeling of conspiracy in Baskervilles and the secret oath out in Four and we end up with a good healthy dose of playing on preconceived fears, notions, and prejudices.  No wonder the novels did so well.

5.  One more observation—and it is a quick one.  Doyle is equally effective at storytelling when he doesn’t have the archenemy Moriarty around.  Most of the Holmes canon does not include Moriarty.  Too often storytellers automatically gravitate toward building the nemesis without considering the power of their major character to carry the story.  It weakens our characters when they cannot stand on their own.  True, every story has some kind of conflict/enemy/opponent but it is not the ultimate enemy.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS AND BACK AGAIN

Let me nerd up one more time for a final post on the new Star Trek movie.  I posted two last week and a third is probably overkill, but its my blog so I’ll do what I want.

WARNING–RED ALERT–SPOILERS FOLLOW

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IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME!

For starters, I would rate this as a middle of the pack Star Trek film.  I liked it, but it doesn’t even come close to the top of the line in the genre.  It is definitely not as good as the 2009 edition.  The special effects were nice and the Enterprise looked beautiful.  All of that was expected.  Benedict Cumberbatch is awesome but so too is Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto.  For me though, the story was weak and forced and the dialogue was not as crisp as I expected.  It felt to me that Pine and Quinto didn’t have that much of a script to work with.  I loved what they did with Scotty, though.  From the TOS (The Original Series) we knew that Scotty had a drinking problem and a fiery stubborn temper, so having him resign and make his way immediately to a bar was perfect.  By contrast, Chekov is reduced to running around the engine room like an incompetent cadet (what happened to the boy genius from the first film?) and Bones is almost non-existent.  Uhura virtually disappears as she is only important insofar as she relates to Spock.  These are not problems necessarily of plot or of directing, but of dialogue.  The dialogue was very bad.  Carol Marcus apparently was just eye candy (what’s with her suddenly and inexplicably stripping down?  That made no story sense) and Admiral Marcus was a total cliche.

Now, in addition to this, here are some things that caught my attention.

1.  I loved the Section 31 reference as being responsible for the whole debacle.  It made me miss Dr. Bashir.  I know that most folks think the tribble business was the big tip of the hand to Star Trek fans, but they are wrong.  When Section 31 was referenced my oldest daughter and I began to visible beam with joy.

2.  I did not love the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan.  Let me be clear, I love love love Cumberbatch.  He did a great job in this movie and he is a powerful actor.  However,  Khan Noonien Sing is supposed to be an Indian prince, not a British Caucasian.  I know that the timeline is different in this film universe but that alternate timeline didn’t go into effect until Kirk’s birth on the Kelvin.   Khans character from the past (1990’s) should be unaltered.

3.  Seat belts.  It has been the longest standing joke that there are no seat belts on the Enterprise.  It is about time.

4.  Wasn’t it great when new Spock calls old Spock for help?  Yeah, it was.

5.  I think that the scene in the role reversal, where Kirk dies and Spock yell’s Khan just like The Shat did in the original Star Trek II was pretty close to a jump the shark moment. (If you don’t know what “jump the shark means”, I don’t have time to explain so click here.)

6.  Three times Captain Kirk has died in a Star Trek film.  Why, why can’t he at least die on the bridge in one of them?

7.  The Klingon bird of prey was awesome–did you notice the wings moving up and down?  That was nice but so too was the commando type zip line decent into battle.  That was very, very Klingon.

8.  The “darkness” alluded to in the film didn’t last long.  Kirk should have stayed dead through the end of film.  If you’re going to kill him like you killed Spock so many years ago, you lose the weight of it if you bring him back so quickly.  Or just leave him dead.  You’ve already destroyed Vulcan, why not off Captain Kirk and then make the next Star Trek Movie all about Spock or, better yet, go to another timeline and get the real Kirk?  As it is, they combined Star Trek II and Star Trek III in about seven minutes of film.

9.  If your going to do Khan, again (or as one friend of mine put it, ‘JJ Abrams boldly going where Gene Roddenberry already went’) then I need him to say these words:  “He tasks me!”

10.  Another moment my daughter and I shared was when all the captains were together in the briefing room right after the terrorist attack.  Before Captain Kirk even begins to piece it together, I looked at Belle and she looked at me and we both said at the same time, “Godfather Part III” and sure enough here comes the same helicopter kill scene.  Is it homage, or is it copycat?  You decide.

11.  Last thing–and then I promise I’ll quit complaining–Kirk was written up for violating the prime directive when he saved Spock.  Right?  Did anybody else think, “Hey, wait a minute, stopping the volcano and saving that civilization (which clearly was a reference to TOS) is a complete and total violation of the prime directive anyway.”  I mean, for crying out loud, Captain Picard would have let the whole world blow up without doing a thing to help them while he drank tea.

All in all I enjoyed it, liked it, and am pleased with how right I was about what it would be.  These are the things that caught my attention on the first viewing.  I am certain I will see it again.  Certain.

STAR TREK INTO HALF-LIGHT

I, along with about a billion people I think, are pretty excited about the release this weekend of Star Trek Into Darkness.  The trouble is I will not be able to see it until Tuesday, probably, because my weekend is slammed full of stuff (UPDATE AND CORRECTION–LOOKS LIKE I WILL BE ABLE TO SEE IT THURSDAY)  What that means is nobody can tell me anything ahead of time–NO SPOILERS PLEASE!!!  After I have seen the film, I will post a review, but will warn of spoilers.  I don’t like them.

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ENERGIZE!

Yes, I do not want anything to ruin my experience.  As a part of the experience, though, I am trying to imagine what this story will involve–what is the darkness?

As I prognosticate, here is what we know:

1.  The Enterprise crashes into the ocean.

2.  Dr. Carol Marcus is in the movie.

3.  There is a well defined villain played by the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch (loved him in Sherlock).

4.  There is a scene in a room full of what looks like coffins, or are they cryogenic chambers?

5.  The plot seems to revolve around some kind of terrorism.

So these are the things we know, which is not much, but it is a start.  From these building block nuggets, let me make some predictions as to what will be in the movie.  Keep in mind,  I stink at making predictions but that doesn’t keep me from making them.

1.  The crash of the Enterprise can’t be real or serious.  It must be easily fixed, like, the ship just jumps out of the water after the engines kick back in.  The reason for this assumption is that destroying the Enterprise is a big deal and it would never be put in the previews.  Too much tension is released if the audience already knows it is going to be destroyed.

2.  Dr. Marcus and Kirk will pair up as a love interest.  I suspect that the Cumberbatch villain is a rival flame vying for Dr. Marcus’ attention.

3.  The terrorism will be bio/genetic.  The film will carry a similar plot of Star Trek II where Khan is the villain with an old association of Kirk’s and he uses a weapon of mass destruction.  Now, the plot will not duplicate the Khan plot, but will be familiar enough to feel borrowed and might even steal a line or two, (He tasks me?)

4.  Someone must die.  It cannot be Kirk and it cannot be Spock.  Dr. Marcus?  No, she has to have Kirk’s son David.  No, who can die?  Well, who could it be but Uhura?  JJ Abrams loves to torture Spock, this would only increase the torture.  Everyone is expecting Spock to die in this film, as homage to the aforementioned Khan film, but instead here he will have to make a choice to save the crew or save Uhura.  In this timeline, he saves the crew but kills Uhura.

5.  Klingons.  Somehow we need to see Klingons.  Lots of them.

Okay, so those are the predictions, but I also have some worries.  First, it has been terribly over-hyped.  Usually that doesn’t bode well.  Second, the trailers I’ve seen remind me of Nemesis and that is not a good thing.  Third, I am afraid they will steal too much from previous films.  I know that everyone loved the rebooted Star Trek (2009) but to those of us in the know, who look closely, we can spot that Abrams, aside from recklessly destroying Vulcan, really did nothing new but rehashed old ideas with nice camera angels.  I am afraid he will do the same again.  Fourth, I am afraid I might have to see it three or four times, just to make sure.