Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Blue-Ray Combo Pack) – Available June 12, 2012
by Aaron Einhorn
It has been three years since Guy Ritchie first gave us Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson in Sherlock Holmes. This past winter, the duo returned to face off against Jared Harris’ Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and the sequel was every bit as good as the original. Since the release of the first film, both Holmes and star Robert Downey Jr. have risen to even higher prominence. Holmes is now the star of not only Ritchie’s films, but has a modern interpretation on the excellent BBC production of Sherlock and will be seen again in a modern take on CBS’ Elementary. And Downey? Well, he’s gone on from just appearing as a certain armored hero to being one of the stars of the third-highest grossing film of all time (at the time of this writing) in Marvel’s The Avengers.
Some time has passed since Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows originally hit the theatres, but now the film is available on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital Download from Warner Home Entertainment. I was lucky enough to be given a copy of the Blu-Ray Combo pack to review. So, let’s see how well it translates from theatre to home entertainment, shall we?
Around the globe, headlines break the news: a scandal takes down an Indian cotton tycoon; a Chinese opium trader dies of an apparent overdose; bombings in Strasbourg and Vienna; the death of an American steel magnate… no one sees the connective thread between these seemingly random events – no one, that is, except the great Sherlock Holmes, who has discerned a deliberate web of death and destruction. At its center sits a singularly sinister spider: Moriarty.
Holmes’ investigation into Moriarty’s plot becomes more dangerous as it leads him and Watson out of London to France, Germany and finally Switzerland. But the cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead, and moving perilously close to completing his ominous plan. If he succeeds, it will not only bring him immense wealth and power but alter the course of history.
Ritchie takes a successful formula from the original Sherlock Holmes and improves it. Where the first film gave us a somewhat boring and uninspired villain in the form of Mark Strong’s Lord Black, preferring to focus on the relationship between Holmes and Watson, with the fantastic Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) stealing the show – A Game of Shadows instead gives us Holmes’ most famous adversary Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), and expands the supporting cast with Holmes’ brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry) and giving more time to Watson’s fiance, Mary (Kelly Reilly). The relationships get a lot more screen time, and the dialogue continues to be just as witty and rapid-fire as we’ve come to expect.
The plot is suitably epic, ranging from London to Germany, France and finally Switzerland. Moriarty does nothing small, and his scheme reflects that. And Jared Harris matches Downey’s Holmes in every way. He is sinister and terrifying, polite and refined, brilliant and utterly brutal. The final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty is everything fans could hope for, and mirrored with the confrontation in the BBC’s Sherlock, I find the climax of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows to be even more enticing.
We see an original Holmes’ story develop in this film (although it is heavily inspired by “A Final Solution”), and it keeps the audience guessing. This film didn’t get the attention it probably deserved, which is a shame, since in many ways I think it is the far stronger film in Ritchie’s franchise. The only complaint I have is that there isn’t nearly enough of McAdams’ Irene Adler, but that can’t be helped, I suppose.
We only get three “bonus features” this time around (well, four if you count the Ultraviolet copy), but each is fairly extensive. First off, we get a series of “Focus Point” featurettes to take us into the background of the film. Titled “Holmesavision on Steroids”, “Moriarty’s Master Plan Unleashed”, “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Perfect Chemistry”, “Meet Mycroft Holmes”, “Sherlock Holmes; Under the Gypsy Spell”, “Guy Ritchie’s Well-Oiled Machine” and “Holmes Without Borders”, each featurette is fairly short (about five minutes), and gives us the kind of background information about one element of the film – in a fashion familiar to anyone who browses special features on DVDs and Blu-Rays.
The second feature is “Maximum Movie Mode: Inside the Mind of Sherlock Holmes Hosted by Robert Downey Jr.” Again, this will be familiar to special-feature addicts, giving us a running commentary on the movie, hosted by the star of the film. Why they chose to use Downey instead of Director Guy Ritchie, I’m unsure, but Downey is his typical witty, sarcastic self, and provides us an entertaining commentary.
The final special feature is perhaps the most unique. Fans of special features have probably encountered the “Disney Second Screen” enhancement appearing on newer Blu-Rays from the Mouse. Warner has one-upped them with the “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” Movie app for IOS 4.2 or higher. In addition to being a second screen display for providing extra scenes, descriptions, concept art and the like, the Movie App actually controls playback of the film on your TV and lets viewers directly interact with the film as it appears on the screen. It’s a far more enjoyable and interactive approach, and Warner Brothers deserves full credit for the creation of this app. I look forward to seeing it’s like on many future home releases.
Visually, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is moody and haunting, and Ritchie manages to give us a dirty, realistic version of London, Vienna, Paris and Strasbourg. The look is never quite “real”, but instead a hyper-realism that captures attention in a way that more “modern-looking” films don’t. “Holmes-Vision” returns (with some twists), and remains used at a level that doesn’t make it boring, but keeps the audience deeply engaged. Brought home on a HD TV, the transfer is crisp and looks nearly identical to seeing the picture in the theatre.
Sound effects are all played well, without ever dominating but instead adding to the scenes. And music from Hans Zimmerman remains some of the best music one could expect in a film.
A fabulous detective story, great actors, great cinematography, packaged with a good set of extras makes this a hard set to pass up.
The extras, while good, are somewhat light overall. There were no deleted scenes, or commentary tracks from the Ritchie, both of which might have been welcomed.
Losing Irene Adler and possibly Moriarty in the same film leaves us with few places to go for the sequel.
I quite liked Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows when I saw it in the theatre, and I am equally pleased with the Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Blu-Ray Combo pack. If you didn’t catch this movie the first time around, you owe it to yourself to check it out now.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Own it on Blu-ray™ Combo Pack or Digital Download 6.12.12
Be sure to check out the free Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows movie app for iPad2 or Kindle Fire. The app synchs with the Blu-ray disc to start exploring the rich and exciting history of Sherlock Holmes.