Friday, November 19, 2010

Welcome to Today

There are few things more irritating in the pop-cultural world than a bad adaptation of a beloved work. One early warning sign is often that a period work has been moved to the modern day - this can signal that the producers either don't know much about the work beyond what can be gleaned from the title, or are attempting to make it more "relevant". Now, while a modernized work isn't always bad (V for Vendetta was originally set in the 1990's, after all), it does generate controversy amongst fans of the original work (not everybody liked V for Vendetta, and amongst those that didn't the most common reason seems to be that it wasn't enough like the comic).

Given all this, it is understandable why I was skeptical about Sherlock, a recent BBC production that brings Sherlock Holmes to modern London. However, the responses from viewers across the pond were mostly positive, so a few weeks ago when the first of three episodes season aired on PBS, I made sure to check it out.

That first episode, "A Study In Pink", turned out to be an excellent retelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holes story, with just enough twists and reversals to make it both fresh and familiar to fans of the original. And not just in the actual mystery, either - from Sherlock's first complaint that it's "impossible to sustain a smoking habit in London these days" (not to mention his "three-patch" solution), it's clear that this Holmes is going to both keep everything that made the original unique, while not glossing over the things about the modern world that Holmes would have to adapt to.

One particularly interesting example of this from the first episode occurs when Sherlock, gleefully rushing out of 221B to the scene of another grisly crime, calls out to Dr. Watson that "The game . . . is on!" Of course, fans of the original Holmes would be expecting him to say, "The game's afoot!", but in a universe where there was no Sherlock Holmes until the late 20th century, there would be little reason for that phrase to stick in the public consciousness. Replacing it with "The game is on!" is not only a nice little reminder of the paradox involved in Holmes & Watson's temporal displacement, but another clever way to modernize the character.

The rest of the season, while not following any particular Holmes cases as closely as the pilot, do measure up to the high bar set by the pilot. The middle one, "The Blind Banker", is the least of the three, but I attribute this to it's being the only episode in the season that isn't a season premiere or finale. "The Great Game", that finale, introduces Sherlock's great nemesis, "Jim" Moriarty. The show plays up Moriarty's being Sherlock's opposite (a consulting criminal as opposed to a consulting detective) at the expense of what we knew of him from the stories (although, there's nothing to say that Colonel Moran wasn't at the other end of one of those laser sights . . . ), he was still very well done.

Of course, then the season ended with one of the worse cliffhangers since Captain Picard got assimilated by the Borg, but I understand that a second season will be coming . . . sometime next year. Sigh.

One last, tangential note. Apparently, Dr. Watson - or more accurately, his actor Martin Freeman - has been cast as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's long-awaited film version of "the Hobbit". Hmm - Bilbo, Watson, Arthur Dent - does anyone else notice a theme here?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Treason & Plot

"Remember, remember,
The Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Ever should be forgot."

As has been my tradition for the past few years, I celebrated Guy Fawkes Night this year by re-watching the movie V for Vendetta. It's been a favorite of mine since I first saw it in the theater, and its anti-tyranny message has made it very popular in some quarters.

It's interesting, though, that for many of the centuries since the original Guy Fawkes was captured in 1605, he wasn't considered the hero he, as well as his contemporary counterpart V, are today. In fact, the reason that the fifth of November was originally celebrated is because Fawkes failed to blow up "the King and Parliament", as the poem continues. It seems to be a relatively recent shift in celebrating not the failure of the attempt, but the man making it.

However, the perception of Fawkes and V as lone rebels against an unsympathetic government, no matter how romantic, deserves a bit of a closer look. Not only because it's not quite true (Fawkes was only one of about a dozen conspirators, and far from the mastermind at that), but because their actions could be, and have been (and not without some merit) labeled as terrorism. V for Vendetta, of course, makes this explicit - and yet we still sympathize with V over the Norsefire government, because the latter is such an overtly repressive, authoritarian regime.

Guy Fawkes' situation is a little more complex. He was a Catholic in a time and place where that religion was unacceptable, but slowly becoming less so. Too slowly, unfortunately, for the conspirators' tastes, hence the Plot. And yet, the plan to install a Catholic monarch over 17th-century England doesn't exactly mesh with the anti-authoritarian symbol he's become.

And what of the charges of terrorism? "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is somewhat trite, but in some situations it may be true. Of course, neither V's actions (if he didn't intended to terrify people, does it count as terrorism?) nor Fawkes' (as I mentioned, religious toleration for Catholics was slowly growing in England right up until he got caught under Parliament with a barrel of gunpowder) truly fit those circumstances.

In the end, I think what really drives the current popularity of Guy Fawkes Night is, again, the idea of one man standing against injustice. In today's world it often seems like individuals can't make a difference, but as a wise man once said, "in every revolution, there's one man with a vision" - and the courageousness (if not the methods) of Guy and V will be there for the inspiration as long as we remember, remember the Fifth of November.