Mr. Beaks Steps Into The Punch Bowl With Guy Ritchie, Mad Orchestrator Of SHERLOCK HOLMES!
Published at: Dec. 24, 2009, 12:45 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
Guy Ritchie's SHERLOCK HOLMES is not a reinvention. There is nothing in this 2009 take on the iconic deducer that did not exist in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories published between 1887 and 1927.
So why does this latest iteration feel like a complete departure?
Credit the shot-out-of-a-cannon energy Ritchie brings to the film, which, from the opening carriage chase onward, invigorates like LETHAL WEAPON 2 transplanted to Victorian London. And then there's the grudging-but-brotherly relationship between Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes and Jude Law's Dr. John H. Watson, wherein the latter would happily leave the former to his own druggy devices if he thought he could survive without him. Familiar? Sure. But the interplay between Downey and Law is so natural that one often forgets its debt to every detective duo that's sleuthed before. Throw in Hans Zimmer's score, which evokes Morricone in the way its jaunty main theme is introduced via slightly out-of-tune piano, and now you've got an unexpected Leone undercurrent running throughout the film.
If SHERLOCK HOLMES is a departure for anyone, it's Ritchie, who, for the first time in his career, has modulated his frenetic style in order to better serve the mainstream demands of blockbuster filmmaking. The result is an enormously satisfying adventure flick which suggests Ritchie should've been helming A-list action movies all along.
Is this where Ritchie wants to be? No clue. Is he going to be back for the next SHERLOCK HOLMES (and it's hard to believe a movie this entertaining won't spawn a franchise)? He ain't sayin'. But judging from the shot-out-of-a-cannon energy he brought to this raucous ten-minute interview, he's enjoying the hell out of the ride for now.
Mr. Beaks: The film starts off at a full-sprint. Was this your way of immediately separating your Sherlock from Sherlocks past?
Guy Ritchie: I think so. I intended it to be energetic. I don't have the courage to hold on to things for as long as I wish I could sometimes. That said, I think things pick up a kinetic energy, and then once you set a pace, you go with that pace. I just like pace-y movies. I also like rather slow movies, but my disposition lends itself toward moving. I also wanted to have a movie that said it wasn't going to be dusty, but rather contemporary. I thought this was a rather eloquent way of making that point.
Beaks: Not dusty, but sweaty?
Ritchie: I can live with "sweaty".
Beaks: It is a very sweaty movie. Were you worried you were setting too fast a pace with the opening scene, that you might have trouble keeping up throughout a two-hour film?
Ritchie: Yes, I was. (Pause)
Beaks: (Laughs) So how did you get away with it?
Ritchie: "Fuck knows" is the answer to that. This is my pitch, alright: "Start slow and build." But I've never been able to do it. I just start fucking quick and try to remain fucking quick. I love the idea of having a little more courage, saying "Fuck it," and just going with it. But what can I say? That's the way I'm playing the game at the moment.
Beaks: Was that always there in the script? Did you have to rework the script to maintain that energy storywise?
Ritchie: Sure. Lionel Wigram and I had a sort of understanding. He wanted a Guy Ritchie version of the movie, so who better to go to than Guy Ritchie? And I gave him the best of what I thought I could do. That's really how it happened. Lionel was encouraging me to go at that speed, and that's what I tried to.
Beaks: When we last spoke, you had just met with Hans Zimmer. You were really encouraged at the time, and now I see why: his score matches the energy of the film. But it's also different for Zimmer in that it's kind of an Ennio Morricone/John Barry hybrid.
Ritchie: Let me just tell you that... wait, who's the other chap you mentioned? Morricone and who?
Beaks: John Barry?
Ritchie: Well, that'll give you an idea of how little I know about people who do scores. I didn't really know who Hans Zimmer was until I looked up his titles.
Ritche: I'm not that good at who does what in terms of music. But now I love Hans. He's one of my best mates.
What I wanted was a score that was authentic to the [London] of the time. It was a little bit Eastern European, a little bit Yiddish, a little bit Gypsy, a little bit Irish... we went for the grittier side of London at the time, rather than the posh side. That's how it came together. But we did talk a lot about Morricone.
Beaks: It does show - not just in the score, but in the sound of carriage wheels as they click across stone. There is something in the sound design that makes it feel... heightened in a Leone way. It's sort of Spaghetti Sherlock. (Laughs) I mean, it's not vaguely Italian, but it does have that aesthetic to it.
Ritchie: By the way, if I'm going to take a compliment, that's it: I love the idea of "Spaghetti Sherlock".
Beaks: (Laughs) Then I'm glad I could throw that out there. Now, in settling on the look of the film with your cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, you're working with a lot of grays; how did you keep the film from looking and feeling kind of drab?
Ritchie: I wanted a film with a bluish look to it. It's supposed to be sort of bluey, whitey, blacky... it's supposed to have that look, with a little bit of color creeping into it. I can tell you that we spent a good deal of time farting around with the grade of the thing in order to make it look like that. But I just like that look. I just like that very... I don't quite know how to describe it. Does it have a look? Help me out here!
Beaks: (Laughs) It does have a look. It's very gritty, but in a clean way. I keep referring to the film as a great '80s blockbuster in tone, and those films always had "clean" looks regardless of where they were set. So I guess that's how I'd describe it.
Ritchie: (Laughing) Good!
Beaks: (Aware that we're running out of time) I do want to talk a little bit about Robert here...
Ritchie: Why, why? I'm much more interesting.
Beaks: I know. But, having watched Downey on the set of IRON MAN 2, I was really struck by how big a part he played in the actual direction of a scene. How collaborative was he on your film?
Ritchie: Pretty collaborative. Robert and I were pretty empathetic in our approach to the film from the beginning. Robert and I would talk a scene through, and if everyone felt it was headed in the right direction, we would move forward. But often Rob and I would sit there and fuck around about fifteen or twenty minutes before each scene, and say, "Hold on. Is this really going to work?" And then we'd grill it and realize, "No, we can improve this." So we did do a bit of that.
Beaks: Did you have to do much in encouraging the chemistry between Robert and Jude?
Ritchie: Once they got on within about ten seconds off-screen, the benefit of my experience - and logic will tell you - that it's going to work onscreen as well.
Beaks: Did you allow for much in the way of improvisation?
Ritchie: Eh... I mean, listen: I'm as improv as the next man. So between the three of us, I'm up for any improv-ing. And it doesn't take you long to figure out whether that little bit of improv is going to trump what's there or not.
I'm being looked at by Laura, my assistant, and... what are you trying to tell me, love? (Pause) Oh, we've got to wrap up.
Beaks: Okay. Real quick, I want to touch on the status of LOBO, to which you were recently attached.
Ritchie: By the way, it should've never been announced that I was doing that. I'm not officially attached to that.
Beaks: Okay. How about the next SHERLOCK then?
Ritchie: (Someone in the room interjects rather forcefully.) Oh. Now I've got a whole army of people telling me I can't answer these questions. Ask me something not too controversial, like am I a heterosexual.
Beaks: Fine. Are you, Guy Ritchie, a heterosexual?
Ritchie: (Laughs) Why don't we have a drink and talk about it.
So that happened. I'll let you know if we ever have that drink. In the meantime, SHERLOCK HOLMES opens all over the gol-darned place on Christmas Day. Check it out.