Late yesterday it was announced that Sacha Baron Cohen has been cast as Sherlock Holmes with Will Ferrell as Watson in a new, Judd Apatow-produced comedy inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective — the second Holmes major reinvention in the works, with Guy Ritchie working on a version that will “be more adventuresome and take advantage of his skills as a boxer and swordsman.”
At the Guardian‘s film blog, Maxim Jakubowski has already expressed his displeasure: “The mind boggles. In the left corner Sherlock getting involved in over the top ultra-violence and in the right corner a farting Sherlock (or would it be Watson?) with the sensitivity of an average American teenager.” He does allow that “there have been hundreds of Sherlock Holmes books written by others since Conan Doyle’s demise,” and that “Holmes has been impersonated by a legion of actors since he was first adapted for the screen.” But Holmes has also already been reinterpreted in various, er, unconventional ways that would have ruffled the feathers of the protective Sherlockians Jakubowski mentions long before Borat stepped on the scene. A few TV/movie versions that come to mind:
Darryl Zero (Bill Pullman)
The first film from Jake Kasdan (who went on to direct “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”) is essentially an update of Doyle’s story “A Scandal in Bohemia,” with Pullman as “the world’s most private detective,” a man so reclusive that he only interacts with clients by way of his assistant, played by Ben Stiller. The mysterious blackmailer and Irene Adler equivalent is played by Kim Dickens, who pulls Zero into a romance that’s definitely not part of the original text.
Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie)
House (as opposed to “Holmes,” yes?) is a surly, isolated genius who keeps to mysteries of a medical nature and prefers Vicodin to cocaine, but still has a Watson (well, Wilson) to bounce ideas off of and manages to get shot at by someone named Moriarty.
Arthur Sherlock Holmes (John Cleese)
“The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It”
Cleese’s character is technically the grandson of Holmes, pairing up with Watson’s descendant to prevent Moriarty’s offspring from destroying the world in this 1977 spoof of detective movie tropes. It’s notable mainly for a scene in which Holmes assists Watson with a crossword puzzle and ever “elementary” pun possible is unleashed: “Yellow manta ray, my dear Watson.”
Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub)
Monk’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, while played for cute, could be read as an extreme interpretation of Holmes’ attention to detail and antisocial leanings. Regardless, the character is another Holmesian brilliant but quirky detective, with a female Watson equivalent. He’s even given a parallel to Holmes’ smarter, sedentary older brother Mycroft Ambrose, played by John Turturro, an agoraphobe who writes product manuals in multiple languages, all self-taught.
Sherlock Holmes (Nicholas Rowe)
“Young Sherlock Holmes”
In Barry Levinson’s exceptionally silly movie, Watson and Holmes meet as teenagers at a boarding school, where they stumble upon an Egyptian-themed cult performing human sacrifices and shooting people with hallucinatory thorns. Moriarty is the schoolmaster, played by Anthony Higgins, who also took on the role of Holmes in 1993 TV movie “Sherlock Holmes Returns.”
Sherlock Holmes (voiced by Jason Gray-Stanford)
“Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century”
Holmes, animated, in the future. Hey, he’s restored via a new cellular rejuvenation technique! Who else is going to catch that Moriarty clone wreaking havoc on New London?
[Photos: “Zero Effect,” Columbia Pictures, 1998; “The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It,” Shearwater Films, 1977; “Young Sherlock Holmes,” Paramount Pictures, 1985]