THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK
Not to slight any of the other fine thespians that have taken on the role, but for my money, Jeremy Brett is the definitive Sherlock Holmes of the visual medium. Brett’s portrayal is nothing short of brilliant; capturing the essence of the character created by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle and making Holmes leap off the page into vivid life. If fact, I now find it impossible to read the Conan-Doyle stories without picturing Brett in my head. Watching Brett in the role of Sherlock Holmes is a pure revelation, looking into his eyes, one can see the celebrated detective’s passion for deductive reasoning, which occasionally allows viewers to glimpse the wheels turning in the characters head. Additionally, Brett’s physicality and mannerisms in the role very subtlety suggests the complexities of the character, including everything from Holmes’ slight discomfort in close proximity to the fairer sex, to his use of cocaine to relive his ennui between cases.
All of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes mysteries were produced by Granada Television in Britain and became a main staple of PBS and cable television broadcasts for years. MPI Home Video has been releasing these episodic programs and television movies to DVD, the latest series of which is THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES features two fifty-minute programs on each volume for a retail price of $14.98. Volume 1 features the episodes The Empty House and The Abbey Grange. Volume 2 features the episodes The Second Stain and The Six Napoleons. Volume 3 features the episodes The Priory School and Wisteria Lodge.
The Empty House comes three years after Sherlock Holmes supposedly met his demise at the hands of Professor Moriarity at Reichenbach Falls. Returning to London, Holmes reveals to his biographer and friend Dr. John Watson (Edward Hardwicke) that he did not die, but allowed everyone to believe he was dead to thwart one of Moriarity‘s lieutenants. However, a recent murder, which Watson has thrust into his lap, forces Holmes out of his self imposed exile to solve the mystery and deal with the person threatening his life. The Abbey Grange finds Holmes investigating a rather brutal murder, which theft initially appears to be the motive. However, as Holmes peels back the layers, he exposes a somewhat different crime and entirely different motive.
The Second Stain is certainly one of the most intriguing episodes released in the current batch, one that finds Holmes searching for a document stolen from a high-ranking British official, which would lead to war if the contents were made public. Holmes immediately deduces that only three men in England could have been responsible for the theft, and when one of the three turns up dead- the mystery really begins. Fans of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION will get a kick out of the episode, The Six Napoleons because it features an appearance by actress Marina Sirtis. In The Six Napoleons, Holmes comes across a mystery involving a supposed madman, who has begun breaking into homes and various business establishments for the sole purpose of destroying busts of the diminutive Frenchman.
The Priory School is another very solid episode that finds Holmes investigating a mystery in which the life of a young boy hangs in the balance. Holmes is engaged by the headmaster of a private school to find a missing student, who has disappearance may be the result of a kidnapping. However, when no ransom note appears, Holmes begins to examine why the boy’s father seems to regard his privacy and the family name over the life of his son. Wisteria Lodge is another interesting mystery, this time involving a perplexed houseguest from Wisteria Lodge, who seeks out Sherlock Holmes after awakening from his night’s sleep in to find that his host and the servants have disappeared. Upon returning to Wisteria Lodge, it is learned that murder was the reason behind at least one of the disappearances, which leaves Holmes with quite a different mystery on his hands.
MPI Home Video has made Volumes 1-3 of THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES available on DVD in the proper full screen aspect ratios of their original television broadcasts. In fact, these releases appear as though they have been transcribed to DVD from vintage broadcast masters, instead of new film transfers. For this reason, I would rate the image quality of all three DVDs as problematic, at best. The image tends to be soft and lack definition, especially darker sequences, which can appear quite muddy. Some of this may be attributable to the show being shot in 16mm, like much British episodic television; although, new transfers would have made vast improvements over the present image quality. Colors are generally adequate, but I would not rate them much beyond that. Film grain is also quite noticeable, as is some poor quality authoring, which makes digital compression artifact stand out in foggy sequences, as well as in one or two instances where rapid motion appears on screen. Overall, Volumes 1-3 of THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES look pretty dreary on DVD.
While the video portion of the program fails to impress, the audio does fair much better. The soundtracks are clean and precise sounding, without any signs of distortion at moderate listening levels. Fidelity is quite decent for the track’s musical component, although certainly nowhere near present television or theatrical levels. Dialogue is always completely understandable, although there appears to be some minor synchronization errors in a couple of long shots, which I suspect are inherent in the original production of the episodes. No other language tracks are provided on the DVD, but English subtitles are present.
As I stated above, I think that Jeremy Brett is the definitive Sherlock Holmes of the visual medium. And while I certainly recommend THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES as a television series, the DVDs are nowhere as good as the show itself. I leave it to the individual to rent the DVDs before deciding upon their purchase.
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