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30 years later, the appeal of 'Young Sherlock Holmes' is more than elementary



When you think of great visual effects movies in the ‘80s, what movies come to mind? The second two Star Wars flicks. Blade Runner for sure. Maybe even Tron and The Last Starfighter. But what about Young Sherlock Holmes?

The 1985 fantasy-adventure movie about the teenage life of the soon-to-be super sleuth actually was nominated for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects - alas, it lost to Cocoon - as well as a Grammy for its score (written by Bruce Broughton). And yet, I wonder how many ‘80s fans remember this exceptional film on its 30th anniversary.

Released Dec. 4, 1985, Young Sherlock Holmes was directed by Barry Levinson and written by Chris Columbus (with Henry Winkler serving as one of its producers and Steven Spielberg serving as executive producer). The movie shows a teenage Sherlock (Nicolas Rowe) meeting John Watson (Alan Cox) at a British boarding school and then embarking on a mystery surrounding the deaths of several men who apparently have no connection to each other.

Think of Young Sherlock Holmes as an origins flick. Here, you’ll see the distinctive hat and pipe for the first time. And even the start of the phase, “Elementary!”

Critics were somewhat charmed by the attempt to glorify the detective’s youth. The movie has a 65 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Roger Ebert gave it three stars, writing: “… There is also a lot in this movie that can be traced directly to the work of Steven Spielberg, the executive producer. The teenage heroes, for example, are not only inspired by Holmes and Watson, but are cousins of the young characters in The Goonies. The fascination with lighter-than-air flight leads to a closing scene that reminded me of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. And the villain's secret temple, with its ritual of human sacrifice, was not unlike scenes in both the Indiana Jones movies.”

Here are five things you probably didn’t know about Young Sherlock Holmes, according to

1. Nigel Stock, who plays Waxflatter, previously played Doctor Watson in the 1964 version of Sherlock Holmes. Likewise, Rowe (Holmes) plays the role of “Matinee Sherlock” in the 2015 movie Mr. Holmes.

2. The scene where the stained glass knight comes to life is the first completely CGI character in a feature film. The scene took four months to create.

3. Fake snow used during the filming killed the grass at Oxford University. Spielberg reimbursed the school.

4. Writer Chis Columbus would later explain the movie’s romantic sideplot in an interview with the New York Times: “The thing that was most important to me was why Holmes became so cold and calculating, and why he was alone for the rest of his life ... That's why he is so emotional in the film; as a youngster, he was ruled by emotion, he fell in love with the love of his life, and as a result of what happens in this film, he becomes the person he was later.”

5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not write about his character’s youth, and so the film took great caution to remind viewers that Young Sherlock Holmes was intended as a tribute to the author. An epilogue at the movie’s conclusion reads: “Although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not write about the very youthful years of Sherlock Holmes and did establish the initial meeting between Holmes and Dr. Watson as adults, this affectionate speculation about what might have happened has been made with respectful admiration and in tribute to the author and his endearing works.”

[Last modified: Monday, December 7, 2015 11:06am]


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