Film: Young Sherlock Holmes

A 1985 mystery/adventure film directed by Barry Levinson, produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus, and based on the classic characters of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. An admittedly non-canonical What If? story, it depicts a young Sherlock Holmes and John Watson meeting and solving a mystery together at a boarding school.

It was the first film produced by Amblin Entertainment to receive a PG-13 rating, and notable for including the first fully computer-generated character: a knight composed of elements from a stained glass window. The effect was created by Lucasfilm's John Lasseter, who is now chief creative officer at Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios. The SFX earned the film an Academy Award nomination, and was beaten by Cocoon.

This film is an example of:

  • Already Met Everyone
  • Bittersweet Ending: The two heroes win the day, but Elizabeth dies.
  • Blow Gun: An assassin uses a blowgun to shoot darts tipped with a hallucinogenic drug.
  • Boarding School
  • Chekhov's Gun: Professor Waxflatter's flying machine. We're shown several unsuccessful attempts to make it work early in the movie as some sort of Running Gag that stops halfway through the film. Then Holmes uses it to gain up on Ehtar as he flees with Elizabeth.
  • Dawson Casting: Nicholas Rowe, who plays Sherlock Holmes, is several years older than most of the other actors playing students. This was probably intentional to give Holmes his necessary height and appearance of superior intellect.
  • Disney Villain Death: Rathe falls into a frozen river. He survives to become Moriarty.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Holmes and Watson go to school together. For more, see The Stinger.
  • The Eyes Have It: The scene where the knight in the stained-glass window leaps down to do combat with the poor priest. Notable because it is specifically later revealed, like other deaths in the film, to be caused by a hallucinogenic drug. What the priest saw was in fact all in his mind, but since it made him flee the church and run under the wheels of a moving carriage, he still ended up just as dead.
  • Flanderization: This film does use the Flanderized version of Watson who's overweight and rather clueless, but it's somewhat justified by being Watson as a schoolboy. Presumably he's got years (and a stint in the military) yet to grow into the more fit and savvy Watson the original was. And in the end, Watson narrates that this first adventure with Holmes is part of what helped him go from a weak, easily frightened boy to a man.
  • Follow the Leader: From two different ends.
    • What does Harry Potter have to do with Young Sherlock Holmes? A lot, actually!
    • From the other end, Young Sherlock Holmes takes its cues from Indiana Jones - so much so that the UK release was called Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear.
    • From the MAD satire "Young Sureschlock Homely":
    Indiana Jones: Hmm, this scene seems familiar, but not the dialogue! Am I in the right movie, Mr. Spielberg?
    Steven Spielberg: Go back a few pages, Indy - Fool Of The Nile needs you more than Sureschlock!
  • Force Feeding: The sequence where John Watson hallucinates that his legs are bound with sausages and that pastries are trying to force him to eat them. On YouTube here.
  • Freudian Excuse: For both Holmes' detective career (see Troubled Backstory Flashback) and being a bachelor (his first love dies).
  • Fright Death Trap: The Run To Your Doom variety is used frequently in Young Sherlock Holmes, as several elder gentlemen who pissed off the wrong Egyptian cult as younger men are drugged with blow-darts, causing them to see terrifying hallucinations and run into traffic, leap out 3rd story windows, etc.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: After Chester Cragwitch is affected by a hallucinogenic drug that causes violent and self-destructive actions, Holmes tries to talk him down by reminding him of his name and that he's a banker.
  • I'm Going for a Closer Look: While exploring the hidden temple.
  • In the Hood: The killer conceals their identity by wearing a large hooded cloak.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Professor Waxflatter is more eccentric than mad, but his daughter is quite beautiful.
  • Mummy Wrap: The evil cult featured in the movie does this as part of some sacrificial rite.
  • Mushroom Samba: The peculiar way the victims are killed.
  • Mythology Gag: Plenty of them.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Lestrade knocks out a drugged Chester Cragwitch to prevent him from strangling Holmes.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: When the gargoyle in the shop starts to animate, its eyes glow red.
  • Running Gag: Watson's guesses about the color of a bear from a house with an all-southern view. It's white, a polar bear.
  • Sequel Hook: The Stinger reveals that one of the characters in the film would eventually become Professor Moriarty. Shame that there was no sequel (beyond the books, of course), because the flick wasn't that bad.
  • Sherlock Scan: A school-aged Watson transfers to a new boarding school and meets Holmes for the first time. Holmes deduces Watson's name, home county, father's occupation, and Watson's love of writing and pastries. He only gets Watson's name wrong (he guesses James instead of John) because he only saw "J. Watson" on Watson's luggage and decided to go with a common name starting with J (John would have been his second guess). The mistake with the name is likely a reference to The Man with the Twisted Lip, in which Watson's wife refers to him as James, a mistake that has confounded Holmes scholars for decades.
  • Sdrawkcab Alias: The villain Eh Tar uses the alias of Professor Rathe for his cover job at Brompton Academy. Watson even spells this out towards the end of the film as a "very important clue."
  • Spinoff Babies: A pastiche supposedly telling the early life of Holmes and Watson when they first met as teens — and apparently before Holmes figured out how to solve crimes by logical deduction. (Unlike most examples, it's actually quite good.)
  • Taking the Bullet: Poor Elizabeth.
  • The Stinger: The end credits are played over a sleigh going through a snow-covered forest. As the credits end, someone gets out of the sleigh and checks into the hotel. We see him signing in under the name Moriarty. As the camera pans up, Moriarty is revealed to be Ehtar/Rathe, the villain, who survived the fall into the river.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: Holmes' drugged hallucination starts out as one of these, with his father yelling at him while his mother weeps in the background. It's implied that Sherlock's snooping uncovered Holmes Sr.'s affair or other transgression, breaking his mother's heart and earning his father's wrath.
  • What If?: The movie begins with a disclaimer explaining that it's a "What If" story, and the end credits similarly start with an acknowledgement that it wouldn't fit in with the official Holmes canon.