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Parallels In 'Sherlock Holmes,' 'Imaginarium' Diverge


From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

SIEGEL: "Sherlock Holmes" and "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus." Our critic Bob Mondello says one has mystery, the other has magic, and both have Jude Law.

BOB MONDELLO: Jude Law is just the start of the parallels. Both also feature midgets, 19th century atmospherics, near-identical establishing shots of St. Paul's Cathedral - probably means I shouldn't have seen them on the same day. But it's not as if anyone would ever confuse them. "Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" is elegant and weird, whereas "Sherlock Holmes" is rock-em-sock-em and loud.


MONDELLO: (As Irene Adler) My God!

MONDELLO: (Dr. John Watson) Holmes, where are you going?

MONDELLO: Guy Ritchie, who usually directs sense-assaulting gangster flicks, tackles a detective franchise known for brain-teasing clues by turning Sherlock Holmes into an action hero, and his story into a cross between "The Da Vinci Code" and "Fight Club," complete with both the former's pentagrams and the latter's extreme boxing matches. Didn't know Sherlock Holmes could box? Well, as played by Robert Downey Jr., he's a regular prizefighter, mostly so that when our arrival pugilists spits at him, the director can freeze the action and let his super sleuth analyze how to pulverize the guy.


MONDELLO: (As Sherlock Holmes) First, distract target. Then block his blind jab. Counter with cross to left cheek, then attempt wild haymaker, weaken right jaw. In summary, ears ringing, jaw fractured, three ribs cracked, four broken, diaphragm hemorrhaging, physical recovery six weeks, full psychological recovery six months, capacity to spit at back of head, neutralized.

MONDELLO: Then the director shows it in real time.


MONDELLO: Also featured are a gorgeous girl, an indecipherable but presumably nefarious plot, a villain who comes back from the dead, a chase up a still- under-construction tower bridge, and Jude Law's amusingly annoyed Dr. Watson.


MONDELLO: (Dr. John Watson) I've never complained. When do I complain about you practicing the violin at 3 in the morning or your mess, your general lack of hygiene or the fact that you steal my clothes?

MONDELLO: Call it a pumped-up, anachronistically modern Sherlock Holmes for the attention-deficit crowd. "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," on the other hand is deliberately old-fashioned, the story of an aging storyteller magician who has a magic mirror you can pop through to another world. Dr. Parnassus, played by Christopher Plummer, also has a pact with the devil, played by Tom Waits - a pact that is, shall we say, alarming.


MONDELLO: (As Dr. Parnassus) Tell me what you want...

MONDELLO: The devil has already won the magician's daughter in a previous bet. But he offers Dr. Parnassus a chance to save her using his imaginarium. Whoever gets the first five souls to cross over, wins.


MONDELLO: (As Dr. Parnassus) The first five? No tricks?

MONDELLO: (As Mr. Nick) No.

MONDELLO: (As Dr. Parnassus) No cheating?

MONDELLO: (As Mr. Nick) No cheating.

MONDELLO: (As Dr. Parnassus) I say yes, deal.

MONDELLO: It's a high-stakes deal, with the magician's daughter in the balance, played out in a lot of trips through that looking glass to a fabulously digitized fantasy world - also played out through one very deft bit of movie magic involving the late Heath Ledger. Ledger plays a con man who leads folks into the mirror and the imaginarium's dreamscape. The character is pretty central and when Ledger died before he could shoot his fantasy sequences, director Terry Gilliam had to scramble to preserve his final performance. The scenes on the reality side of the mirror had been completed. So, now when Ledger pops into the mirror, out the other side, in an identical white suit, pops Jude Law or Colin Farrell or Johnny Depp.


MONDELLO: I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.