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Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” films shine on Ultra 4K

Updated: Jun 26, 2021


(1) In the reimagined “Sherlock Holmes” right, Robert Downey Jr. plays the eccentric, athletic, and extremely intelligent Sherlock Holmes and British actor Jude Law plays the loyal Dr. John Watson. (2) Two years later, Downey and Law reunite for “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.”

(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2009; PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material; Digital via Amazon Prime Video, Apple (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere, Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: “Behind the Story: Sherlock Holmes: Reinvented” featurette


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2011; PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material; Digital via Amazon Prime Video, Apple (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere, Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: The seven-part “Focus Points”

ALL I CAN say, it’s about time Warner Brothers!

The studio finally released Guy Ritchie’s highly successful “Sherlock Holmes” (2009) and “Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows” (2011) on 4K disc. The two films have been available in 4K with HDR10 and Dolby Vision on digital platforms since early 2018. I purchased them on iTunes in February that year as a two-picture bundle for under $20. But honestly, I never watched them.

That’s the downside of digital buying, you are much more willing to let the movies set in the dark caverns of your digital library and collect dust – especially if it was an impulse purchase because of the lesser price.

But, when you buy a physical copy and it arrives from Amazon or you picked it up at Best Buy or Target you’re more invested into the purchase. Yes it’s more costly, but the disc is implanted into your consciousness leading to a greater chance of watching the movie sooner. Just the simple task of breaking the plastic shrink wrap on the case puts you into the right mindset. Before you know it, the menu screen appears, waiting for you to select PLAY!

(1) Lord Blackwood prepares a satanic ritual for a young woman. (2) Holmes and Watson stop the murder just before Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade makes the arrest. (3) Mrs. Hudson (Geraldine James) the landlady of 221B Baker Street. (4) Watson arranged a dinner with his fiancée Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly) and Holmes, which turns into a disaster.


So what was Warner’s inevitable driving force for the Sherlock 4K discs unveiling? The best guess would be the theatrical arrival of the third installment, penciled in to hit theaters in late 2021. Robert Downey Jr. will return as the master sleuth and Jude Law as sidekick Dr. John Watson – that’s if the production can get off the ground with COVID-19 still lurking and causing mayhem.

During the first Ritchie installment, a string of brutal murders terrorizes Victorian London. Holmes and Watson find themselves hot on the trail of Satanic Lord Blackwood played by Mark Strong. The duo captures the villain – with late assistance from Scotland Yard – just before the sixth ritual killing of a young woman. Three months later, Watson pronounces the death of Blackwood after being sentenced to death by hanging, but the next day he’s apparently risen from the dead.

Rachel McAdams plays Irene Adler, a onetime character in Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels, who’s portrayed as a world-class thief, and the only woman to touch Holmes’ heart. Kelly Reilly plays Mary Morstan, a governess, who becomes Watson’s fiancée.

With a production budget of $90 million, “Sherlock Holmes” opened in the U.S. on Christmas Day. A month later it received two Oscar nominations for Original Score by Hans Zimmer and its fabulous Art Direction. Worldwide receipts were very strong topping $524 million, landing at No. 8 in the top moneymakers of the year.

(1-3) The slow-motion sequences were captured on a high-speed Phantom 1080p camera, which has an apparent softer look. (4) After the slow-motion, the action returns with the gritty 35mm film stock and greater clarity.

One of the elaborate CGI River Thames backdrops of London.


Two years later the second installment “A Game of Shadows” ups the ante with nonstop action, and a $125 million budget, with the worldwide gross increasing to $544 million. The film is based on Doyle’s “The Final Problem,” in which he tries to kill his Holmes through his arch-nemesis Professor James Moriarty played by Jared Harris.

Watson and Mary are about to get married, with Holmes at the best man. At the bachelor party only Sherlock and his quirky brother Mycroft Holmes, played by Stephen Fry, show up. Holmes has neglected to notify Watson’s friends. A Gypsy fortuneteller, Madam Simza Heron played by Noomi Rapace, promises intrigue and adventure.

This connects to Moriarty, who catches Irene Adler in his web as he plans to become the biggest arms deals in pre-WWI Europe.


The enclosed decade-old Blu-ray holds all of the original extras. Find one where Ritchie and Downey reveal how they reimagined Sherlock Holmes, conceived by writer and medical doctor Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887. “What we’ve tried to do is take him back to his origin. He was essentially a more visceral character, more of an adventurer,” Ritchie says. The new Holmes is half action hero – similar to super-secret agent Jason Bourne – and all-genius like Downey’s most famous role, Tony Stark/Iron Man. Ritchie keeps Holmes’ pipe-smoking and obnoxious-intellectual loner for Downey as the actor becomes the 22nd actor to play the detective onscreen.

During the featurette “Reinvented,” Ritchie recalls how at age 6 he learned of the 221B Baker Street detectives while attending a U.K. boarding school. “If you were good, they used to play Sherlock Homes stories piped into our room, and if you were bad they would switch it off.” Writer/producer Lionel Wigram imagined a different Holmes as he read the classic tales, to what he saws on screen. “The mental image is a short-haired, clean-shaven, stiffly starched guy with the deerstalker hat and the pipe and all that kind of stuff,” he says. Over the years, Holmes had become “this rather posh, homogenized individual. The quintessential lofty toff,” Ritchie says.

The new productions are much larger than the previous versions, with elaborate and sophisticated CGI backdrops working in concert with Richie’s unique style of filmmaking. That’s “modern, kinetic and fun,” says Wigram.

During the seven-part Focus Point featurette on “A Game of Shadows’” Blu-ray, Wigram details Moriarty’s importance to the novels and films. He’s “sort of Holmes’ dark twin. He’s very much a match, because he is equally intelligent.” The character hides away in the university environment, a “least-likely villain,” Ritchie says. Moriarty is the iconic evil genius villain, so for Harris, the biggest challenge was to avoid clichés. “[The story has] been copied so many times. And it’s been parodied by Mike Myers as Dr. Evil,” in the Austin Powers’ films he says. “In creating this supervillain, he has to equal Holmes in every way…we played around early with this chess metaphor,” producer Susan Downey, wife to Robert Jr., says. Staying authentic to the books was a priority. “Holmes needs Moriarty as much as Moriarty needs Holmes,” Ritchie insists.

(1) Blackwood is sentenced to death and requests to see Holmes from his prison cell. (2) Dr. Watson pronounces Blackwood dead, with Inspector Lestrade observing. (3) Rachel McAdams plays Irene Adler, an American thief, and Holmes’ love interest. (4) Holmes and Watson find Blackwood’s tomb destroyed from the inside out, plus a missing man’s body found inside Blackwood’s coffin. (5) Holmes survives the attack from Dredger (Robert Maillet), a seven-foot Frenchman, and henchman to Lord Blackwood.



“Sherlock Holmes” (1.85:1 aspect ratio) and “A Game of Shadows” (2.39:1 ratio) were both captured by two moving 35mm film cameras by Oscar-winning French cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, allowing the actors to ad-lib and improvise. The slow-motion action sequences are the only exception, and were filmed on a high-speed Phantom HD camera in 1080p. Both were mastered in 2K for the abundance of CGI environments, and the savings of post-production rendering time. Here the upconverted 4K imagery extracts a nice wash of Super 35 natural film grain, more evident than what’s exhibited on the decade-old Blu-rays. Overall charity on both 4K discs is excellent, a click or two over the HD versions.

The HDR10 (disc & digital) and Dolby Vision (digital) is where we see the biggest difference, each giving new meaning to deep dark black levels. It accentuates the gritty and desaturated palette of London and its waterfront shipyard, and constructed Tower Bridge during the first film. While the British countryside, Paris and Iceland, the backdrops in the second installment, get a slight increase in saturated colors.


Both 4K discs recycle the same six-channel DTS HD soundtrack featured on the previous Blu-rays, which begs the question why not a Dolby Atmos upgrade? Still, the fidelity is wide and powerful – especially with Zimmer’s excellent score. It’s one of his best with plenty of musical twists and turns with a full symphonic orchestra, and ethic music played with organic gypsy violin, accordion and banjo. The dialogue is front and center, but Downey’s soft-spoken British accent is sometimes a strain to understand.

Overall, both 4K discs are a welcome upgrade giving Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes franchise the visual drama he intended.

Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”

(1) A series of terrorist bombings hit Europe. (2) In one of his disguises, Holmes finds Irene Adler delivering a package to Dr. Karl Hoffmanstahl, who’s expecting her at London’s Cromwell & Griff auction-house. (3&4) Holmes announces to the crowd "Fire!"




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