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The Hound Of The Baskervilles

Posted by acdtest on January 20, 2003

The Hound Of The Baskervilles — No, Really

watched the PBS Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles last night. Well, it was sort of like Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. OK, a little like Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. I mean, it did retain the title, most of the incidents, and almost all the characters. Against that, however, the writer and producer of this adaptation felt the need to invent new incidents (one of which — I kid you not — they lifted straight from the 1939 Hollywood movie version of the Hound), and pretty much rob the characters of all their Doylesque charm. In short, the production was thoroughly vapid with nothing to recommend it except the (presumably) Devonshire locations which were appropriately Dartmoory-foggy, and deliciously and darkly spooky.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is perhaps the quintessential Sherlock Holmes tale. It has, in a single novella-length story, just about everything that makes the tales of the Sherlockian canon so magical: A rich 19th-century-England ambience, a nifty puzzle mystery to solve with lots of opportunity for demonstrations of Holmes’s deductive reasoning (this tale — the only one in the canon — with a generous dollop of the supernatural added), great plotting and dialogue, wonderfully weird or quirky secondary characters (that is, weird or quirky by 19th century standards), and of course Holmes and Watson and their relationship, the centerpiece of all the tales.

With all that going for it, one would imagine an adaptor would by and large have it made, and need but choose the right actors for the parts, make a few dialogue adjustments and additions, do some small adjusting and rearranging of scene details, and Voilà!; a first-rate and engaging adaptation.

That’s what one would imagine, but apparently not these adaptors. These adaptors saw fit, for instance, to make the famously tall, slender, and hawk-faced Holmes a man of average height and build, and pleasant of countenance (and had him doing his cocaine thing in situations in which Holmes wouldn’t even think of shooting up); Watson, the consummately solid bourgeois Englishman, a weaselly-looking wisp of a man who would be better cast as one of Doyle’s villains; and the relationship between the two a relationship of equals rather than the endearing master and acolyte of the original.

Fit also saw these adaptors to chuck the signature opening Baker Street scene which sets the tone and provides the jumping off place for this tale as it does for most of the tales, and introduce in its place a concocted prologue that not only does nothing to enhance either story or suspense, but blunts the very strangeness that sets this tale apart from all others in the canon.

I could go on, but simply don’t have the heart for it. There was so much fundamentally wrong with this production that minute by minute one fought the urge to just switch it off by hoping, hope against hope, that the next scene would finally put things back on track, and in some way redeem what had gone before.

Never happened.

Too bad — and coming from a Brit crew, unforgivable.

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