Blast from the Past–Think you’ve seen enough of the BBC’s Sherlock?

While we’re waiting around to find out if we’ll see more of the BBC’s Sherlock, here’s something worth watching.  This weekend Benedict Cumberbatch posted on Facebook a link to the unaired pilot for the series.  If you’re a diehard fan, here’s a way to catch a different look at the beginning of Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman’s John Watson as they created the chemistry the show is celebrated for across the globe.

“A Study in Pink” was re-shot from the 2009 pilot, tightening up bits and pieces only slightly and in subtle ways so you may think you notice a big difference from the version that first aired in the U.S. on October 24, 2010.  It’s been available on the DVD and Blu-ray releases, but only now has the show’s star pointed out the availability of the free streaming version.  This version never aired in the U.K. and wasn’t part of the original airings on PBS in the States.

This early poster shows the look of the actors you’ll find in the pilot:

The now familiar music wasn’t yet integrated in such a boisterous manner.  Mark Gatiss’s Mycroft Holmes–and any reference to Moriarty–are both absent from the unaired pilot.  Cumberbatch’s first run at Sherlock seems to be more cheery, charismatic, slightly less blunt than the version that ended up in the series. 

Or is it?

Watch the original pilot, streaming free now on Vimeo:

In fact, put aside the absence of Mycroft, and the tightening of a couple clues to the murders–a crime scene coat here but not there, positioning Watson to Sherlock’s left in one version and right in the other–and the scene structure, story, and dialogue are nearly identical.  The real difference?  Cumberbatch’s short hair vs. big hair in the aired version, and pale make-up instead of standard screen make-up reflect a colder Sherlock, and Freeman is wearing sweaters in the aired version that make him more likeable.

Harold Ramis once mentioned how simple things like the choice of one word could mean everything to a scene, using as an example inserting the word “Fresca” in a line of dialogue by Ted Knight in Caddyshack to change something mundane: “Can I get you a Coke?” to something funny: “Can I get you a Fresca?”  Comparing two nearly identical episodes of television becomes its own study in film technique.  Hundreds of commenters lambasted the unaired pilot on Cumberbatch’s thread, some calling it “horrible” or “terrible,” yet it’s substantially the same episode.  Those subtle updates, by creator/showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, simply but expertly make the final version better.

C.J. Bunce

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