An enjoyable guilty pleasure from 1985, Barry Levinson’s Young Sherlock Holmes is a speculation on how the famous sleuth and his companion John Watson met, prior to their first adventure investigating blow-dart related deaths and a menacing Egyptian cult. Nicholas Rowe and Alan Cox (son of Brian) star as Holmes and Watson respectively, with support from Sophie Ward and Anthony Higgins. Faithful to Arthur Conan Doyle’s pipe-smoking, horse and carriage milieu while also adding a dash of executive producer Steven Spielberg’s adventure horror, by far the greatest aspect of the film is its terrific score by perennially overlooked composer, Bruce Broughton.
Rising to prominence that same year with grand western adventure Silverado, Broughton has sadly disappeared off the scene in recent years. If the thematic richness and blistering action of Young Sherlock is anything to go by, Broughton should be the only choice to score the next Harry Potter. It’s a magnificent blend of intrigue, romance, high adventure and terror, fulfilling all the objectives of truly great soundtracks without ever feeling by-the-numbers. Indeed, one of the truly great things about the score is how potent Broughton’s own musical voice is. Tonally, it perhaps resembles Jerry Goldsmith’s efforts in the genre, especially in the aggressive, uncompromising action cues but then the score is easily good enough to surpass anything by either Goldsmith or John Williams. Shamefully, the CD history is as spotty as that of Hollywood hiring Broughton for quality projects. Released traditionally on LP and cassette, the only full versions of the score have been floating around as bootlegs.
The opening hallucination/gamecock/burning room sequence is scored impeccably by Broughton, belying the fact it is a score for a family film, all horrific brass and choppy strings. Then we segue into the main theme, a lively flute and fiddle-led melody for Holmes himself, full of intricacy and buoyancy in representing his analytical mind. It’s a delightful piece, rising to spirited levels on several occasions. It’s also reprised frequently throughout the album, giving the score consistency in spite of the plethora of other motifs flying about. The theme’s malleability means it can be shaped both as a love theme for Holmes and Elizabeth and an action piece. The instrumental make-up is also very clever, Broughton leaving the bulk of the score to strings and woodwind, generating a classical, old-world atmosphere, while reserving the brass largely for the louder sections.
Other moments of terror include that for the infamous stained glass knight, a distinctly Herrmann-esque piece, and the death of Holmes’ mentor Waxflatter in the antique store, a highly disturbing track full of shrieking woodwinds. However, these stand-alone pieces gradually give way to a more creeping sense of dread in the form of the main villains theme, the Ram-I-Tep. It’s a cavernous Gothic chant, praising the evil deity at the heart of the mystery, clearly drawing on Williams’ Temple of Doom soundtrack from the year before but integrated much more effectively as a leitmotif in the action material.
The latter is perhaps the score’s greatest attribute, Broughton generating enormous force out of the Sinfonia of London Orchestra. When coupled with instrumental creativity, huge brass work and frequent inclusions of both the Ram-I-Tep and Holmes themes, one can only imagine how well the composer would have fared on higher profile projects. As it stands, Young Sherlock Holmes is inarguably one of the finest adventure scores ever written, if not the finest, reflecting an excellent composer at his peak who should have gone on to a far more glittering career. Perhaps Hollywood will eventually see the error of its ways but it needs saying again: give him Harry Potter!
The album itself is very difficult to find but you may be able to track down a few copies on the web, or individual MP3 tracks such as "Waxing Elizabeth" which we were able to find. Meanwhile here are the links to the film DVD to get the full experience:
The original soundtrack double-album was re-released by Intrada in 2002, with the following track listing: