Guy Ritchie came to Comic-Con International to promote his crackling London crime film “RocknRolla” (which, he told me, reflects the shifting cultural definitions in the U.K. these days and “the changing meaning in just the past five years of what it means to be British), but I really wanted to hear about his Sherlock Holmes project, which will star Robert Downey Jr. as Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic sleuth.
“I’m very excited about it, Robert is brilliant,” Ritchie said. “I came to the character through the books when I was young and what the film will reflect is the intelligence on the page and also the action. There’s quite a lot of intense action sequences in the stories; sometimes that hasn’t been reflected in the movies. it’s been a relatively long time since there’s been a film version that people embraced. I want to make a very contemporary film as far as the tone and texture. It’s exciting for me to do a period piece, that’s a departure.”
Ritchie said his Holmes will be a man of adventure in a gritty world, not a prim thinker in staid parlor play. “There’s a darkness to the movie we want to make,” said Ritchie, who will be adapting Lionel Wigram’s upcoming comic book tale about Holmes as opposed to the classic canon.
And what about “The Gamekeeper,” Ritchie’s foray into comic books? “I still plan to make that a film but, well, I’m quite busy right now.”
I interviewed the filmmaker last year about “The Gamekeeper.” You can find that after the jump.
— Geoff Boucher
Photo: Basil Rathbone left, as Sherlock Holmes, and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson in 1939’s “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” (Los Angeles Times archival photo)
Lock, stock and `Gamekeeper’
By Geoff Boucher
May 15, 2007
Two years ago, filmmaker Guy Ritchie went to see “Sin City” – and he’s still talking about it. “I was very jealous. That,” he said, “was the only movie in about six years that I wished I had something to do with.”
To Ritchie, “Sin City” showed the true potential of the graphic novel-as-cinema, and it has changed his own approach to his art.
That’s why the man who memorably energized the British film scene with “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” is now putting his name on “Guy Ritchie’s Gamekeeper,” a comic series from Virgin Comics, a company that was launched in 2005 by Richard Branson and Deepak Chopra, among others.
Ritchie said Monday that the endeavor is no lark; it’s the first step in a career plan to use comics to shape and launch his films.
“Just like with ‘Sin City’ or ‘300,’ the comic is it, it’s the storyboard for the film,” Ritchie said. He added that this approach is already paying off: He said a deal to adapt “Gamekeeper” to the screen was close to being final after a flurry of interest even before the series launched in late March.
“The irony is there has been more interest in this from movie studios than anything I ever did before,” Ritchie said with a chuckle.
“Gamekeeper” is the story of a brooding Chechen hunter named Brock who stumbles upon Russian agents torturing a foreigner. Brock’s intervention leads directly to the violent death of his own son and, as the series begins, the haunted father is the gamekeeper on a vast estate in Scotland where he culls the deer, wards off poachers and protects an employer with a secret tied to that earlier bloodshed in the Caucasus Mountains.
Ritchie said his rough-hewn, survivalist character recalled Rambo -– “There are some similarities to ‘First Blood,’ but it’s a more sophisticated story” -– but he is also imprinted with the real-life gamekeeper employed by Ritchie and his wife, Madonna, on their estate in Dorset, in rural southwest England.
“His family have been the gamekeepers on this estate for 300 years,” Ritchie said. “There are not a lot of jobs that last 300 years.”
Ritchie’s gamekeeper has a thick country accent but he also “reads encyclopedias” and has an intuitive understanding of nature that the filmmaker said carried an almost mystical allure to anyone immersed in modern urban life.
“Natural mysteries speak to us,” Ritchie said. “They are hard-wired into all of us but most of us haven’t tapped into it because they hold no currency in the world we live in.”
One thing that has increasing currency in pop culture today is comics. Ritchie is not the only one noticing. Novelist Stephen King, BET President Reginald Hudlin, “Clerks” director Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame and bestselling author Brad Meltzer are just some of the recent creative minds to experiment with stories in the comics sector.
Some of these projects have comics fans wondering how much the famous name is really involved beyond lending his celebrity. Ritchie said that in his case, the collaboration with writer Andy Diggle and artist Mukesh Singh has been much like his work in the past with screenwriters, cinematographers and others who help realize the final vision of a film.
The big difference between the two mediums?
“After making films, comics are dramatically speedy and extremely pleasant,” said Ritchie, whose recent films have not been as well-received as his 1998 breakthrough with “Lock, Stock.”
“Gamekeeper” was originally planned as a five-issue story arc (a digital version of the series so far can be viewed and downloaded at www.virgincomics.com) but Ritchie made it clear Monday that the tale will go on past that.
“As it’s evolved as a story and as my knowledge of this has evolved,” he said, “I can say there’s more to come.”