“[Sherlock’s] impact on real-life criminal and forensic investigation.”
How Sherlock Changed the World is a bit of a misnomer. The documentary doesn’t tackle Holmes’ sphere of influence across every single facet of the modern world but rather keeps it narrowed down to one manageable aspect. The two-part, nearly two hour documentary is about how fictional detective Sherlock Holmes impacted the realms of criminal and forensic investigations.
Blood evidence, bullets and ballistics, fingerprints, footprints, poisonings…all this and more are pretty much old hat to anyone who investigates crimes and likewise to those of us who favor the crime drama procedural. So learning the history of some of these techniques helps craft an additional fascination with the subject of forensics, and it’s here where How Sherlock Changed the World shines.
The intriguing thing is how all of the claims of Holmes’ impact are backed up by accounts of real-life cases. Sure there are the reenactments, interviews and the typical fare we’re used to seeing in a documentary like this, especially one produced for PBS, a leader in the “education as entertainment” sub-genre of television. But being shown concrete real world examples of just how revolutionary author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was when he crafted the character of Sherlock Holmes is what cements the thesis and elevate the disc to a level above what it would have been otherwise.
Those looking for a glimpse of famous actors who’ve portrayed the pipe-smoking detective will have to settle for brief glimpses of Benedict Cumberbatch from the BBC America’s wildly popular Sherlock. Otherwise, no other notable Sherlocks grace the disc. But that’s okay because this is part history lesson and part science lesson, not a disc devoted to the character of Sherlock Holmes overall.
How Sherlock Changed the World has but one fault, really. Nearly every person interviewed refers to Sherlock Holmes as if he is a real person who does these amazing things, pretty much overshadowing the true genius behind not only this disc but Sherlock himself, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The writer’s shadow does get a bit lightened as we learn about his tale in conjunction with Sherlock Holmes’ own backstory, but there is still not enough lauding of the author for my tastes.
This disc presents real-world applications of what was once only fictional theory in a fun and engaging way. Fans of Sherlock Holmes and forensic science will not be disappointed with this disc at all.
No issues at all with the technical aspects. The 2.40:1 anamorphic video transfer boasts a clean and consistently natural palette and the reenactments, interviews, and historical footage all blend well together without noticeable gaps in video quality. The Dolby 2.0 audio track is perhaps a bit soft but there’s nothing taxing the system to really betray its use over, say, a 5.1 track.
There are no special features.
I enjoyed How Sherlock Changed the World. Once you adjust your expectations beyond the grandeur of the title, what remains is an engaging and educational look into the earliest days of forensics. Blending the mythical hero who helped create a whole new way of pursuing criminals with the real man whose passion for the subject indeed changed the world makes this disc easy to recommend.