(at around 23 mins) First feature film to have a completely CGI (computer graphics image) character: the knight coming out of the stained glass window. Industrial Light & Magic animated the scene, overseen by John Lasseter in a very early film credit for Pixar.
(at around 9 mins) When young Sherlock Holmes and John Watson first meet, Holmes incorrectly guesses that Watson's first initial stands for "James". This is a reference to one of the contradictions in the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories: in most of the stories, Watson's first name is John, but in one story, his wife inexplicably calls him "James". Watson's middle initial is "H", which Doyle never expanded on; there is a popular fan speculation that it stands for "Hamish", which is the Scottish variation of "James", and that this is a private term of endearment used by his wife.
The dog in the film, Uncus, is named after a portion of the brain associated with seizures. Seizures that develop from the uncus are often preceded by hallucinations which are a major cause of death in this film.
Actor Alan Cox, who played John Watson, went through a growth spurt during filming. In the later scenes of the film, he is seen shot more frequently in a slight distance or seated, and actors around him were standing on risers.
This movie's screenwriter Chris Columbus has said of this film in an interview with 'The New York Times': "The thing that was most important to me was why Holmes became so cold and calculating, and why he was alone for the rest of his life . . . That's why he is so emotional in the film; as a youngster, he was ruled by emotion, he fell in love with the love of his life, and as a result of what happens in this film, he becomes the person he was later".
About two years after this film debuted, a video-game was developed for the MSX platform, and was released in 1987 with the similarly titled name of "Young Sherlock: The Legacy of Doyle". The video game was made exclusively for the market in Japan hence its alternate Japanese title of "Young Sherlock: Doyle no Isan".
After having a great working relationship with Steven Spielberg on Gremlins (1984), Spielberg produced the next two films Chris Columbus scripted, The Goonies (1985), based on an idea Spielberg had, and this film, which was Columbus's idea, which altogether was two years working on three films.
The movie's closing epilogues states: "Although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not write about the very youthful years of Sherlock Holmes and did establish the initial meeting between Holmes and Dr. Watson as adults, this affectionate speculation about what might have happened has been made with respectful admiration and in tribute to the author and his endearing works". In the Conan Doyle canon, Holmes and Watson's first meeting took place in the debut novel "A Study in Scarlet", which was never adapted to the big screen.
A magnifying glass is often associated with Sherlock Holmes along with the smoking pipe and deerstalker hat. Some promotional materials for this film such as movie posters formed out of the letter "O" in the word "Holmes" an image of a circular magnifying glass together with a handle.
The picture contained a number of Dickensian type character names in the tradition of Charles Dickens. These included such Dickensian style names like Mrs. Dribb, Rupert T. Waxflatter, Master Snelgrove, Chester Cragwitch, and Bentley Bobster and the Reverend Duncan Nesbitt. The movie also features a Curio Shop - "The Old Curiosity Shop" (1841) was the name of a novel written by Dickens.
The name of the English educational institution that Holmes and Watson attend was Brompton Academy in London. According to Alan Arnold's novelization, the school is located in South Kensington and the two are both aged sixteen years.
The older Dr. Watson is played in voice-over narration by Michael Hordern, who had also played Gandalf in the BBC Radio production of The Lord of the Rings. Nicholas Rowe played Holmes once again, briefly, in Mr. Holmes (2015), in which the older Sherlock is played by Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in Peter Jackson's films.
This was the first Steven Spielberg production to take a famous character and make a new version based on an imaginative youthful invention or re-imagination of the back-story of said character. The second was The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992).
Holmes, Watson and Elizabeth watching the ritual from a hiding place is like Indy, Willy and Short Round watching the ritual of the Thuggee cult while in hiding in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), except they got caught while Holmes announces their presence to rescue a victim.
At around the one hour fifteen minute mark, the famous aphoristic Sherlock Holmes phrase, which is printed inside a framed picture, is stated: "A great detective relies on perception, intelligence and imagination".
The novelization foreshadows Chris Columbus's association with the Harry Potter series; Watson resembles Harry Potter; school experiments; Dudley's rivalry with Holmes is like Harry's with Draco Malfoy's; Dudley and Malfoy both come from rich parents; cavernous libraries; sweets; train stations; the book uses the word potty/Potter; students being injured and needing to see the school nurse; teachers and students eating in the Great Hall; Holmes and Watson solving mysteries at school while Harry, Ron and Hermione do the same at Hogwarts; staircases; Holmes and Watson/Harry creeping through a school library at night; both Watson and Hagrid say "sorry about that"; the end of school term; the threat of expulsion; no family for Harry to return to, even at Christmas, etc.
The effects of the drug make their victims complacent before the hallucinations set in. Elizabeth hallucinates her uncle burying her alive; Watson imagines the foods he's eaten trying to eat him. Holmes's stem from his unhappy childhood; in his childhood home, his parents are quarreling and his father accuses him of starting it and destroying his life, so he vows to destroy his and lunges at Holmes with a knife.
Watson believes Holmes obsesses over a case even at Christmas because unlike other boys his age, he has no family to return to, like Harry Potter or Kevin McCallister in Home Alone (1990) and scriptwriter Chris Columbus has ties to both franchises.
Watson doesn't consider himself a talented writer; he attributes his success as an author to the public fascination with Sherlock Holmes, but Holmes refers to Watson as his biographer or zealous historian. Watson sees himself as a dedicated amateur while Holmes is a surprisingly gifted amateur. Holmes didn't like Watson embellishing Holmes's solving mysteries as a series of tales. Watson later wrote up the film's events as an adult in Kensington.
Invisible ink appears in this film and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), both produced by Steven Spielberg; also, both films have a scene where the lead character or characters go to a club/tavern and someone behind a grille/slot reluctantly admits them and than violently ejects them; the exotic clientele also recalls Spielberg's Indiana Jones films. Also, both Holmes and Eddie Valiant say almost the same line, "I'm/we're on the verge of wrapping up/cracking this case".
The book says Rathe was a superman to Holmes; this may be an in-joke to Richard Donner who directed The Goonies (1985) for producer Steven Spielberg and the first two Superman movies; there is a scene in The Goonies (1985) where Sloth reveals a shirt with Superman's S on it.
The hotel built on a sacred burial ground recalls The Shining (1980) and Poltergeist (1982), but in the latter film it was done in secret, but in Holmes the village tried to put a stop to it; it also mentions the spirits will take revenge against those who defile holy ground, again like Poltergeist (1982) and The Shining (1980).
The professor's flying machine is called an ornithopter; Waxflatter left designs for a tandem-winged steam-powered ornithopter, and one was built 5yrs after his death at the Crystal Palace exhibition from his research in the novelization.
Alan Arnold consulted these book before writing the film's novelization: A Thousand Miles Up the Nile; Arabian Sands; A Search in Secret Egypt; Napoleon to Nasser; The Penguin Guide to Ancient Egypt; Flight Through the Ages; Grand Hotel - The Golden Age of Palace Hotels, etc.
Holmes keeps much gadgetry on his person, much like James Bond; Steven Spielberg is a big Bond fan. Indeed, the same year, one of the characters in The Goonies (1985) idolizes James Bond and also has a lot of inventions. The book says a view to kill, and the Bond film A View to a Kill (1985) was made the same year.
Holmes and Waxflatter were the two most cherished people in Elizabeth's life. Elizabeth's parents were Simon and Sophie Lord; they did a production of Romeo and Juliet, and while touring America they died, leaving Elizabeth an orphan. They were publicly adored but were incompatible and only stayed together for Elizabeth; they even took her with them on tour. Before they opened in Philadelphia, they went to the theatre to rehearse the balcony scene. An assistant stage manager came in and lit a candle that he didn't blow out after leaving; it was knocked over, probably by the theatre cat. It set the theatre on fire and since most of the doors were locked, Elizabeth's parents died. Waxflatter arrived 10 days later and found the 11yr old Elizabeth fretting for her parents at the theatrical lodging house; the company hadn't told Elizabeth the news, so Waxflatter said he was taking her home, and only then did she realize.
In the book, Waxflatter hallucinated gremlins sabotaging the ornithopter; this is an obvious in-joke to Gremlins (1984) made the year before, and Steven Spielberg produced all the films in the Gremlins franchise, and Chris Columbus scripted the first film as well.
Watson didn't understand Waxflatter's inventions and had a fear of heights; Peter Banning had that as well in Spielberg's Hook (1991), and Peter calls Rufio, the head of the Lost Boys a very ill-mannered young man, something Watson thinks of Holmes sometimes in the novelization.
When Alan Arnold wrote the novelization for the film, he said in his acknowledgments: "although there have been many so-called Sherlock Holmes "pastiches", no-one can make the attempt without devoting study to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. In doing so one gains a respect for them and their creator which is quite profound. I cannot adequately describe their ability to suspend one's disbelief; it is a form of magic. They are myths which linger in the consciousness. They are for handing on to new generations who inevitably become, in turn, devotees. If this narrative is held to have integrity, it will encourage the process. That thought was in the minds of the men who made the film. Along with the actors, they all respected the creator of Sherlock Holmes. I drew on other sources. Although in my youth I lived in Cairo, I was not then sufficiently mature to appreciate its wonders or to learn much about its incomparable history. My feeling throughout has been one of the deepest respect for the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for the creator as much as for his creations. I share with the purists an admiration for Holmes's qualities. One that is sometimes overlooked is that he was a Victorian and Edwardian gentleman. "We live in a utilitarian age", he once told Watson. "Chivalry is a Mediaeval conception". But, then, he was as much the great detective as he was the Mediaeval knight. That is how I think of him".
The book's mention of the Ten Commandments and the one and only God recalls the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981); the novelization also mentions the word nazil, almost like Nazi, the villains of that film.
The diary alludes to shooting a man instead of a bird, like in Moonraker (1979), like when Bond shoots a sniper while out hunting with the villain; Steven Spielberg is a huge fan of the James Bond series.
Waxflatter's inventions include a clockwork egg slicer he never got to patent; a spring-loaded device that turned the pages of a book with a timer that recorded the reader's pace and a gas-fueled bedside coffeemaker; they recall Rand Peltzer's in Gremlins (1984), also produced by Steven Spielberg and scripted by Chris Columbus.
In the novelization, Watson thought Rupert T Waxflatter was the oddest looking fellow he had ever seen. Like Da Vinci, Waxflatter's inventions are based on half-realized ideas. Waxflatter's journals mention grave robbing; Indy was accused of that in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), another Steven Spielberg production. Waxflatter's interest in aviation stemmed from the winged Pharaohs of Egypt.
This film, Gremlins (1984) and the Back to the Future trilogy were all produced by Steven Spielberg and all have eccentric inventors and madcap inventions with pet dogs, Einstein, Barney and Uncas, named after a famous leader of an Indian tribe, which was dramatized in The Last of the Mohicans (1992).
The school gym dated back to the 15th Century. Henry VIII feasted there in the 17th Century as the guest of an influential Duke and than in the 18th Century Queen Elizabeth had a rendezvous with the handsome Earl of Essex.
When Watson writes up this adventure with Holmes, it's been some time since they last saw one another. Watson nearly paid a visit to Baker Street but didn't but wondered if Holmes had changed at all in time gone by in the novelization.
Waxflatter's inventions may reflect Chris Columbus's love of James Bond style gadgetry, which crop up in other films either written or directed by him, like Gremlins (1984), The Goonies (1985), or the first two Home Alone films. Producer Steven Spielberg is also a James Bond fan and in the film's novelization it uses the words "a view to kill", made the same year as the Bond film A View to a Kill (1985).
Watching the film in 2018, some of the more graphic scenes would not seem out of place in an adult 18 Certificate cut if it was a modern version of the film, such as the Guy Ritchie versions. Considering that this movie was pitched as a "family" film at the time of original release, that makes these scenes even more disturbing 30 years later.
Curiously, in further parallels to the later Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter, some of the scenes and larger sets would not look out of place in films within either of the other 2 film universes. Not such a huge coincidence as this film also used Elstree Studios space, as did Indiana Jones, prior to the infamous studio part-demolition. Also, with Chris Columbus, in his screenwriting period here, later working on Harry Potter as a director of 2 films, as of 2018, with themes that also share certain similar story elements between Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Young Sherlock Holmes.
This film could actually be considered as a legitimate foreshadowing and or flashback prequel story to the official Conan Doyle stories, and all the films, tv, and related media versions, set decades later. The events in this film take place over a fortnight, while both the leads are still teenage boys, in between changing schools, and meet for the first time. Considering that it would then be decades later when they would (next) officially "first" meet, but as men, it is not implausible that they could have forgotten how each other appeared, with a vague memory of the name and adventure, over the years. This would also explain how they still bonded over later adventures, even though they seemed to be unknown to each other at the "first" meeting in the Conan Doyle canon, as they had a "prior history" with this film's story.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When the villain Professor Rathe checks into the inn at the end of the credits, he signs the register "Moriarty" which is the name of Sherlock Holmes' most terrifying nemesis in the Arthur Conan Doyle stories.
The copy of "Reynolds's Newspaper" detailing Bobster's suicide (the opening scene of the film) is dated Sunday December 12, 1870; Elizabeth's funeral is held on December 23 and the film closes two days later on Christmas Day, December 25, 1870 (as per Watson's "Evening News" profiling Lestrade's promotion to Inspector).
The story has two things in common with previous Holmes pastiche The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976): the young Sherlock discovers his father committing a crime; and his lasting enmity with Moriarty begins when the Professor is his boyhood teacher.
In the narration, Watson says he has only seen Holmes show grief twice; once was at the death of Waxflatter and Elizabeth's death. Holmes never shows grief in any of the novels or short stories which are set after this film when Holmes is an adult, rendering Watson's statement correct.