Wednesday, January 30, 2013

TV Review: Attenborough's Life Stories - Episode # 2 - Understanding the Natural World


Meerkat David Attenborough's Life Stories Episode 2 Understanding the Natural World PBS Nature
Sir David Attenborough with a Meerkat
In this episode, David Attenborough takes a closer look at how science helps us to understand the world better.

We first meet the Austrian scientist, Konrad Lorenz. Konrad was a pioneer in the field of imprinting. He studied geese and published the book “King Solomon’s Ring” in 1952.

David gets to experience firsthand the effect of imprinting in geese. The close up shots of geese flying right next to David are simply stunning. They are in my humble opinion, the best shots in this episode.

Konrad Lorenz David Attenborough's Life Stories Episode 2 Understanding the Natural World PBS Nature
Konrad Lorenz 
The concept of imprinting also works on animals including human beings.

We also learn that animals have a well-developed set of communication signs. For example, among vervet monkeys the signal used to alert the approach of a python is different from that used for a bird of prey.

Birds have different types of courtship rituals. In some species, males make astounding physical displays to impress females. In another species, male birds collect beautiful leaves, stones and fruits.

Jane Goodall David Attenborough's Life Stories Episode 2 Understanding the Natural World PBS Nature
Jane Goodall, renowned primatologist
We then meet West African chimpanzees that are renowned for their nut cracking abilities. Human beings share 98% of their DNA with Chimps. Chimpanzees are omnivores and use complex hunting technique to catch their prey.

Another interesting aspect is that Chimpanzees communities each have their own cultures, much similar to human communities.

This is another gem from the veteran naturalist. Recommended to fans of natural history.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

RIP Sidney Paget - The man who brought Sherlock Holmes to vivid life


Sidney Paget drawings Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle


Sidney Edward Paget passed away on this day in 1908.

Arthur Conan Doyle was an expert wordsmith and a master storyteller. His timeless stories featuring the Great Detective were further embellished with Paget’s superb drawings.



Paget created the iconic image of Sherlock Holmes wearing the deerstalker cap and the Inverness Cape. Conan Doyle did describe Holmes’ physicality in A Study in Scarlet but never mentioned these specifics.

Sherlock Holmes deerstalker cap inverness cape sidney paget arthur conan doyle


As the famous proverb goes: “A picture is worth a thousand words”.

In addition to Sherlock Holmes, Paget also brought two other major characters memorably to life: Professor Moriarty and Mycroft Holmes.

Professor Moriarty Mycroft Holmes Sidney Paget drawings Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle


RIP Sidney.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

TV Review: Attenborough's Life Stories - Episode # 1 - Life on Camera


David Attenborough's Life Stories - Episode # 1 - Life on Camera - PBS Nature

From land animals to small insects to birds to natural phenomena to even Human DNA, Sir David Attenborough has seen and studied them all. He truly is a living legend.

This is the first of the 3 part series (PBS Nature). In this episode, David Attenborough gives us a walk-through the constantly evolving technical aspects of wildlife film making.

David’s sense of humor shines throughout the episode. David is humble enough to focus on the nature and history of wildlife film making.

David was 8 years old when he saw his first wildlife film, Dassan by Cherry Kearton in 1934. Thus began his lifelong fascination with natural history.

David’s first film was Zoo Quest for a Dragon made in 1956. David is headed with his crew to Komodo Island to shoot the famous inhabitant: Komodo Dragon. David shares the picture he took of a curious Komodo that literally came face to face with him and was just a few yards away when the picture was taken.

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David discusses in detail the hardships faced by filmmakers due to the technical limitations. When filming underwater, initially they could only film for 10 minutes. They had to return to the surface and put a fresh film roll to continue the filming.

This situation was remedied with the arrival of the video camera that could shoot for 30 minutes. This made the shooting of never-before-seen sequences possible (The Blue Planet, 2001 and Nature’s Great Events, 2009).

David shares a funny anecdote about the “Bubble helmet” with microphone that was meant to enable the presenter to speak underwater.

David Attenborough's Life Stories - Episode # 1 - Life on Camera - PBS Nature

David then focusses on the problems of shooting animals that are active in dark, such as bats and lions. Presence of camera lights disturbs the normal behavior of these beings. With the help of Infrared light cameras, able to capture the normal behavior (The Life of Mammals, 2002).

We are also treated to a superb Kiwi encounter (The Life of Birds, 1998). Kiwis have poor eyesight but are compensated by an amazing sense of smell. To hide his presence, David laid among the seaweeds whose strong odor was the perfect camouflage.

Here are some of the different types of cameras and techniques used for specific purposes:
  1. Thermal cameras – used to shoot animals based on their body heat readings
  2. Optical Probe – used to film insects and other microorganisms such as ants inside their nests.
  3. Motion detector – used to film rattlesnakes hunting rats
  4. Slow motion camera – used to film Kestrels, and Hoverflies (Life in the Undergrowth, 2005). Both of these winged beings can hover in the air and slow motion filming techniques are used to understand their ability to do so.
  5. Time lapse studio – This is the reverse of Slow motion camera and is used to speed up slow action (The Private life of Plants, 1995).
  6. Aerial Photography – used to shoot a wild dog hunt (Planet Earth, 2006)
  7. Computer animations – replaced line drawings as the best technique to recreate ancient life forms (The Life of Birds, 1998 and Life in Cold Blood, 2008)
It is an interesting fact that the human race has a lot left to learn about the natural world around us and it is the scientific and technical advances by the humankind that enables us to continue this learning process. David pays tribute to the human aspect of the filmmaking by ending the episode with the filming of Snow Leopard by Mark Smith in Pakistan (Planet Earth, 2006).

David Attenborough's Life Stories - Episode # 1 - Life on Camera - PBS Nature


David has the candor and humility to go back and correct himself. In one such instance, David was initially mistaken about how Nepenthes rajah, the largest Pitcher plant gets its nutrition. David soon figures out that the pitcher plant and tree shrews share a symbiotic relationship. The shrew feeds on plant’s liquid and leaves its droppings that provide nitrogen supply to the plant.

This is a must watch for fans of David Attenborough and Wildlife.

Click here and here to read reviews of episodes # 2 and 3 respectively.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

BBC Sherlock - "A Study in Pink" - Revisited


Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson
I have been revisiting the entire series and decided to post my thoughts about some of the finer points I liked about this episode. For an overview of the plot, click here.

Very few adaptations have filmed the first meeting of Holmes and Watson. The few exceptions are the Russian adaptation (Vasily Livanov and Vitaly Solomin) and the 1954 series (Ronald Howard and Howard Marion-Crawford).

This is one of the highlights in the entire Canon. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss earn brownie points for filming this pivotal moment.

The plot is based on A Study in Scarlet and has some modern updates and significant changes to the killer’s motivation.

Martin Freeman as John Watson in BBC Sherlock A Study in Pink
Martin Freeman as John Watson
We meet John Watson as a depressed individual, still tortured by his war memories. John leads a very lonely existence and has taken course to blogging, as suggested by his therapist. He is just missing that one very important part to maintain a blog: interesting content.

Cue to Watson meeting the aforementioned interesting subject: Sherlock Holmes. I think this is a brilliant stroke from the writers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. In tune with the modern tone, Sherlock maintains his own blog appropriately titled “The Science of Deduction”.

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This episode is an excellent example of the all the strong points of this series:
  • Excellent writing replete with a bunch of Canonical references
  • Visual representation of Sherlock’s deductions
  • Superb acting, music, and cinematography.

Sherlock’s statement about the killer: “Appreciation. Applause. At long last, the spotlight. That’s the frailty of genius, John. It needs an audience.” applies equally well to himself. This ingenious way of referring to this trademark Sherlockian trait is just a knockout piece of writing by Moffat.

The taxi chase is another nice touch and is a nod to Holmes’ exact knowledge of London.

Mark Gatiss and Martin Freeman as Mycroft Holmes and John Watson in BBC Sherlock
Mark Gatiss and Martin Freeman as Mycroft Holmes and John Watson
Another of my favorite sections in this episode is the way Mycroft Holmes has been written and performed. Mycroft is one of my favorite characters in the Canon and Mark Gatiss’ version is my all-time favorite. Holmes likens Mycroft to being the British Government in The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans and this episode proves why this is the case.

Like the rest of the series, this episode had a lot of nods to Arthur Conan Doyle’s text. I have listed all the references to the other Canonical stories here.

There are some subtle nods to A Study in Scarlet as well:
  1. “If brother has green ladder, arrest brother” – A subtle reference to the way Stangerson is murdered and to one of the suspects, Arthur Charpentier.
  2. Watson here texts the murderer from his cell phone – In the original story, Holmes places an ad for the ring with Watson’s name and 221 B as the address.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Pink BBC Sherlock
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
As respectful as Gatiss and Moffat are to the Canon, they are not afraid of shaking things up:
  1. Anderson suggests the victim is German as RACHE (the word scribbled on the floor by the victim) is the German word for revenge. Sherlock is prompt to reject this theory. In the Canon, it is Lestrade who suggests looking for Rachel and Holmes suggests the aforementioned alternate theory.
  2. They also refer to one of the most famous inconsistencies in the Canon: the shifting nature of Watson’s war injury.
  3. In addition to being an expert in observation and deduction, Sherlock is a technical wizard as well. He is able to text everyone at the press briefing and Lestrade has no clue as to how Holmes is doing this.
This healthy mixture of reverence and the confidence to take a different approach has worked wonders. What we have here is a top-notch adaptation that stands head and shoulders above most of the adaptations out there.

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Sherlock
Canonical References in A Study in Pink

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Canonical References in Sherlock - "A Study in Pink"


Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Pink BBC Sherlock
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
A big incentive to watch the non-Canonical takes on the Sherlock Holmes legend is to catch the nods to the original stories. This is one of the many advantages of reading the Canon as few things bring more joy than discovering the hidden references to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s genius.

Most non-canonical adaptations of Sherlock Holmes pack in a sizeable number of nods. This is true of the Basil Rathone movies and the Guy Ritchie directed movies.

The critically and commercially acclaimed BBC series, Sherlock takes this to a whole new level. Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat and Steve Thompson have packed in a ton of these and each episode is a veritable goldmine.

The first episode of the first season: “A Study in Pink is a modern update of A Study in Scarlet and contained a number of clever references to that novel. I will be listing those references in a separate post. Here, I have listed the references to other Canonical stories and novels:

Martin Freeman as John Watson in A Study in Pink BBC Sherlock
John Watson with his walking stick
  1. Watson is seen with a limping leg initially and towards the end of the episode, Holmes makes a mention to Watson about the injury to his left hand - Reference to Watson’s injury being inconsistent in the Canon
  2. Sherlock's blog is titled “The Science of Deduction” – exactly named as the chapters from A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four
  3. Sherlock knifing his mails on the mantelpiece – Reference to this line: “..his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece,…” from The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual
  4. Mrs Hudson: “That’s not decent” in response to Sherlock’s happiness about his latest case – Reference to the line spoken by Watson: “I can hardly think that you would find many decent citizens to agree with you” from The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
  5. Sherlock: “The game, Mrs Hudson is on!” – Reference to the famous line: “The game is afoot” from The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
  6. Sherlock explaining his profession to Watson: “..means when the police are out of their depth, which is always, they consult me” – Reference to the line: “When Gregson or Lestrade or Athelney Jones are out of their depths—which, by the way, is their normal state—the matter is laid before me.” from The Sign of Four
  7. Sherlock making deductions from Watson’s phone – Sherlock Holmes makes a similar deduction about Watson’s watch in The Sign of Four

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  8. Sherlock's deductions about Anderson and Donovan based on the former’s deodorant – Sherlock Holmes makes a deduction based on Beryl Stapleton’s perfume in The Hound of the Baskervilles.
  9. Lestrade’s reaction to Sherlock’s deductions: “Oh for God’s sake, if you are just making this up…” – Reference to the lines spoken by Watson: “You cannot expect me to believe that you have read all this from his old watch!” and “… and, to speak plainly, has a touch of charlatanism in it.” from The Sign of Four
  10. Donovan's comment about Sherlock: “He is not paid or anything. He likes it.” – Sherlock Holmes often takes cases without consideration for any kind of compensation in the Canon.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Pink BBC Sherlock
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
  1. John hitting on Anthea during the ride to meet Mycroft – Dr Watson has always been a Ladies Man. He himself states in The Sign of the Four“In an experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents, …”
  2. Mycroft to Watson: “When one is avoiding the attention of Sherlock Holmes, one learns to be discreet..” – Reference to the line spoken by Sherlock: “One has to be discreet when one talks of high matters of state.” from The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
  3. Mycroft's comment about Sherlock: “He does love to be dramatic.” – Reference to Sherlock Holmes’ statement: “..but Watson here will tell you that I never can resist a touch of the dramatic.” from The Adventure of the Naval Treaty
  4. Sherlock's text to Watson: “..Come at once if inconvenient. If convenient, come anyway. SH” – Reference to the famous message: “Come at once if convenient - if inconvenient come all the same.” from The Adventure of The Creeping Man
  5. Mycroft’s surveillance on Dr Watson on the streets and having access to his medical records – Reference to the line: “He is the British Government” from The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
  6. Mycroft’s deductions about Watson experiencing tremors on his left hand, that Sherlock (seemingly) missed – Sherlock mentions that Mycroft has superior powers of observation and deduction in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter
  7. Sherlock enjoying his nicotine patch on the sofa – Reference to this line: “Finally he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long sigh of satisfaction.” from The Sign of Four
  8. Sherlock: “Breathing’s boring” – References to the lines: “But I abhor the dull routine of existence” and “..existence is commonplace..” from The Sign of Four
  9. Sherlock: “It’s a three patch problem” – Reference to the line: “It is quite a three pipe problem,…” from The Adventure of the Red-Headed League
  10. Sherlock describes Mycroft as “The most dangerous man you have ever met” to Watson. - Holmes refers to Colonel Sebastian Moran as “The second most dangerous man in London” from The Adventure of the Empty House
  11. 22 Northumberland St. – Reference to the Northumberland hotel in The Hound of the Baskervilles
  12. Sherlock: “I think better when I talk aloud.” – Sherlock Holmes often thinks aloud in many cases, including The Sign of Four, The Valley of Fear and The Boscombe Valley Mystery
  13. One of Angelo’s employees is named Billy – Reference to Sherlock’s page Billy, who appears in The Valley of Fear, The Problem of Thor Bridge and The Mazarin Stone.
  14. Sherlock and Watson keeping an eye on the cab - Reference to them following the hansom in The Hound of the Baskervilles
  15. Watson: “I got the cab number.”– Reference to The Hound of the Baskervilles
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson in A Study in Pink BBC Sherlock
Sherlock and John chasing the taxi
  1. Sherlock exhibits his detailed knowledge of London during the taxi chase
  2. Sherlock to Watson about their surveillance at the restaurant: “It was a long shot anyway” – Reference to this line: “A long shot, Watson; a very long shot!” in The Silver Blaze
  3. Sherlock to Watson: “I haven’t the faintest…” – Sherlock makes similar statements in The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger and The Valley of Fear
  4. During Lestrade’s “drugs bust” at 221 B, Sergeant Donovan discovers some human eyes in the microwave oven. - Reference to this line stated by Dr Watson in The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual“Our chambers were always full of chemicals and of criminal relics, which had a way of wandering into unlikely positions, and of turning up in the butter-dish, or in even less desirable places.”
  5. Sherlock claims to be conducting some experiment with the aforementioned human eyes – Reference to this line from The Adventure of the Dying Detective:His incredible untidiness, his addiction to music at strange hours, his occasional revolver practice within doors, his weird and often malodorous scientific experiments, and the atmosphere of violence and danger which hung around him made him the very worst tenant in London.
  6. Sherlock: “In her dying moments…Scratched the name of Rachel on the floor with her fingernails. That must have hurt” – Reference to the victims scratching a message in The Adventure of the Retired Colorman.
  7. Sherlock to Watson (while trying to figure out why the victim scratched the name on the floor): “Oh, use your imagination.” Watson: “I don’t have to” – Reference to this line spoken by Sherlock Holmes from The Valley of Fear: “It is, I admit, mere imagination; but how often is imagination the mother of truth?”
  8. Sherlock’s reaction to Lestrade’s suggestion that he probably lost the phone at 221 B Baker Street - “Me.. I did not notice it?” – Reference to Watson’s statement in The Reigate Puzzle: “I was pained at the mistake, for I knew how keenly Holmes would feel any slip of the kind. It was his specialty to be accurate as to fact,….”
  9. Jeff (the cabby) to Sherlock: “I was warned about you. I have been on your web site too” – Reference to the line written by Irene Adler to Sherlock Holmes from A Scandal in Bohemia: “I had been warned against you months ago.. And your address had been given to me.”
  10. Jeff (the cabby) to Sherlock: “You know every street in London” – Reference to Sherlock having extensive knowledge of London
  11. Jeff (the cabby) to Sherlock: “You are just a man. And there is so much more than that. An organization.” – Reference to Professor Moriarty's line in The Final Problem:  “You stand in the way not merely of an individual but of a mighty organization, the full extent of which you, with all your cleverness, have been unable to realize.” 
  12. Mycroft to Sherlock: “So another case cracked. How public spirited. But that’s never your motivation, is it?” – Reference to this exchange from The Adventure of the Red-Headed League - Holmes: “My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence. These little problems help me to do so.”. Watson: “And you are a benefactor of the race.” Holmes: “Well, perhaps, after all, it is of some little use,..” 
  13. Sherlock about Mycroft: “He is the British Government”Sherlock makes the same statement in The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
  14. Sherlock to Mycroft: “I never guess” – Reference to the line: “I never guess. It is a shocking habit,—destructive to the logical faculty.” from The Sign of Four
  15. One of the victims is a young man named James Phillimore – Reference to this line: “Among these unfinished tales is that of Mr. James Phillimore, who, stepping back into his own house to get his umbrella, was never more seen in this world.” from The Problem of Thor Bridge (Credit to Loveable Freak for pointing this out)
  16. Another victim named Beth Davenport – A character by the name J. Davenport responds to Mycroft Holmes’ advertisement in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter
I welcome the readers to add any other nods that I might have missed.

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Image Sources: Hartswood Films, BBC Wales, Masterpiece theater

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Canonical Nods in "The Empty Hearse"
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Canonical Nods in "The Sign of Three"