Two new Sherlock Holmes film adaptations are taking very different approaches to the classic detective series.

Poster for 1939 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' 

Two forthcoming films featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character Sherlock Holmes will take very different approaches to the material. Judging by the reports, each could be either very good or very bad.

Jud Apatow (The Forty Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) is producing a comedy film featuring Sacha Baron Cohen as Sherlock Holmes and Will Farrell as Dr. Watson. This obviously could be very funny if well-written, and just horrible if not. In addition, let us hope desperately that the two lead actors do not kiss in this film as they did in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and subsequently upon receiving an honor at the MTV Movie Awards.

Variety quoted a studio executive as being highly enthusiastic about the project:

"Just the idea of Sacha and Will as Sherlock Holmes and Watson makes us laugh," said [Columbia Studios] co-prexy Matt Tolmach. "Sacha and Will are two of the funniest and most talented guys on the planet, and having them take on these two iconic characters is frankly hilarious."

The idea of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore as Holmes and Watson must have seemed a sure thing in 1980, and Paul Morrissey’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is somewhat amusing, but it would have benefited greatly from a better screenplay.

Although Farrell and Cohen are major comic talents, so were Cook and Moore. Ultimately, the quality of the script will decide whether the Farrell-Cohen film will be more like the classic Young Frankenstein or the not-classic Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

'Without a Clue' DVD coverBy the way, Without a Clue is a terrific comic film about Holmes and Watson, starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley. What’s even better is that its zany central idea actually comports with the real Sherlock Holmes canon—by turning the entire thing on its head. Definitely recommended.

The other forthcoming Holmes film likewise takes a somewhat unusual approach to the material.

Directed by Guy Ritchie (who made the excellent crime films Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch), Sherlock Holmes will star Robert Downey Jr. as the great detective. Ritchie’s film will emphasize a side of Holmes and the stories that has too often been forgotten: his superb physical abilities and the strong doses of action in many of the stories.

These were, after all, the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle titled the first volume of short stories about the character.

Thus there’s validity in Ritchie’s approach, and the only question is whether the script by Anthony Peckham and others will do it justice. 

As the E! Online story about Ritchie’s forthcoming film notes:

In addition to Conan Doyle’s tales, Ritchie’s film will also incorporate the Sherlock Holmes comics series, which painted the detective as more of a muscly action hero who just happened to be far more brilliant than his peers—and, most importantly, his adversaries

Although depicting him as "a muscly action hero" would not be quite faithful to the books, one could certainly see Downey bringing off both sides of Holmes: the man of genius and the man of action.

Few adaptations thus far have managed to do so, which makes this effort very interesting indeed. 

The two films are expected to reach theaters in 2010.