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Blu-ray Review: Agatha Christie – Poirot, Murder On The Orient Express

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Even the world’s greatest detective is entitled to inevitably have a bad day every once in a while. In the case of Agatha Christie: Poirot – Murder On The Orient Express, however, not only does super sleuth Hercule Poirot undergo the most baffling case of his career, but so does his audience. Ever since actor David Suchet first clenched his butt-cheeks to bring the character of Poirot to life for the first British-made television adaptation of Agatha Christie: Poirot in 1989, fans around the world started asking when they would finally see Suchet perform in what they had hoped to be the definitive adaptation of Christie’s most-celebrated murder mystery.

In 2010, they got their answer. Partially, that is. It did indeed star David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. But the whole “definitive” thing is out of the question. As is typical of some novel-to-film adaptations, the makers of Agatha Christie: Poirot – Murder On The Orient Express took a few liberties to keep things fresh. That, or they were just plain daft. For starters, they made Poirot a devout Catholic: something that had never been part of Christie’s original character; nor was it even mentioned in her work. Secondly, they really totally epically failed to create any sense of atmosphere.

The story, wherein Poirot attempts to investigate the bizarre stabbing death of a fellow passenger onboard the Orient Express, has become something of a legend. With the train indeterminately stalled on behalf of a major snowfall somewhere in the Serbian mountains, Poirot is out of his element. His usual assistants are nowhere to be found, and his entire faith in the human race has been compromised over the unsatisfactory way his last case ended. And then, the man in his neighboring cabin is brutally stabbed during the night, leaving Poirot with a number of enigmatic clues and pieces to several different puzzles.

It’s a wonderful story all-around, but this TV adaptation really doesn’t cut it. Even Suchet himself — who has become the very epitome of Poirot in the eyes of many viewers and fills the Belgian detective’s small fictional shoes perfectly — seems to be off his game. The supporting actors (including American actress Barbara Hershey) also deliver some equally believable but none-too-impressive performances, while director Philip Martin’s only success here is in capturing some of the story’s atmosphere from Stewart Harcourt’s bastardized script.

But hey, at least we get to see it on Blu-ray, right? Well, yes and no. Agatha Christie: Poirot – Murder On The Orient Express makes its way to Blu-ray via the Acorn Media label, offering us a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of the TV movie in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Honestly, I wasn’t overly impressed with the presentation. The HD release gives us a rather soft appearance overall, which is more than likely attributable to the production’s less-than-stellar HD photography to begin with (HD just doesn’t mix well with lots of low-lighting sometimes).

The release takes English Stereo soundtrack from Acorn’s previously-issued SD-DVD set and upgrades it to a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix. While adequate in an outwardly aesthetic sense, the upgrade really doesn’t improve things any. Optional English (SDH) subtitles are included.

In a way, it’s a pity that Acorn Media only opted to release Murder On The Orient Express on its own in the High Def format: an entire Blu-ray box set of the more recent Poirot entries would have been much more satisfactory. On the upside, though, Acorn Media has added a couple of special features. First off is a travelogue entitled “David Suchet On The Orient Express,” wherein the actor takes a Michael Palin-esque journey on the actual Orient Express itself. The rest of the extras are text-only, and include “120 Years Of Agatha Christie,” bios for select actors, and a guide to Poirot novels and stories.

In short, Acorn’s release of Agatha Christie: Poirot – Murder On The Orient Express is a pretty average affair: the presentation is decent, but nothing you’ll be jumping the couch over — while the feature itself is a letdown.

Stick with the 1974 motion picture adaptation with Albert Finney instead.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.
  • Elizabeth Rubens

    Actually Christie’s Poirot is identified as a Catholic by the author in a couple of the books.
    Frankly I thought this recent version far superior to the 1974 version which is marred by Finney’s over the top acting as Poirot.

  • Marco San Bergos

    Yes, in one story Poirot tells someone “I am a good Catholic” or “Je suis un bon catholic.” In Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, he hears church bells, and remembers being taught by nuns, and in one story he thinks about how he thought about becoming a priest, but felt it would be too esoteric, and preferred to use his talents as a policeman, actively helping people by solving crimes. I did think that Poirot’s distress at the end, with a whole batallion of murderers go free, seemed more believable than the 1974 movie, where everybody just sort of winks and happily sails off.

  • I agree completely with your review, Adam. It’s a pity that the Blu-ray transfer was done so poorly and that you didn’t even get a few tidbits not in the standard DVD box set.

  • Cristina Castel

    I do NOT agree with Adam. David Suchet is the definite “Poirot” he commands the screen, his acting is superb and yes he’s much darker and more religious than in the earlier years. If the screenplay and the writing of Orient Express suck, there’s just so much that David as an actor could do. You worked with what you got; I know it was a miss for the movie (the book is far better) but David did give a much better performance than Albert Finney (he’s too quirky).I’m a huge David Suchet fan so I guess… I’m bias.

  • Matthew

    OK, the actual transfer is no great shakes…but sorry, Albert Finney? No…sorry, and nor Peter Ustinov. Mr Suchet is to Poirot as Jeremy Brett is to Sherlock. i.e. the definitive version. End of.