“The rule of law, it must be held high! And, if it falls, you pick it up and hold it even higher. For all society, all civilized people will have nothing to shelter them if it is destroyed.”
Agatha Christie created the rotund Belgian detective in 1920 with the book The Mysterious Affair At Styles. The detective would go on to feature in about 30 more books over the years. He was a distinctive character. He was picky about the order that things were placed. Yes, there’s more than a little Adrian Monk in the man. He insists that his eggs be exactly the same size. He refers to himself in the third person and does not own the virtue of modesty. He often calls himself great and talented. He doesn’t suffer fools and is somewhat closed-minded for a detective.
One of Christie and Hercule Poirot’s most famous cases would have to be Murder On The Orient Express. The book arrived in 1934 and instantly became one of her best selling efforts. There have been several films made of the novel. The most famous is likely the 1974 film with Albert Finney as the famous sleuth and a cast that included the likes of Lauren Bacall, Jacqueline Bisset, Martin Balsam, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, and Ingrid Bergman. Bergman took the Oscar for Best Supporting actress. The film was also nominated for 5 other awards but did not win. You would think that with such a classic version of the story already on film, there just wouldn’t be room for another.
“Shall I tell you what I know?”
Under normal circumstances I might tend to agree with that assessment. However, the Hercule Poirot series of shows and television films from Britain have made so much of a mark with David Suchet playing the detective that one would expect this tale to be included in that collection. It’s actually a bigger mystery that it had not been one of the first to be made. It’s probably best that the story was delayed in the franchise. It might have been somewhat disappointing as a television show with the 1980’s look the show once sported. But time has been good to the series, and the production values have improved over the years remarkably. Then there is the satisfaction of seeing the story played out with an actor who has now become quite synonymous with the character. There isn’t any time wasted on establishing this particular version of the detective. We’ve grown to accept him over the many years that these films have been made. And, as an added bonus, the creation of the classic story benefits from the recent Blu-ray technology which allows the film to be brought into your home and video library in the glorious detail of high definition.
There have been some liberties taken to put this version’s own stamp on the story. Most of the original ideas stand. Hercule Poirot has just solved a case in Istanbul for the British military. The case ended in the suspect’s suicide, which has left Poirot a little self-absorbed. Before he can check into his hotel, he receives a telegram recalling him to London immediately. After some trouble he manages to book passage on the Orient Express where he meets Samuel Ratchett (Jones). He finds himself disgusted with the man and quickly turns down an offer to be hired to protect the man because of his distaste. When the man is found murdered, the detective is driven to solve the case, possibly out of some guilt for not taking the assignment. With each new clue he discovers that the man had a sordid past. He was involved in a baby kidnapping and murder case. That means a lot of folks would likely be glad to see him dead. The solution of the case shakes his faith in society. The end leaves him with a moral dilemma.
Murder On The Orient Express is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of almost 35 mbps. I’ve recently had the chance to view some of the older episodes in this franchise. All I can say is, my, how things have changed. The picture is quite clean, and while colors are a bit soft, the detail remains impressive. There are some moments when texture truly stands out. The train and the scenery it passes offer some wonderful shots as well. There are a couple midnight forest scenes that show off tremendous contrast and rich black levels. But shadow definition is not always so impressive. The interior scenes suffer a bit in the black-level department. Even with the few flaws, this is an impressive television production that will look quite good in your home theater.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 does not offer incredible expansive range. You have to really go back to thinking television here. This is a dialog-heavy piece, and that’s pretty much all that the sound is going to deliver. The real power of this audio presentation is how it handles the many hushed tones of the dialog. Hercule Poirot speaks rather softly, but you’ll catch it all just fine.
David Suchet On The Orient Express: (47:01) The actor was invited to take the trip on the modern train. It’s a look at comfort and luxury as he travels the same route his iconic character traveled so many years ago in Christie’s novel.
Today many law shows have a “ripped from the headline” aspect to their stories. Law & Order is particularly good at creating cases that mirror recent items in the papers. Agatha Christie used the idea herself a time or two. It is likely no coincidence that her 1934 book appears to mirror the quite public case of the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby in 1932. The victim in this story was guilty of a very similar crime. The relevance is somewhat lost on us some 80 years later, but Christie managed to take that germ of an idea and expand it into one of her more adventurous mysteries. Acorn has given us a chance to watch Hercule Poirot at his very best, in high definition, no less, “solving mysteries the civilized way”.