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Reviews » 4K UHD Reviews » Murder on the Orient Express (2017) (4K UHD)
Murder on the Orient Express (2017) (4K UHD)
Fox // PG-13 // February 27, 2018 // Region 0
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted April 9, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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THE FILM:

With its hip Imagine Dragons-backed previews, all-star cast and capable director, I hoped Murder on the Orient Express would be more exciting. The umpteenth adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel, the film looks pretty thanks to sharp cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos and Director Kenneth Branagh's eye for framing and drama. It is too bad the finished film feels like a clobbered-together string of unrelated scenes full of actors without chemistry. I suspect much of this material was shot with actors on set at different periods of production, and Murder on the Orient Express struggles to weave a compelling mystery, insisting on telling the audience rather than showing. What might have been the perfect opportunity to modernize and freshen-up the material turns into a serviceable facsimile of previous adaptations that fails to make a compelling argument for its existence.

Struggling to fill two hours with its slim narrative, the film opens in Jerusalem, as famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) solves a theft case. He is called back to London for another case, but must take the Orient Express to get there. Once aboard, businessman Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) offers to hire Poirot to protect him during the three-day trip after receiving threatening letters. The detective declines, but discovers the man murdered the following morning after witnessing a cloaked figure in the hallway of the train's sleeper car during the night. An avalanche derails the train's engine, stranding the passengers with the body of murdered Ratchett and, seemingly, the person responsible for killing him. Personalities reveal themselves and Poirot, lacking an alternative, begins investigating the killing. Among the passengers are Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe), Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz), Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), Mary Hermione Debenham (Daisy Ridley) and Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), each of whom hides his own secrets.

Ensemble dramas like this are often problematic, because they tend to focus on the stars rather than the story, which is exactly the problem here. Many of us are familiar with Christie's work, but that does not mean a compelling, modern adaptation cannot exist. From the film's early marketing, I was concerned Branagh and company just wanted an excuse to get the gang together to chew up screen time. That fear turned out to be largely correct, as each A-list actor gives minimal effort in their minimal roles. No one is especially bad, but no one seems particularly invested in the story. The who, how and why of this mystery are also largely bumbled. Sure, the film tells you what happened to Ratchett, but the clues do not exactly add up. No amount of flashbacks and explanation make this mystery, as filmed, any more successful. Murder on the Orient Express spins its wheels through the initial murder, but never builds much intrigue or mystery involving the train passengers. If nothing else, Branagh finds new and innovative ways to creatively stage and film shots in the tight quarters.

Only toward the end of Murder on the Orient Express are viewers treated to any lighthearted entertainment. The final tease promises a sequel, however unnecessary, and perhaps Poirot can have more fun during the next go-round. The production design is spot-on here, and Branagh does capture the 1934 grandeur appropriately. He could have skipped the frequent CGI shots of the train's exterior, as they only provide an awkward mix of heightened reality and dodgy effects work. It is difficult to discuss this film in writing, as its biggest problem is that it is simply not memorable. The talent on screen and behind the camera here is too great to phone in this kind of paint-by-numbers adaptation. Branagh is his own worst enemy, creating a handsome, serviceable film that viewers will forget the moment they eject the disc.

THE 4K ULTRA HD:

PICTURE:

The 2.39:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 image features HDR10 and is pulled from a 4K DI, meaning this is a native 4K presentation. The result is absolutely stunning, and highlights the highlight of this film: cinematography. Shot in 65mm, this image is spectacularly clear and detailed, with tremendously impressive color grading and saturation. Fine-object detail is off the charts, from facial intricacies to fabrics in the period costumes to production elements on the train set. Colors are striking, particularly in the skies outside the train, and black levels are inky, offering excellent shadow detail in nighttime scenes. The inherent clarity makes the aforementioned CGI work look even worse, but these shots are fortunately limited. Other than some very minor aliasing, I noticed no technical flaws.

SOUND:

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is a professional affair, with excellent range and clarity. The dialogue-heavy picture is afforded intricate element separation, and directional dialogue is frequent. Often, voices attempt to talk over one another, and the track handles this with ease. The limited action effects surround the viewer with sound pans and LFE rumble, and the Patrick Doyle score is rich and nicely integrated amid the other effects. Spanish, Czech and Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are included, as are French, Spanish, German and Italian 5.1 DTS mixes. A host of subtitle options are available.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This two-disc set includes the 4K Ultra HD disc, a Blu-ray and a digital copy. The discs are packed in a black eco-case that is wrapped in a glossy slipcover. An Audio Commentary by Director Kenneth Branagh and Screenwriter Michael Green appears on both the 4K and Blu-ray discs. The Blu-ray offers the following supplements: Agatha Christie: An Intimate Portrait (19:03/HD), which is less an intimate look and more of an overview of the author's life; Let's Talk About Hercule Poirot (9:54/HD), about the central detective character; Unusual Suspects: Part One (5:08/HD), about the ensemble; The Art of Murder, which focuses on production design (16:23/HD); Unusual Suspects: Part Two (5:56/HD); All Aboard: Filming Murder on the Orient Express (16:35/HD), which offers more behind-the-scenes footage; Unusual Suspects: Part Three (6:49/HD); Music of Murder (7:31/HD), about Doyle's score; Deleted Scenes (16:40/HD); Trailers (3:36/HD); and a Gallery (3:03/HD).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I wish Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Agatha Christie's beloved murder mystery was more compelling. His Murder on the Orient Express offers an A-list cast, impressive production design, gorgeous cinematography and a capable director, but is forgettable, pedestrian entertainment. The 4K Ultra HD set offers an excellent native 4K image and solid soundtrack plus some decent supplements. Rent It.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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