Star names fill the frame, jostling to be killer or victim, but refined sleuthing is assured from the portly Belgian
The Poirot Collection Blu-ray Review
Forget David Suchet’s long-running tenure as Agatha Christie’s celebrated Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, this Blu-ray boxset from StudioCanal gathers up all the suspects.This trio of lavish British productions begins with Albert Finney encountering Murder On The Orient Express, and then continuing with Peter Ustinov as he unravels Death on the Nile and then exposes some Evil Under the Sun. Finney plays Poirot as a mixture of Hitler and Inspector Clouseau, and his impromptu investigation is more comical than suspenseful. Points must go his use of a wonderful leather contraption designed to keep his marvellous ‘tache in order whilst sleeping. But the cinematic Poirot is justly acknowledged to be Ustinov’s, who has fun with the role in the two most opulent and visually sumptuous travelogue mysteries.
To be honest, Christie’s detective yarns are a very acquired taste. Required reading her sagas may once have been, but the format has grown incredibly stale. A murder. Suspects are all trapped in one location. Our suspicions yanked this way and that. And then the pivotal showdown as the killer, or killers, are unmasked in an all-too convenient round-lounge kangaroo court. The format clearly works as it has been copied, emulated and modified throughout a gazillion other detective shows on TV. But the key things about Poirot are his eccentricity, his European playfulness and the exotic settings and atmospheric 1930’s milieu that he occupies.
Star names fill the frame, jostling to be killer or victim, but refined sleuthing is assured from the portly Belgian.
The Poirot Collection Blu-ray Picture Quality
StudioCanal bring these three films to region B Blu-ray with AVC encodes and all in their original 1.85:1.
Sadly, they do not appear to be have been restored or rejuvenated in any healthy or respectable way. Damage is still visible, though very slight - just the odd nick and pop – but all the prints look old, dusty and dry. They are parched of vibrancy and colour, looking hazy and arid. Contrast is not terrific and can understandably fluctuate, especially so in the case of Death on the Nile, which is much too pale and jaundiced and often enveloped in an unpleasantly shimmering gauze. Blacks aren’t satisfyingly deep, which leads to what little suspense the films contain falling rather flat. Grain, very conspicuously, is mostly absent from Death, and the sinister brush of digital tomfoolery is most keenly apparent on this entry. Skin-tones are spectacularly pallid, although given the period and the quaint style in which the films have been shot, much of this is actually intentional.
The best looking film, by far, is Evil Under The Sun, which has more visible grain, even if this is not always properly resolved and can seem a little noisy at times, and much more colour to go alongside its superior levels of contrast. It is a more striking print and the image is also more three-dimensional. Of course, this film also benefits from having more locations to move about in and much more flamboyant photography to revel in, but the image has plenty of depth, both across the lustrous exteriors and inside the parlours of the Mediterranean resort. The skies are a deeper, more luscious shade of blue, unlike the ghastly pale blue of Death and the almost monochromatic aesthetic of Murder. Blood is the most overt primary colour seen in all three, but it looks the most fake and pantomimic in Death.
It's Evil that comes out on top, with cleaner delineation, more finite details revealed in faces and sets and scenery.
Whilst middle-ground and background details are soft and mired with waxiness (especially so in Death), there are lots of close-up elements that are quite rewarding. Eyes, facial details and hair separation can, at times, be quite acute. But the majority of the images – across the board – are indistinct, lifeless and all-too smooth. Once again, though, it is Evil that comes out on top, with cleaner delineation, more finite details revealed in faces and sets and scenery, and even perused in various documents, and an altogether warmer appeal.
But there are other problems.
Whilst I encountered no glaring edge enhancement (Death on the Nile does have some slight haloing, but I’m inclined to put this down to Jack Cardiff’s otherwise excellent cinematography and the intense sunlight), there is evidence of DNR, which plays havoc especially with the scenic shots in Nile, and the first two of the transfers (on my check discs at least) suffer from terrible aliasing. Both Murder and Death exhibit some simply horrid digital dragging that stutters the image during several very noticeable instances. In Murder, for example, there is a tracking shot that carries us over the snow drift and towards the stricken train that blurs and judders so badly that it almost hurts the eyes. In Death, when Ustinov first meets up with David Niven, the image does a staccato dance to the left during a similar tracking shot. Not pleasant at all.
Overall, I am not impressed and certainly believe that these films could all look considerably better.
6 out of 10 at best, with Evil Under The Sun being the most rewarding to look at, and Death On The Nile being the least.
The Poirot Collection Blu-ray Sound Quality
All three films have LPCM 2.0 mono tracks.
There is little to discuss in the audio department as the original sound mixes were very simplistic and direct, offering nothing in the way of clever or exciting design or execution. That said, given the basic nature of the mixes, they are all perfectly acceptable.
Dialogue is clean and clear, always finely discernible. This certainly helps with so many famous voices pitched into the pot. So nuance is certainly perceived amidst the frequently acidic exchanges. Action is not called upon, although we do get the dynamics of a chunnering train, some impacts and a gunshot or two. Such activities sound fine, but don’t expect any weight or depth to help establish them. All three films sport acclaimed scores – from Richard Rodney Bennett, Nino Rota and Cole Porter respectively -and these are presented with clarity and warmth, sublimely aiding the period setting of each, never swamping the dialogue and actually sounding quite detailed in the scheme of things.
We do get the dynamics of a chunnering train, some impacts and a gunshot or two.
Although vintage and limited in scope, the audio for Poirot’s three most lavish investigations is finely rendered and comes across without hiss or distortion. All three are quite enjoyably buoyant despite the casual and theatrical nature of the sound design. Considering the overall lack of original intent, these audio tracks seem to deliver very accurate transfers. So, the three films get a collective 7 out of 10.
The Poirot Collection Blu-ray Extras
Extensive sifting through the clues reveals… that there are no bonus materials here. A shame. The films aren’t all that good, to be honest, but they are cinematic adaptations of some of the most cherished crime fiction ever written, and surely somebody could have offered their services for a commentary, at the very least.
Is The Poirot Collection Blu-ray Worth Buying
Three sumptuous whodunnits sporting a bewildering amount of star power and the inordinate elegance of Agatha Christie’s murderous plotting arrive in a 3-disc celebration of Belgium’s greatest sleuth and his most exotic cases. Sadly, the release offers only lacklustre transfers, and nothing in the way of supplements.
The films may be period dramas, but they are also unavoidably dated. The performances, bar those of Finney and Ustinov, are collectively poor in the first two films, though this is because the gilded celebrities hauled-in are given those archetypal Christie characters to play that give them no opportunity to expand beyond the realms of genre cliché – guarded harridans and simpering, expositional liars. Because of such plotting contrivances and character restrictions, these acclaimed performers deliver nothing better than those forgettable supporting players in Murder, She Wrote or Columbo. Although I always adore Albert Finney, his incarnation is the most schizophrenic, commencing with pure Clouseau-esque bumbling and then descending into more serious and wilful deduction, he is possibly the most convincingly disturbing as a villain’s nemesis.
All are of an acquired taste and something of a curio, appealing to the Sunday afternoon brigade.
Ustinov is playing Ustinov, but this is rarely a bad thing, and he develops his Poirot into a more rounded, sympathetic and likeable character. But whilst Murder is all very stage-bound, it skilfully uses its train setting to fine and claustrophobic effect. Death, meanwhile, is slow and sprawling and the most narratively and emotionally stagnant, despite some exquisite photography from Jack Cardiff. But even if the first two entries are the most famous and well known, then Evil, whilst the quietest, is possibly also the richest, most character-driven, most amusingly scripted, best acted and certainly the most visually intriguing of the lot.
All, however, are of an acquired taste and something of a curio, appealing to the Sunday afternoon brigade and the Midsomer devotees whilst also representing high class productions in what is an elegant though still niche market.
Fans could certainly be better served than this, though.
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