Release Date(s)2017 (February 27, 2018)
Studio(s)Scott Free/Kinberg/TSG/Mark Gordon Co (20th Century Fox)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B-
Having just solved the mystery of a theft in Jerusalem, the illustrious detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) must return at once to London to attend another case. He boards the luxurious Orient Express in Constantinople, which will whisk him all the way to Paris in style and allow him much-needed time to relax as the train makes its journey. Soon after departure, Poirot meets a fellow passenger, a criminal/businessman named Ratchett (Johnny Depp), who’s received death threats and wants to hire him for protection. Poirot declines and retires to bed, but his sleep is interrupted by strange noises and then an avalanche that delays the train’s progress. The next morning, Poirot learns that Ratchett has indeed been murdered. The obsessive-compulsive detective’s hand is thus forced; he must solve this crime, knowing that the murderer can only be one of the other passengers.
Based on the beloved crime novel by Agatha Christie, Kenneth Branagh directs this latest cinematic version of Murder on the Orient Express with a fine sense of style and good intentions, but his film never quite comes together as well as it might. Branagh’s performance as Poirot is full of zeal, but his outstanding supporting cast is never really given the opportunity to shine by a cliched script, making their roles more caricatures than fully realized. In addition to Depp, that cast includes Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley (fresh from The Force Awakens), and even Lucy Boynton (Sing Street). But what really makes the film interesting, to the extent that it is, is Branagh’s decision to use large format photography for this production, which lends genuine visual splendor and grandeur to nearly every frame.
Under the guidance of cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, Murder on the Orient Express was shot largely on 65mm photochemical film using Panavision cameras (some of the same cameras used on Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, as it happens), with a bit of additional photography accomplished digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (6.5K) using ARRI Alexa 65 cameras. It was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate, given an HDR10 color grade, and the result is presented here in the 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. This image is, in a word, spectacular, quite simply gorgeous in every respect. Fine detail abounds in every frame, visible in faces, costume fabrics, and in craggy mountain peaks outside the train. Texturing is exquisite. The darkest areas of the frame are truly black, while highlights have a lovely shine and glow. Colors are bright and varied, apparent in the fine appointments of the rail coaches and in exterior sky and landscape shots. This is a reference quality 4K image, marred only by a little bit of 65mm camera flutter early on and a couple slightly out of focus shots, both forgivable in such an exquisitely-staged costume drama.
The 4K disc includes primary audio in a terrific English Dolby Atmos mix that’s highly immersive, with exceptional clarity, wonderfully-precise staging and movement, and abundant environmental cues from virtually every direction, appreciated in early scenes aboard the Orient Express that convey movement and speed. Dialogue is crisp, the Patrick Doyle score is light and playful, and the height channels do much to extend and complete the soundscape vertically, especially in traveling shots and during the avalanche scene. As character dramas go, this is about as good an audio experience as you can have. Additional audio options are available in English 5.1 Descriptive Audio, Spanish, Czech, and Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital, and French, Castilian, German, and Italian 5.1 DTS, with optional subtitles in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish, French, Castilian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Czech, Polish, and two Chinese options (Simplified and Traditional).
The 4K disc itself includes only one extra, which is a feature-length audio commentary with Branagh and writer Michael Green (with subtitles in multiple languages). But you also get the film in 1080p on Blu-ray, a disc that adds:
- Audio Commentary by director Kenneth Branagh and writer Michael Green (with subtitles in multiple languages)
- Agatha Christie: An Intimate Portrait (19:03)
- Let’s Talk About Hercule Poirot (9:54)
- Unusual Suspects: Part One (5:08)
- The Art of Murder (16:23)
- Unusual Suspects: Part Two (5:56)
- All Aboard: Filming Murder on the Orient Express (16:35)
- Unusual Suspects: Part Three (6:49)
- Music of Murder (7:31)
- Deleted Scene: Alternate Opening (1:22)
- Deleted Scene: Newsreel (Extended) (:59)
- Deleted Scene: Breakfast (:40)
- Deleted Scene: Hotel Check-In (:51)
- Deleted Scene: Arasta Bazaar (Extended) (5:02)
- Deleted Scene: Train Montage (:18)
- Deleted Scene: Departure (1:11)
- Deleted Scene: Poirot Bedtime Rituals (1:10)
- Deleted Scene: Poirot Bedtime Rituals (Alt) (:33)
- Deleted Scene: Poirot Bedtime Rituals (Alt 2) (:34)
- Deleted Scene: Pierre Michel Interview (2:10)
- Deleted Scene: Luggage (:44)
- Deleted Scene: Dreamscape (:48)
- Theatrical Trailers (2 trailers – 3:36 in all)
- Gallery (38 images)
The deleted scenes all feature optional commentary by Branagh and Green. The extras provide an interesting (if somewhat glossy) look at the original novel and this production, including rare audio recordings of Christie herself. And the commentary certainly shows Branagh’s good faith in mounting this effort, not to mention his love of the material. As always, you also get a Movies Anywhere digital code on a paper insert.
In the end, Murder on the Orient Express offers a fairly pedestrian novel adaptation of the “it’s not bad but it’s not great either” variety, elevated somewhat by a solid onscreen performance by Branagh, and by absolutely stunning large format photography. As a result, Fox’s 4K Ultra HD release is an immediate reference title on the format and is strongly recommended... if perhaps for that reason alone.
- Bill Hunt