Maybe it’d be safest to close that line for good.
For some reason or another, I only learned today that this autumn will see a new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branagh. By complete coincidence, it was just a few days ago that I watched Sidney Lumet’s 1974 adaptation for the first time. I was actually very satisfied with that timelessly told version of Christie’s 1934 novel. It has great character performances by a fantastic ensemble cast (featuring Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery and Vanessa Redgrave, to name just a few); it has exactly the right blend of humor and suspense for an adaptation of a Christie novel; it is, for the most part, very true to the plot of its literary counterpart; and it is craftily edited to make the story work on screen as well as it worked on paper. I can see absolutely no need for a re-adaptation. And yet, here we go.
I am by no means the first, nor, I daresay, the last one to be weary of all the remakes Hollywood has been producing over the last years. It is plain that all too often, those remakes are the dull, uninspired, results of a production system that simply likes to play it safe: Rather than explore something new, why not do what we know works with the audiences? Why not literally do the same thing again—only with trending actors and digital effects?
And while I can often shrug my shoulders about this sad phenomenon, I don’t find it quite as easy this time. – Why? Maybe it’s because the original version in this case is so good that I really don’t see much room for improvement. Maybe it’s because, as a result of that, it is neither impossible nor unlikely that the new adaptation won’t be nearly as satisfying, as true to the novel, as Lumet’s version is—and although Murder on the Orient Express isn’t my favorite among Christie’s murder mysteries, the queen of crime truly doesn’t deserve to have her heritage tarnished. Maybe, finally and confusingly, it is because after my initial sigh (“Not another remake!”), a certain amount of intrigue made itself felt in me.
Yes. While I wouldn’t have described the first promotional photos published yesterday on Entertainment Weekly as “stunning”, my first reaction was that I might actually end up going to the theater for this fix of nostalgia. And be it only to see Judi Dench play Princess Dragomiroff.
So am I part of the problem in the end? I guess so. As long as there will be big enough crowds that actually go and see remake after remake, remakes are exactly what we will be served. So maybe that’s just what we deserve. I only hope the great Agatha Christie, too, will get what she deserves: an adaptation that brings her characters, her wit, her story in all its fantastic richness to the screen. That is, an adaptation that lives up to the example set by Lumet. Mind you, a mere copy won’t do. If Branagh’s new film wants to be considered as anything but a cash cow, it had better be innovative on some level—and also very, very good. We’ll find out in November.
Murder on the Orient Express (US 2017) is set to be released on Nov. 10, 2017. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Written by Michael Green. Cinematography: Haris Zambarloukos. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench and Johnny Depp.
Murder on the Orient Express (UK 1974). Directed by Sidney Lumet. Written by Paul Dehn. Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth. Starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery and Vanessa Redgrave. 131 min.