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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Series 1 and 2 Blu-ray Review

Newly remastered and restored to their original U.K. broadcast order, Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Series 1 and 2 debuts on Blu-ray and arrives on DVD from Acorn Media on January 31, 2012These 10 full-length mysteries per set star fan-favorite and BAFTA nominee David Suchet as the brilliant Belgian detective.  Based on the novels by Agatha Christie, these lavish adaptations capture every splendid detail of the Art Deco era.  ITV Studios’ Poirot has aired on ITV1 in the U.K. since 1989 and on PBS and A&E in the U.S. The 2-disc Blu-ray sets and the 3-vol. DVD sets include all 20 mysteries from the first two series, now with SDH subtitles.




Film   

Series 1  
Series 2  
I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot character and I’ve enjoyed the books, the movies, and especially the television show starring David Suchet as the imcomparable Poirot.  No other actor has played Poirot more than Suchet, and it’s been recently announced that he will finally be able to achieve his dream of filming every story written for Poirot when the series finishes filming in 2013.  While Albert Finney was good in Murder on the Orient Express as was Peter Ustinov in the the further theatrical movies, but Suchet has captured the character like no other.  Before taking on the role, Suchet read all of the stories and took notes about every description and characteristic of the character.  As he described his process later, “What I did was, I had my file on one side of me and a pile of stories on the other side and day after day, week after week, I ploughed through most of Agatha Christie’s novels about Hercule Poirot and wrote down characteristics until I had a file full of documentation of the character. And then it was my business not only to know what he was like, but to gradually become him. I had to become him before we started shooting.”
That attention to detail paid off as he has now become the de facto Poirot for the public and has achieved the rare feat of playing a single character over a span of twenty-three years.  Over that period of time, the cast has changed over the years, with some characters coming and going depending on the the novels the show was based on.  Popular characters like Captain Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp, and Miss Lemon all disappeared when the series returned for the 2003 season, which was consistent with the plotlines the shows were based on but it was unpopular with viewers.  It’s been difficult for fans of the show to watch it in any kind of semblance of order since it’s been released by a variety of studios but in a confusing hodgepodge of editions.  For the U.S. market, both Acorn Media and A&E Home Video have split the rights to the show with Acorn Media owning the rights for the 36 standard-length episodes, including the first nine double-length episodes, and the episodes broadcast since 2008.  The other movie-length episodes are distributed by A&E, who co-produced several of them.  (You can read my review of theAgatha Christie Poirot – Movie Collection Set 6 here).  In a much appreciated move, Acorn Media is now releasing the series in it’s original UK broadcast order starting with these two editions with more to follow.
Here is the list of episodes to be found on the Series 1 and Series 2 sets:
Series 1:
Disc 1
  1. The Adventure of the Clapham Cook – Finding a missing cook proves a challenge for Poirot.
  2. Murder in the Mews – Poirot investigates a suspicious death on Guy Fawkes Day.
  3. The Adventure of Johnnie Waverley – Poirot probes kidnapping threats against a rich man’s son.
  4. Four and Twenty Blackbirds – The detective uses his culinary knowledge to solve a case.
  5. The Third Floor Flat – Poirot looks into a murder that occurred close to home.
 Disc 2
  1. Triangle at Rhodes – A new case interrupts the sleuth’s Greek holiday.
  2. Problem at Sea – Poirot unravels the mystery of a woman killed aboard a cruise ship.
  3. The Incredible Theft – Poirot is called in when top-secret government documents get stolen.
  4. The King of Clubs – A playing card is the only clue in a complicated case.
  5. The Dream – A wealthy man asks Poirot to investigate his recurring nightmare.
  
Series 2:
Disc 1
  1. Peril at End House – Poirot fears for the safety of a young female friend.
  2. The Veiled Lady – The detective takes a risk by helping a mysterious woman.
  3. The Lost Mine – Poirot looks into the disappearance of a valuable map.
  4. The Cornish Mystery – An apprehensive wife asks Poirot to investigate her husband.
 Disc 2
  1. The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim – A wealthy banker suddenly goes missing.
  2. Double Sin – Poirot makes a shocking announcement about his career.
  3. The Adventure of the Cheap Flat – Poirot harbors suspicions about a bargain piece of real estate.
  4. The Kidnapped Prime Minister – Poirot is charged with solving a high-profile case.
  5. The Adventure of the Western Star – A jewel thief is no match for Poirot’s sleight of hand.
I hadn’t seen these early seasons before so this was a double treat to not only get new episodes to watch and to be able to see them on Blu-ray too.  These earlier seasons differ quite a bit from the later ones since there’s more of an emphasis on humor and an entirely different look as well.  The series started off with a fantastic Art Deco look that must have been phased out over time.  From the show’s opening title sequence throughout the show, fans of Art Deco will enjoy seeing these episodes.  Of course all of the mysteries are interesting (these are Agatha Christie stories after all), but I really enjoyed the comedic interplay between Poirot, Hastings (Hugh Fraser), and Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson).  The humor is all character based which makes it even funnier since it could be Poirot getting frustrated by his friends’ lack of culture or their amusement at his finicky and pompous nature.  As I’ve observed before, Poirot is a fantastic character who just as brilliant and eccentric as his literary counterpart Sherlock Holmes.  His formidable intellect is nicely counter-balanced with human flaws such as his ego which humanizes that character.  In one of the best episodes of the series (and can be found on the Series 2 set), is “The Veiled Lady,” where Poirot’s belief that he could have been a master criminal is put to the test to hilarious results when he resorts to breaking into a residence to recover some letters and discovers that he is a much better detective than a thief.  This is a great show and now that you can watch it in the original broadcast order just makes it even more enjoyable to see. 

Video 

Series 1  
Series 2   
These episodes have retained their broadcast 1.33:1 aspect ratio for this 1080p transfer and they look quite a bit better than the previous DVD releases.  For both series, the colors are a lot brighter, there’s a greater degree of clarity and sharpness, and by the second series, the flesh tones are a lot more natural and consistent.  Both series look very good but I would have to say that Series 2 is the better of the two.  While some minor DNR appears to have been used for Series 1, Series 2 appears to have not needed it.  Black levels on both sets could have been better but other than that, both of them look much better than the previous home video releases. 

Audio 

Series 1    
Series 2    
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix for both sets is adequate but could  have been improved with a lossless mix.  This is a front channel focused release which is fine since it’s basically an all dialogue driven show.  The dialogue is clear and clean, and the sound effects (which aren’t that involved) also sound fine.  Christopher Gunning’s main theme and score for the show also sounds pretty good but could have benefited from a better mix.

Extras   

Series 1    
Series 2    
There are no special features for either series set which is a shame for the fans and it will unfortunately bring down the final score.

Summary   

This is a fantastic show and now there’s even more of a reason for you to start watching it now that it’s in the original broadcast order and in high definition.  These sets offer much better picture and audio quality than the earlier releases and even without  extras, they are worth the extra cost to upgrade to.  David Suchet is wonderful as the one and only Poirot and any fan of mysteries will love this show. 
Order your copy today!

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