Monday, December 3, 2012

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Series 4, 5, and 6 Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson

Newly remastered and restored to their original U.K. broadcast order, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Series 4-6 have already been released on Blu-ray.  The endearingly eccentric detective Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) is back on the case in these three feature-length series full of mysteries from the hit series.  Brimming with beguiling 1930s period details and pitch-perfect performances, these lavish adaptations look better than ever in this remastered edition.  Series 4 also stars Donald Sumpter (Game of Thrones), Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who), Hugh Fraser (Sharpe) as the affable Captain Hastings, and Philip Jackson (Little Voice) as Chief Inspector Japp.  Series 5′sguest stars include Anna Chancellor (Four Weddings and a Funeral), Hermione Norris (MI-5Cold Feet), and Jeremy Northam (EmmaThe Tudors).

Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

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 incomparable 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 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 plot-lines 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 the Agatha Christie Poirot – Movie Collection Set 6 here).  In a much appreciated move, Acorn Media has now released the first six sets of the series in it’s original UK broadcast order with more to follow.

Series 4:

The ABC Murders—Poirot untangles the baffling mystery of a murderer who announces his next victims through a series of chilling letters, each addressed to the detective himself.
Death in the Clouds—There’s murder in the skies as a ruthless blackmailer is killed on board a plane full of likely suspects. Unfortunately for the culprit, a certain Belgian detective is a fellow passenger.
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe—When a popular dentist is gunned down, a murderous chain of events ensues. A broken shoe buckle becomes the key to solving a deadly web of deception that only Poirot can unravel.

Series 5:

The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb - An archaeologist dies of a heart attack shortly after opening an ancient Egyptian tomb, but his widow thinks there is dirty work at the crossroads and calls in Poirot. Poirot dismisses the idea of a mummy’s curse, and by risking his own life he smokes out a murderer.
The Underdog - A chemical plant in 1930s Germany, threatened British business interests, murder – in pursuit of the truth, Poirot’s secretary, Miss Lemon, successfully hypnotizes the murdered man’s widow.
Yellow Iris - Friends and family gather at a dinner-party to mark the second anniversary of a woman’s death. The atmosphere is so charged that one almost expects the victim to come back from the dead. Meanwhile, Poirot is caught up in a coup d’etat and arrested as a spy, which prevents him from solving a murder at a French restaurant owned by an Italian in Buenos Aires… but all is not lost.
The Case of the Missing Will - Poirot has to execute the final wishes of an old friend who has been killed.
The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman - Hastings’s friend Dr Hawker receives worrying news about a patient, Count Foscanti, and the body is found of a man beaten to death. Hastings’s Italian roadster and Miss Lemon’s new admirer turn out to have connections with each other and with the murdered man, and Poirot finds his investigation leads him into the gangland world of London’s Little Italy. The story culminates in a deadly car chase.
The Chocolate Box - Poirot returns to Belgium for the first time since the Great War, and there he revisits a twenty-year-old murder mystery that was never officially solved. We flash back to an eager young detective on the Brussels police force, working to serve a young woman who has come to him for help. In the process, the pin the older Poirot wears is identified.
The Dead Man’s Mirror - At an auction, Hercule Poirot wants to buy an old mirror. Art dealer Gervase Chevenix outbids him for it, then offers Poirot the mirror if he will investigate a case… Chevenix believes he is being cheated by an architect, John Lake… Mrs Chevenix claims her spirit guide, an ancient Egyptian called Saphra, has warned her of an imminent death. There is a disputed will, a second unsigned will, the sound of shots behind locked doors, and an apparent suicide which Poirot suspects is murder.
Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan - Mrs Opalsen’s famous pearls are stolen, and Poirot is happily on hand to investigate. A complex theft calls for a sophisticated solution. Unfortunately, Poirot is hindered everywhere he goes by being mistaken for ‘Lucky Len’.

Series 6

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas - Poirot’s Christmas is interrupted by Simeon Lee, who believes his life is threatened. Simeon is soon killed and his diamonds stolen, and there is no shortage of down-trodden Lees on hand who might have done the deed.
Hickory Dickory Dock - A string of thefts at a student hostel run by Miss Lemon’s sister ends in death, and Poirot has a number of plots and sub-plots to untangle, including smuggling and political manipulations. A certain mouse is the only witness to a string of murders and it also features at the climax. Meanwhile, Poirot invites Japp to stay with him while Mrs Japp is away. Hastings is also off on his travels, and the dim police inspector vies with Poirot over the cooking.
Murder on the Links - Poirot and Hastings are on holiday in Deauville and receive a visit from Paul Renauld, who believes he’s being cheated by Chileans. Renauld is kidnapped and his body is later found buried in a new golf bunker. French detective Giraud unwisely challenges Poirot to catch the killer before he can. Meanwhile, Hastings is diverted by love – he has fallen heavily for an actress called Dulcie Duveen. Dulcie has a twin sister called Bella. And one of them appears to be mixed up in the killing of Renault.
Dumb Witness - Poirot and Hastings are at Lake Windermere for an attempt on the world speed-boat record. Two sisters have premonitions of danger. Soon a rich elderly widow is hurt by falling down stairs, then later she is killed by poisoning with phosphorus. The “dumb witness” Poirot must fathom to solve the mystery is a dog.
The show has always had a problem with being consistent as far as whether or not they are feature films or episodes.  For series 4 and 6 they went the feature film route, while series 5 they were were produced in an episodic format.  I enjoyed these series more than the earlier ones as the plots are more intricate and the actors are even more comfortable in their roles.  These series also had more well-known guest stars including Donald Sumpter, Christopher Eccleston, Anna Chancellor, Hermione Norris, Jeremy Northam, Damian Lewis, and Kate Buffery. I especially liked the ABC Murders, The Egyptian Tomb, Yellow Iris, and the Dead Man’s Mirror because they had good plots and I also like the humor that was mixed in there well.  Watching the fastidious Poirot suffer in the desert because of the dust and conditions was funny and it’s even better when his frustration is conveyed by such a good actor as David Suchet.

Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

These episodes are framed in their original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 and presented in 1080p resolution.  When compared to the earlier DVD release, these remastered episodes look considerably better.  This set even looks better than the earlier Blu-ray sets as it has a much sharper picture.  There’s still some soft shots every now and then, but overall this is much better.  Colors are better defined and contrast is also improved.  Flesh tones look natural but occasionally veer to the pinkish side and black levels are fairly decent but not as dark as they should be.  These episodes don’t suffer from scratches or blemishes and for a show over twenty-five years old, this set look really good.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Series 3 set’s uncompressed PCM 2.0 stereo mix also is a far cry better than the earlier home video release. The dialogue is clear and crisp, and the scores by Christopher Gunning also sound wonderful (albeit the music is much louder than the rest of the show).  This is a mostly front channel delivery but the sound effects sound good and there’s no hiss or other audio issues to speak of.  Fans of the show should be plenty happy with this new uncompressed mix.

Extras (0 out of 5 stars) 

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 (3 out of 5 stars) 

This is another great continuation of the Hercule Poirot series and it’s even better seeing them in broadcast order. David Suchet is the ideal Hercule Poirot and the supporting cast is also fantastic.  This Blu-ray set offers excellent audio and visual quality but it’s a shame that there’s still no extras to be found.  If you are a fan of the series then you should pick this up with no hesitation!
Order your copy today!

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