I have just seen the trailer for Death on the Nile, the new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, featuring Kenneth Branagh in the role of Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective. Ca va sands dire that the trailer looks like a million dollars, the cast is suitably stellar (Gal Gadot!), and I’ll probably watch it one way or another when it comes out.
On the other hand I have often written about how much I like the original Death on the Nile, in which Peter Ustinov was Poirot, and that boasted an equally star-studded cast.
And this prompts a question: why remake Death on the Nile?
I am not a huge fan of Agatha Christie, but Wikipedia confirms the fact that there are in total in 33 novels, 2 plays, and more than 50 short stories featuring Poirot, published between 1920 and 1975. And yet there are not many movies – granted, most of the Poirot canon was mined for the (excellent, my brother’s a fan) David Suchet series, but at the movies we get about a dozen titles, the most famous being the 1974 Sidney Lumet Orient Express (that was remade a couple years back with Branagh), and the three films with Ustinov: Death on the Nile, Evil under the Sun and Appointment with Death.
Ustinov also appeared in three made-for-TV movies, but we don’t talk about those.
So the question is, why remake Death on the Nile, and Murder of the Orient Express before that, when there’s two dozens of other novels that could be adapted?
Why not do, say, Murder in Mesopotamia, or The Mystery of the Blue Train?
Is it a matter of rights? The rights for those novels have already been paid for, and the scripts can be recycled (and re-written) for cheap?
Or is it really – and this is what worries me – that the accountants currently running the show are so afraid of risking a loss on some untested story, that they are pushing only for old sure-fire hits to be remade?
Because if this is the case, then we are looking at a medium, and a form of art, that is feeding on its own flesh. That’s never a good sign.
And finally, are really these remakes needed because the younger audiences (but really, will there be a crowd of teenagers at the premiere of Death on the Nile) desperately in need of a remake to be able to “connect” with the story via actors they know, because – hypothetically – to them Bette Davis is an unknown, as is Mia Farrow, and Maggie Smith is “that old lady in Harry Potter and Downton Abbey”?
Is really the target audience so desperately limited they can’0t watch a 45-years-old movie without feeling disoriented?
Don’t you feel, like I do, everything’s pretty scary?