5 Ways to Prep: Murder on the Orient Express
By George Rose
November 9, 2017
It’s hard to get excited about writing this week’s article. Last weekend, Thor: Ragnarok kicked off the winter movie season in style with a Marvel-ous $123 million debut. Next weekend we have Justice League which is hoping to top that number but, even if it does, we will still laugh at it anyway. I mean, there’s no way the movie turns out good. Changes in director, extensive reshoots and a generally laughable track record for DC Comics is going to leave this one stinking of disappointment no matter how much it earns but the superhero box office battle royale makes it worth watching. Sandwiched between these two comic book behemoths is Murder on the Orient Express, a star-studded mystery that’s aiming to entertain adult audiences.
A few weeks ago, Orient Express was shaping up to be a surprise hit and was one of the more anticipated releases of November. It had everything going for it. Based on the classic Agatha Christie mystery novel about a man murdered on a train with all the suspects trapped together? Check! Directed by a modern visionary? Kenneth Branagh directed both Thor and Cinderella, which are amazing, so it could be argued that he is a master of updating “classic literature”. So, yeah, that’s a check. Super mega awesome A-list cast? You betcha! We’ve got Branagh himself, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley and many more. With all this and great trailers, how could it be anything but a blockbuster?
Well, nobody cares about “Which of those dozen passengers killed that one guy?” when you can turn on the news to answer the real life question of “Who was that one Hollywood guy that raped dozens of women?” It’s hard to focus on one fake murder when nearly hundreds of people have come forward in the last two weeks about getting sexually assaulted by Hollywood big shots. And as much as I would loooooooove to dive deeper into that scandal, that’s not this week’s mission. Early reviews are in and Orient Express is hovering around 65% positive. That’s not bad but… it’s not great. It needed great. There’s too much talent in front of and behind the camera for it to be anything but great. So, even though 30% positive is amazing for a Madea movie, 65% is kind of garbage for such a prestige pic. What those critics might have lacked is proper preparation for this new feature film so here’s hoping that the following five ways to prep makes your trip on this murder train more enjoyable.
Way to Prep #1 - Snowpiercer (2014)
The problem with a movie set almost entirely on a train is… the train. Trains suck. They’re small, they smell, they’re one step up from taking the bus and about a hundred steps below taking a quick plane ride. There’s usually nothing to do on a train and there’s never enough leg room. Most places that trains go are barren wastelands so there’s nothing to do outside. I imagine it’s harder to catch a killer in a city than on a train; there’s more places to go, more suspects and a very small chance the truth is revealed. On a train, there’s only like a dozen other people and you sort of expect that they are all murderers when you get on board because, well, you’re on a train. And in Orient Express, it’s a sleeper-car train. Do those even exist anymore? Probably not because it’s such an old concept and there’s faster ways to travel now. I’m probably wrong but I’ll never know because I have always assumed trains were the worst way to travel. Well, that was until I saw Snowpiercer. Turns out, you can do a lot with trains.
Chris Evans stars as a poor guy stuck at in the caboose of a train that houses the entire population of the world, or what remains of it. After the planet is covered in an eternal winter, some rich guy decided to build a train that never stops running as it circles the globe. Naturally, class warfare takes over with poor people in the back and rich people in the front. Evans and his merry band of bag ladies decide to fight their way forward and take over. Because this is a movie on a train, it seems simple. However, this futuristic interpretation of the apocalypse allows for the possibility of an entire civilization surviving together on a train and that allows for endless possibilities of how those train cars are presented to us. There’s shanty cars where water is purified and bugs are ground up into candy bars, middle class trains with farm animals and classrooms, and there’s classy cars with aquariums and dance clubs. Aside from just being a great movie, what this film showed us is that you can’t underestimate a train and you can’t underestimate Hollywood. With the right set design you can make a square foot feel like a mile and Snowpiercer is a masterclass in making a mountain out of a molehill. If Orient Express can make their train feel like half of what Snowpiercer gave us then we are in for one epic mystery.
Way to Prep #2 - The Simpsons: Who Killed Mr. Burns? (1995, Episodes 128 & 129)
In Orient Express we are meant to wonder who of the passengers on the train killed some old rich dude that everybody probably hated anyway. I never read the book and I never saw the original movie, but I’m pretty sure I’ve already heard the big twist ending somewhere along the line. This classic murder mystery has ridden on the back of this twist ending for decades and most fans of the story already knows what’s going to happen. For the rest of us, we are asked to play along and guess who the big bad guy (or girl) is. Murder mysteries aren’t a new concept and they have been done a thousand times before. Train movies have been done, ensemble casts have been brought together and boring stories have been told with visual flair to liven them up. We’ve seen all of this. This is November filler at it’s best. What can turn this filler into fluff is this big twist ending. It will make or break the film for those unaware of the classic story.