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Murder on the Orient Express 2017


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#1 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 21 November 2017 - 02:12 PM

Kenneth Branagh is at it again, with a dialog-driven, murder mystery that in a lot of cases, didn't need to be re-made.

 

As a railfan and 70mm buff, this was a movie I've been anxious to watch for quite sometime. 

Murder on the Orient Express is the very simple "who done it" with the twist of a seemingly random journey that puts one of the best detectives in the world, in the heart of a crime only he can solve. The Agatha Christie story has been modified heavily for this new venture, the writers taking some of the best elements of her writing and adding some new twists and turns in hopes to revitalize the story. It's clear from the first scene, Branagh's intentions were to make an "actor's" piece, rather than one of sheer entertainment. Where this film falls short is with it's characters, less it's casting choices. Unfortunately, whether due to time or financial constraints, even the most talkative characters feel very flat and missing important dynamics. Every time you want more from them, the filmmakers cut away. Every time the filmmakers show you more, it feels poorly written and doesn't make sense. I would make the assumption it was pretty long and it was substantially cut down. Furthermore, the lead character Hercule Poirot, has a heavy French accent and talks very fast. So much of the critical clever dialog can be missed with the blink of an eye. This is unfortunate because within the script, there are some good moments, it's just the translation from actor to audience, was weak. 

 

In terms of the production, this was a massive undertaking because they couldn't afford to shoot on location, so the entire movie was made on the backlot. This includes the grand station at the beginning, nearly all of the train scenes and of course, the mountain cosway which is where most the film takes place. There is "some" real train footage in the movie, but only a few seconds here and there. Unfortunately as a consequence, there are a lot of visual effects shots. Mostly set extensions, but almost all of the wide shots of the train, is done in CG, which is unfortunate.

 

Branagh only works on film and he felt this movie deserved the "royal" treatment and would be entirely shot on 5 perf 65mm. He had worked with 65mm making 'Hamlet' and was excited to do it again. The cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, has worked with Branagh a few other times and was excited about working on large format. They shot most scenes with 2 cameras, and some of the bigger scenes that didn't have dialog, they used upwards of three cameras. This allowed them to shoot very fast and with a very experienced cast, it was easy to bang out scenes without much fuss or re-shooting. Since the film was being shot in the UK, they used Cinelab UK's 65mm processing machines and had overnight dailies, which was a perfectly acceptable workflow. The camera seems to be always in motion, either on a dolly, steadicam or jib/crane. This created a really nice look, along with some excellent lighting choices from Zambarloukos. Instead of using green screen outside the windows of the moving train, VER provided the world's largest LED display solution for a movie. Zambarloukos shot plates in New Zealand on a rail line up in the mountains. They shot with both 65mm and digital cameras and wound up only using the digital media for those plates. With that said, the 65mm format was so crisp, you could tell the background was projected, which was a real shame. Had it been shot on anamorphic 35mm, you may not have been able to tell. 

 

I felt over-all cinematography wise, the film was made like a typical hollywood venture. Outside of a few cool shots, like the steadicam shot which goes through the entire train and shooting through some of the beautiful glasswork inside the coaches, there wasn't anything really outstanding to see. The production simply felt rushed and they weren't taking many risks, especially in the cinematography department. Much of the film is comprised of two shot dialog scenes, cutting between an A/B camera in a small room. This doesn't lend itself to very "exciting" cinematography unfortunately. Movies like 'Hateful Eight' suffer from similar maladies, struggling to mix creativity with story, timeframe and budget. I don't blame Zambarloukos at all, I simply think they didn't have the wherewithal to allow him to shine. 

 

This leads me to the subject of 65mm and the travesty of post production. Due to the film being made/finished in the UK, they decided very early on to do post digitally. This was truly unfortunate because this movie like 'Hateful Eight' and 'Dunkirk' would have been really nice to see as a photochemical finish. Instead we got a very "digital" looking movie, even on 70mm prints. The post production was also done at 2.40:1 aspect ratio, so in the theaters it felt different than a normal 70mm movie. There were dozens of moments throughout the movie where the dynamics were substantially reduced, as if they were simply lasering out a DCI-P3 version of the film, which may have been the case. The black retention was decent however, I felt overall that was one of the positives. It was nice to see details in the rich deep blacks, something you rarely see digitally without them being lifted.

 

The print at Arclight Hollywood was a tiny bit dirty, but no scratches or sign of any other wear. Three trailers were included on the print and one of which was PT Andersons new movie; 'The Phantom Thread' which will be released on 70mm in December. Unfortunately, Arclight wasn't using their most calibrated projector so the brightness consistency across the screen was lacking. Registration was good and the image was bright, just not the most perfect presentation overall. 

 

In summary, the production felt rushed, post felt rushed and even the printmaking and projection felt rushed. This left me semi-unsatisfied and at one point, I nearly dozed off because frankly, it just wasn't that interesting of a movie. There were a lot of great elements, but no glue to hold them together. Technically it wasn't anything to write home about either, which was disappointing. Even the score was very 2nd rate and lackluster, which was a real shame. There really wasn't any "redeeming" value to the movie and that's the biggest problem. 

 

Worth the watch on home video, but now that the prints are about to be retracted, I wouldn't bother seeing on the big screen. Hopefully Fox makes some money off the prints and see's the value in perhaps striking more for future releases. 

 

 

 


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#2 Samuel Berger

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Posted 21 November 2017 - 11:07 PM

You lost me at "digital".


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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 12:50 AM

So digital photography is no good... and film transferred to digital is no good, not even 65mm film... and Fatih Yikar doesn't even like film finished to film if it's done using modern film stocks!

 

Is there a point where one's standards can be so impossibly high that it becomes an impediment to enjoying something?


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#4 Samuel Berger

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 12:58 AM

So digital photography is no good... and film transferred to digital is no good, not even 65mm film... and Fatih Yikar doesn't even like film finished to film if it's done using modern film stocks!

 

Is there a point where one's standards can be so impossibly high that it becomes an impediment to enjoying something?

 

I love you David, but, humor detector on, please... ;-)

 

DEMENTED FOREVER!


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#5 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 01:00 AM

The whole thing would have been much better as a series of tapestries .. woven by monks .. displayed in a northerly facing Tudor Hall in the UK..  


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#6 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 01:01 AM

Is there a point where one's standards can be so impossibly high that it becomes an impediment to enjoying something?


When the script is bad, what else can you pick on?

I just think if you're gonna spend that kind of money, do it right. There is no reason to muck around the bush, strike a dozen prints that were made at the wrong aspect ratio and try to make some sort of a "film" presentation out of it. I'm glad they did it, but wish they had done it better all the way around.
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#7 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 01:02 AM

You lost me at "digital".

 

But some of the disciples are not joking.. you are not a true believer then.. out you sinner.. you probably watch TV or something satanic  like that..


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#8 Samuel Berger

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 01:03 AM

The whole thing would have been much better as a series of tapestries .. woven by monks .. displayed in a northerly facing Tudor Hall in the UK..  

 

And in 200 ISO...pushed to 800....


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#9 David Hessel

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 01:15 AM

 
I love you David, but, humor detector on, please... ;-)
 
DEMENTED FOREVER!


Sorry but humor is lost when every single post is film is better than digital. Implying that you completely dismiss someone else's work simply because it is digital can be viewed as disrespectful. After all with cinematography format chosen is way down on the list of when judging someone's work, personally I don't think it even belongs on that list.
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 01:28 AM

I thought the movie looked quite nice (I saw it digitally projected).  To me, 65mm is sort of the best of both worlds, a dream format -- you get the sharpness and clean look of digital -- if that's what you like -- and yet you get the benefits of color negative film in terms of dynamic range, overexposure latitude, colors, skin tone reproduction.

 

The problems with the script didn't make me evaluate the cinematography differently than if the script were better.

 

I agree on some of your points, Tyler, even though I liked the movie more than you did.  

 

First of all, the large amounts of CGI were disappointing even if understandable considering the period settings.  I'd rather they staged smaller shots in real places that they could art direct for 65mm rather than swoop around a digital matte painting that is too often overly prettified to look convincing.

 

I feel that the Sidney Lumet version is superior simply because it is lean and efficient in how it lays out the plot points and sets up the characters.  Everything "adds up" piece by piece in that version -- in this one, I'm not sure all the connections to the Armstrong case were laid out clearly -- how did Poirot figure out that the Countess' assistant had been the Armstrong family cook in this one? In the Lumet version, he tricked her into admitting that her past employers had been fond of her cooking even though as a maid, she wouldn't have been cooking for them.  In this one, he suddenly at the end tells everyone that she had been the Armstrong cook, I guess by process of elimination.  This new version tries too hard to "open up" the story, which goes against the nature of a classic detective murder-mystery story, which should be tight (though "The Big Sleep" has plot holes you can drive a train through...)

 

I don't have a problem with 65mm being "wasted" on an interior-bound dialogue-heavy movie, even if that seems like an indulgence -- people just look nicer in 65mm film, so why not?  Sure, it would be more impressive if used for a day exterior movie with some scope, ala "Lawrence of Arabia".

 

The directing of scenes camerawork-wise was fine, there's only so much you can do on a train interior anyway.  And rear projection for the backgrounds, which is what they did for the Lumet version too, is preferable to greenscreen composites unless done extremely well.  I didn't really think too much about the moving backgrounds out the windows in general, which probably means that they worked.


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#11 Samuel Berger

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 01:59 AM

Sorry but humor is lost when every single post is film is better than digital. Implying that you completely dismiss someone else's work simply because it is digital can be viewed as disrespectful. After all with cinematography format chosen is way down on the list of when judging someone's work, personally I don't think it even belongs on that list.

 

meme.jpg


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#12 fatih yıkar

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 10:09 AM

So digital photography is no good... and film transferred to digital is no good, not even 65mm film... and Fatih Yikar doesn't even like film finished to film if it's done using modern film stocks!

 

Is there a point where one's standards can be so impossibly high that it becomes an impediment to enjoying something?

I laughed so much while I was reading  :lol:  but I want to add, i really like the ''love witch'' and ''inherent vice'' recently,  i still haven't watched dunkirk or Murder on the Orient Express... 

 

I think the solution is simple, kodak must produce again old stock exactly the same way (exrs, first visions etc), and if a movies shot on this stock with 90s shooting style and photochemically done it would be great for me :)

 

:rolleyes: Still waiting blu-ray this (Cecil B. DeMented) really beautiful looking movie as far as i remember from dvd but probably it won't come out soon


Edited by fatih yıkar, 22 November 2017 - 10:11 AM.

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#13 fatih yıkar

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 04:15 PM

Btw i also like the ''hateful eight'' but problem is when i watching in movie theather from digital projection colors looks so faded and all image was dark so i can't make healty evaluation after i watched from blu-ray again ıt's looks much different than i saw in theather.

 

A couple months ago i talked the guy who works in movie theater he told to me '' so many movie theather have to change their projector lambs using 2000-3000 hours later or they have to make repair but they don't do this things because of cost so they using until a big problem shows up, that's why some movies looking bad at screen depending on projection'' 

I don't know what's the situation is in United States but i suppose movie theaters isn't inspected every year as a image quality in many country.


Edited by fatih yıkar, 22 November 2017 - 04:23 PM.

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#14 Mark Dunn

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Posted 23 November 2017 - 05:58 AM

Only seen the trailer and I'm afraid I couldn't get past the ridiculous moustache. We're all fixated on David Suchet here. He owns the character now.

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#15 Randal Feemster

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Posted 27 April 2018 - 11:18 PM

I thought the movie looked quite nice (I saw it digitally projected).  To me, 65mm is sort of the best of both worlds, a dream format -- you get the sharpness and clean look of digital -- if that's what you like -- and yet you get the benefits of color negative film in terms of dynamic range, overexposure latitude, colors, skin tone reproduction.

 

Worth the watch on home video, but now that the prints are about to be retracted, I wouldn't bother seeing on the big screen. Hopefully Fox makes some money off the prints and see's the value in perhaps striking more for future releases. 

 

 

 

 

Gentlemen, I've targeted the two of you as active on this particular discussion, and therefore likely to be motivated to re-engage.  I think your perspectives would be useful to have in what I am to cite.

 

It seems that this site and most others lack a forum subject that is one that needs to exist...as it is the product of several others that we have embraced and grappled with our entire careers on the "front end."  Exhibition is changing drastically and greatly affecting what is experienced of our work.

 

Tyler, you hit on it almost immediately in your discussion and reflection of the limited 70mm release of Murder, but also touching on general comparative qualities of both photo-chemical prints and digital cinema.

 

David, you also forwarded the worthy qualities of digital capture, but the classic benefits of negative.

 

Of course, the two worlds coexist now from capture through post-production.  The discussion point I want to bring up is exhibition, primarily the "big screen."  I will leave the merits of story, script, and directing to others, but I think that this remake of Murder on the Orient Express is an excellent example to use in the discussion.  Like you, I regard 5/65 film as good a capture as we can possibly get at this time.  Yes, wonderful images are possible from digital; I love tons of them, but...there are some intangibles that make film attractive, and the expansive negative area of 65 immensely so.

 

We are fortunate to have experienced 70mm features in well-maintained and calibrated cinemas.  The qualities of photo-chemical prints with proper lamp house luminance provide us with the incredible dynamic range and color depth we never forget.  We have all also experienced such artifacts as gate weave and the many other things that degrade a projected film image.

 

I contend that the current digital commercial cinema projection technologies (whether 2K, 4K, or Dolby Vision) have serious technical shortcomings that make it impossible to emulate the best qualities of a 70mm film print.  The vast majority of these are DLP-based technologies since DLP is the technology that can cast such a large video image with any level of descent brightness.  The Achilles heel of DLP is how poor black levels are.  Yes, infra-scene contrast is excellent, but much of our work lives in the zone of low APL high contrast (lighting).  There we need native high sequential contrast.  DLP struggles mightily to deliver this...and that drives me nuts because it robs us of not only the quality and character of our work, but the dynamic range overall.  How does one grade for such a hamstrung environment?

 

Along comes HDR to try to help us.  But if the cinema projectors can't dig down there into the blacks, we are only left with benefits in bright areas.  Of course, grading for HDR is another difficult subject.

 

I contend that there is recent front projection technology that is superior to what we see in the best digital cinemas that does emulate the best of a 70mm film print and, in some respects, surpasses it.  To my utter surprise, that is in the home theater front projection field.   I know, that's heresy coming from a comrade/veteran of the photo-chemical era, but I recently experienced this with this Murder On the Orient Express, and I was simply blown away.  Let me provide details.

 

I did not see this feature at a commercial cinema.  I first saw it via streaming 1080p via Vudu.  Although I was not blown away by the movie itself, I thought the cinematography quite good, and highly detailed.  Knowing it was shot 65mm, I was not surprised.  I then had the opportunity to see it again in a high performance home theater setting on a 10' wide acoustically transparent scope aspect ratio screen, viewing from 15' away.  This time the source was the 4K UHD/HDR Blu-ray.  The projector is calibrated to the HDR-10 specs, and shows detail up to 1000 nits and almost down to 0% (using UHD test pattern), and reference white luminance at 16 ftL.  An HDR-flagged scene shifts the projector to a brighter mode that can reach the HDR 1000 nits and HDR gamma curve.

 

I have been extremely leery of UHD HDR due to the apparent sloppy porting to UHD, 2K DI, or sloppy shooting.  It has seemed that too many titles were just porting over to UHD HDR with a global gamma setting.  This often rendered our work terribly.  A face against a bright sky that is nicely balanced in capture and grading for non-HDR often was almost silhouette on some UHD HDR Blu-rays.  Clearly, a new scene to scene grade is necessary.  Only recently have I seen a change that gives me hope not only for seeing our work in that environment, but also in the commercial cinema.

 

Murder On the Orient Express is absolutely stunning in that HT setting!  Two factors stand out to me as a "cinematographer."  First, the detail of the 65mm capture is insane!  Secondly, the dynamic range is not gimmicky; it's just bloody huge in a good way.  Blacks/shadows are amazingly deep and detailed.  There is no visible projection gimmickry such as dynamic iris detectable, although it's in use.  The projector's native black level is extremely low, but I tried the dynamic iris.  It's invisible in adjustment...which was a big surprise.  So, detail and all the lighting had a quality that was just amazing.

 

Ironically, the director's other 65mm endeavor, Hamlet, on blu-ray is renowned for being a poor transfer.  They certainly got it right for Murder!

 

Some research revealed that other titles are being prepared properly (or remastered) for UHD HDR.  Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy has been remastered for UHD/HDR.  I also sat down to take a look at Batman Begins...and couldn't stop.  Wally Pfister's work is just stunning!  I dare say it never looked as good in any commercial cinema.  I know; heresy!

 

In this home theater environment, we have some examples of great sources, a format that is finally maturing a little (HDR-10), and a projector manufacturer in this case who is doing a rather spectacular job of rendering it.  But this is a niche market, and not an inexpensive one.  Such a projector goes for $5K to $8K.

 

So, how do we get that level of image quality in the commercial cinema?  I'm not sure yet.  The home projector technology I described is transmissive (JVC D-ILA and Sony's similar).  I think that the heat of the commercial cinema lamp house is a limiting factor to those technologies.  I hear that projection in Dolby Cinemas (presuming nominal source material) is capable.  I've also heard that the JVC HT projectors equal or exceed those, too.  Their dynamic range for 1080p or UHD HDR certainly greatly exceed that of DLP digital cinema.

 

My point is that these recent HT viewings have really made me re-focus on where we are in commercial cinema...which I often find depressing...even in fine cinemas such as the Arclight.  Seeing these astounding HT images on a cinema-like screen have given me hope.

 

Seek these out, if you have not already.   I suspect some readers may have experienced these.  Finding a truly good front projection "demo" is tough these days unless you are in a major market.  If you get near me, I can see that you see it. I'd love to know what you think of where this is all headed and what it means to our field.

 

Cheers.


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#16 Randal Feemster

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Posted 27 April 2018 - 11:38 PM

EDIT:  It would seem obvious that laser light engines hold great promise.  I don't know where technology is for that in the commercial cinema.  I have experienced the JVC HT ($36K) laser projector, and it's black levels are more like that of commercial cinemas, despite the expected benefit.  The lamp-based HT models from JVC are far superior to their laser model with regards to black levels.  Hopefully, the commercial cinema laser models are getting where we need to be...but how many houses will we see that have those...for at least quite a while?


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#17 Jon O'Brien

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Posted 28 April 2018 - 06:21 AM

Sounds great to me. Shoot on film. Project at a very high level of integrity to the traditional qualities of film projection, but using digital with all its benefits. This is what I'm interested in.


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