CHRISTIE RESURRECTED: Can the queen of whodunnits connect with a modern crowd by Aaron Oliver, LOL contributor
With the opening of “Murder on the Orient Express” this month in theaters, I wondered aloud if it was possible for Agatha Christie to become cool again. Naturally, my wife countered with: “Has she ever been out of style?”
Christie’s website (www.agathachristie.com) calls her the bestselling author of all time. Her books remain on shelves at bookstores galore, and prior to the movie’s release, I got sales e-mails from every online e-book retailer on the planet. (Yes, the entire planet!)
Yet, in the world of fingertip technology, can stories where the protagonist has no access to a billion instant reference sources capture today’s reader? Just look at all the updated Sherlock Holmes efforts. In the BBC edition, it is almost as if Holmes’ brain is hot-wired into the Internet. He stares at his phone constantly, while data swirls around him like confetti.
In 2013 a modern adaptation of “The Great Gatsby”— featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role—was released. The over-the-top remake of The Great American Novel just-so-happened to be a success at the box-office. Thus, it introduced a younger generation to the classic cautionary tale of love, decadence, idealism and the American dream. Within the first 30 days of the film’s release, e-book sales of Fitzgerald’s novel spiked 250 percent.
Gatsby’s tale of money, greed, and sex fit right into our century’s reality-obsessed television and online-video generation. While many of Christie’s novels use the same set of themes, they are much more subtlety placed in the backdrop of her whodunits. Take into account solving crimes in the 21st century is now all about science: We can lift latent fingertips with super glue, determine a time of death almost down to the minute, and link victims to murderers conclusively thanks to DNA. Can a Belgian with only his little gray cells be the next Harry Potter?
The estates of Elvis, Michael Jackson, Audrey Hepburn, and Agatha Christie have done fantastic jobs in keeping their muses relevant and in demand. Christie’s whodunits have been adapted into 30 feature films. In fact, 1974’s “Orient Express” production won Ingrid Bergman an Academy Award and launched a series of star-studded films based on the author’s works.
David Suchet’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot in the ’90s sparked a strong resurgence in Dame Agatha’s prose. The BBC leaped into production with Christie’s other classic character, Miss Marple. Both series continued to produce new and sadly—sometimes poorly—adapted versions of the author’s original text until around 2013. The Miss Marple series even tried to update its look, moving the context of many of the stories into the late ’60s and twisting the narrative to include LGBT themes in the plots.
There is little doubt the Queen of Crime had a gift for developing sleight-of-hand stories that kept her readers guessing until the last page. Maybe it does not matter about revolutions in scientific detection. Christie’s stories are puzzles that challenge the mind, kind of like Words with Friends or Sudoku.
“Murder on the Orient Express” is considered by many to be one of Christie’s masterpieces. The previews feature a cross-generational cast I am sure the producers hope will bring a great mix to the theater. I confess it is a film both my wife and I have on our holiday list. Yet, it seems a more modern adaption of something like, “And Then There Were None,” would have had a greater appeal to today’s younger film-goers.
Like the ’90’s “Scream” franchise, and 2000’s “Saw” series, the murder-mystery offers an excellent body count, with a terrific twist ending. While its theme has been adapted many times since publication in 1939, it offers something that might get the social-media crowd talking. Of course, I am a little bias; the novel was the first book I purchased at my middle-school scholastic book fair in 19 … well, nevermind. I read the plot summary in the catalog and was captivated. The film adaption, “Ten Little Indians,” also hit prime-time television, and the storyline was much talked about among my peers during lunch and recess.
From the trailer, the production appears to be a period piece, which should capture “Downton Abby” fans. The director Kenneth Branagh had success in 1991 with the neo-noir mystery thriller “Dead Again,” which also featured a suspenseful conclusion. The real star of the movie, the train, remains one of society’s most compelling forms of transportation; although, roughly only 10 percent of all Americans over 18 have even ridden one.
Which brings us back to Christie’s shot at being cool again. Oddly enough, we find ourselves in much of the same state of affairs as the author’s first fans were back in the 1920s. We are under attack by modernism (technology), tired of war, and struggling to discover order in a chaotic landscape. Just like Harry Potter’s magical realm, Agatha’s detective fiction is set in what appears to be a simpler place—although like Eden inhabited by a few snakes. The stories do not ramble but are structured with clear beginnings, middles, and ends. Best of all, with the conclusion of each story, order is restored—something that does not appear to be happening in the world today.
With the release of the movie, all the pieces of the puzzle are in place to give the masterful maven of the whodunits a chance at a rebirth. Will any of it connect with today’s Twitter crowd? It is a mystery that may require #PoirotandMarple to solve together. LOL
Aaron Oliver is a writer, videographer, and blogger.