If only all DVDs of older movies were like this!
Death on the Nile is 25 years old now. Pictorially, it is as ravishing as a young woman in her spring-time bloom.
Through the 'making of' documentary on the disc, we know that more than half of the movie was shot on a great sound-stage in Britain. But that doesn't matter - the film presents the grand sweep of the Nile in its full widescreen splendour. The sets are redolent of the Egypt of today and yesterday. The plot becomes subordinate to the setting.
When recently reviewing another Agatha Christie mystery, The Mirror Crack'd, I mentioned that it was superior to Death on the Nile, which was by contrast a grand travelogue.
Well, I don't resile from that. But it really is a grand travelogue of the best kind. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this genial nonsense, despite the presence of the dreaded avuncular Peter Ustinov, bumbling through his inappropriate casting as the dapper Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.
The plot has been trimmed down from Agatha Christie's original, with some of her more interesting curly bits and red herrings excised, including the important character of Tim Allerton and his mother. And on film, what seemed believable in the novel (the execution of the central murder) seems wildly implausible. A murderer who sets out on a scheme as dependent on favourable circumstance as this is truly seeking punishment before the crime is even committed.
But it really doesn't matter. It's all silly fun, with basically strong casting, Peter Ustinov aside. You can't really go wrong with the likes of David Niven, Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Mia Farrow, Olivia Hussey, Jane Birkin, Jon Finch and Maggie Smith as passengers and/or villains. This is exotica run riot, with a cast who can do this sort of stuff in their sleep - though they do manage to keep us well awake.
This is one of the finest transfers of a film of this period (1978) which I have seen.
The colours are crisp and glow with a special luminescence. The flesh tones are perfect, and there seem to be no transfer artefacts to mar the enjoyment. Sometimes a film is so splendidly transferred to DVD that its very quality of image ravishes us and lets us ignore trifling considerations such as plot inadequacies, poor acting - those little things. This is such a transfer.
The sound is, by contrast, very bare-bones. Just Dolby Digital two-channel stereo. But since the role of the dialogue in this movie is simply to advance the plot, we only need crisp and clear articulation, and we get that. For the purpose, the soundtrack is fine.
I would recommend this for collection if only for the total beauty of the setting and quality of the transfer. But I doubt if it is a movie you could watch more often than once a decade, so maybe it's worth renting then deciding.
If you're a fan of Bette Davis, you'll have to own it - this is a great late appearance by that fine actress, as bitchy and waspy as she ever was.