Mangling Agatha Christie

How much violence are you allowed to do to a novel when you make it into a movie?

I haven’t seen this winter’s assault on J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug, in which the movie-makers invented their own major character and plugged her willy-nilly into the story. But I have seen (on youtube–thank heaven I didn’t pay for it!) the 2010 travesty of Agatha Christie’s novel, Appointment With Death.

The 1988 version, starring Peter Ustinov, sticks closely to the story, making only such changes as are to be reasonably expected from a movie. But the 2010 edition, starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, cries out for revenge.

Appointment With Death concerns the murder of a horrible, sadistic woman, a former prison wardress who married into money and was left a filthy rich widow. Her hobby is tormenting her step-children and screwing up their lives. The mystery isn’t so much who killed her as who didn’t.

Well, said the 2010 screenwriters, let’s change all that! So the wretched woman’s husband’s still alive, he’s an archeologist, and he loves her and calls her “Poppet.” Poppet? He calls this two-legged alligator Poppet?

There is something profoundly dishonest about all this. You’re using the name of the author and her title to trick people into watching your movie.

Jaws was a not-so-hot novel that was turned into a great movie because the screenwriters cut out all the crap stuffed into the story by the author, Peter Benchley. The rest of the time, it works the other way: they cut out the author’s good stuff and plug in a lot of hooey.

If you like Agatha Christie and her most famous character, Hercule Poirot, the 1988 Appointment With Death is worth your while. If you like watching train wrecks, check out the 2010 version.

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