James Bond and I have an interesting history. Especially when it comes to owning Casino Royale. Last March I reviewed the two-disc DVD release, where I again revisited one of the best films of 2006. Later that year, in September, I became the proud owner of a Blu-ray Disc player (a PS3), and received the BD release of Casino Royale as a bonus. Now Sony Pictures has released a collector’s edition on BD and DVD, to coincide with the theatrical debut of Quantum of Solace, with even more features. But is this double-dip aiming to please, or is it just overkill?
A leader when it comes to the total number of installments, the James Bond franchise has been tweaked and retooled many times over, and the blueprint has produced mixed results. Sean Connery, seen as the first, true Bond, was beyond compare. With every actor that followed a measuring stick was close by. Each one gave the character something different. Roger Moore’s interpretations made for a sillier Bond, while Timothy Dalton was a tough Bond. It’s a shame that Dalton’s stint only lasted two adventures, because if you’ve ever read Ian Fleming’s novels, Bond was a little rough around the edges. Maybe that’s why I’m a silent supporter of License to Kill, a film that works as a Bond adventure and as a revenge flick.
After Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal of the famed MI6 agent got off to a good start, it quickly worsened with each new installment. Clunky dialogue and even stranger casting decisions–-Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist (ARE YOU KIDDING ME!)–-made a mockery of Fleming’s ageless character. Yet it was still making millions over millions at the box office. But the cha-ching sounded hollow, like the movie properties were lifeless pursuits.
So the producers took all the notes they had scribbled on napkins, waded them up and threw them in the trash. It was time to start anew: back to basics. More danger and excitement, less gadgets—have a Bond that can be damaged on an emotional level, not just a physical one. They strip the character bare and reboot the franchise, dusting off Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel Casino Royale in the process.
And the timing couldn’t have been better.
With the success of The Bourne Identity and its sequel, the public wanted a Bond who was lean, mean, and at times careless in his actions and put into jeopardy. Thus allowing us to be emotionally involved with the character.
From its opening black-and-white prelude, explaining how James Bond was granted 007 status, gone are the days of the “Cool, Unflappable Bond.” He is as M (Judi Dench) puts it, “a blunt instrument.” For his first assignment, Bond is tracking a bomb maker in Madagascar. After the mission is bungled, though giving us one of the best foot-race chases ever choreographed, Bond is led to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), banker to the world’s top terrorist organizations. Le Chiffre is also a gambling man, and he plans to raise money during a “winner takes all” poker game at Le Casino Royale hotel. Bond is also skilled at poker, and he must go undercover and sabotage the game. In the process, Bond meets Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a woman who steals his heart, and someone that makes him consider resigning from MI-6.
It’s that kind of serious consideration that makes Casino Royale special. Bond may very well be bound by his duty, but he’s willing to give it all up for a woman. It’s a nice touch at humanizing Bond, instead of making him out to the hedonist Connery perfected.
Narrative strokes aside, action is not withheld. There’s the aforementioned foot-race chase through Madagascar, which is fantastically staged, and a sequence on an airport runway that also stands out.
And while I’ll be the first to admit that the James Bond reboot would have made hand over fist regardless of who was playing the famed character, Daniel Craig defied skeptics and detractors and proved that he was the perfect choice –You can play slots at dreamjackpot. It’s almost like when you see Russell Crowe totally owning the role of Bud White in L.A. Confidential, or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and wondering where did these guys came from? Craig’s interpretation of Bond is of someone who can easily mix sexiness, swagger and brutishness. We buy into his love of Vesper. It’s the heart of the story, and a romance that guys won’t mind sitting through to appease a spouse or girlfriend.
The talent and dedication put into the producing Casino Royale uprights a teetering franchise and restores the greatness of Ian Fleming’s legendary character. Finally, James Bond is back.
Casino Royale has been one of the biggest titles to hit Blu-ray. A year-and-a-half later, Sony’s re-issue as a new two-disc Blu-ray edition again has the superb 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. It’s a very, very, very good transfer, but not the type you’d use as reference when you show off your home theater to others. The opening credits sequence with Chris Cornell’s theme song is fantastic, but after that the richness in detail varies.
Unlike the first release, Sony has decided to drop the original’s uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround track and replaced it with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround option (48kHz/24-bit). Untrained ears probably won’t notice a difference, but I’ve read reports of sound comparisons, and the PCM is a smidge better. The sound design is an immersive experience, the highlights being the foot case, airport interception and the climatic collapse of a building in Venice.
When Casino Royale first appeared on Blu-ray it was a nice package, but far from complete. With this two-disc set we get a loaded Collector’s Edition that adds many featurettes that should have been included the first time around. Featurettes are a mix of 1080p and 480p sources with subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese and Portuguese. All features can be found on Disc Two, except for a few exceptions.
The first disc has two commentary tracks. The first is a new BonusView PiP visual commentary (found only on Blu-ray) with director Martin Campbell and producer Michael G. Wilson. The second track is more technical in its discussion: a scene-specific audio commentary with Wilson and his co-producer Barbara Broccoli, as well as a platoon of crew members including composer David Arnold, production designer Peter Lamont, effects supervisor Chris Corbol, and director of photography Phil Mayhew.
Two other Blu-ray exclusives can be found on the first disc: an interactive game called “Know Your Double -O:The Ultimate James Bond Trivia Quiz”. Also, with BD-Live functionality, users can download a number of featurettes (in SD or HD) highlighting the theatrical release of Quantum of Solace.
The second disc contains all the extras that were on the previous Blu-ray release, plus two hours of new behind-the-scenes material. From the first release there’s Becoming Bond (24 minutes), about the casting of Daniel Craig; James Bond for Real (23 minutes), a technical exploration of the amazing stunts, and Bond Girls are Forever, a 49-minute doc from 2006 that aired on AMC. The doc was done by Bond Girl Maryam d’Abo (The Living Daylights) and it is an entertaining look back at all the women who have shared scenes—and beds—with James Bond. The doc has been updated to include those “Bondshells” from Casino Royale.
So what’s new with this release? We begin with filmmaker profiles (53 minutes total) on the production crew. If that doesn’t’ sound appealing, John Cork, who has written many books about James Bond and is a historian when it comes to the character, produced many of the supplements found on the previous James Bond two-disc DVD releases. Here again, this member of the Ian Fleming Foundation produces a number of features in pristine HD. The Road to Casino Royale (26:34) is about the long history of trying to get the rights to Fleming’s novel and bring it to fruition. Included in this featurette are clips from an early TV adaptation with Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Ian Fleming’s Incredible Creation (21:14) covers Fleming’s influences on writing Casino Royale and, more importantly, the character James Bond. With this feature you get to see whom Fleming modeled Bond after. James Bond in the Bahamas (24:16) has some of the best tourists shots of the Bahamas in full HD glory. It covers not only the production of this film in the Caribbean but many other Bond adventures as well. The building that is used in the opening foot-chase sequence allows for an interesting trivia tidbit. Ian Fleming: Secret Road to Paradise (24:48) is about how the tropics affected Fleming as a writer and a person. This featurette feels like extra padding and the material becomes redundant. Death in Venice (23:19) covers the impressive stunt sequence that involved hydraulics, miniatures, and the actors acting underwater.
Up next is a set of smaller featurettes, each of which focuses on a particular action sequence. Art of the Freerun (13:38) incorporates test and principal footage with the stunt coordinator, who is a noted freerunner himself. Catching a Plane (13:47) is a script-to-screen comparison of the airplane/bomb sequence, which includes crew interviews and conceptual art of the scene in the early planning stages. Freerun Chase (10:19) allows you to view only the storyboard or watch a storyboard to film comparison.
Finally, there’s eight minutes of deleted scenes (in HD), Chris Cornell’s music video for “You Know My Name,” and trailers (on the first disc) for a number of Sony Pictures titles. Sadly missing from the two-disc release are teasers and theatrical trailers for both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
Even though this is a double-dip release on Sony’s part, the Collector’s Edition is a substantial upgrade. It’s the version we should have gotten a year-and-a-half ago. But just like the franchise had to be rebooted, so did the Blu-ray. The video and audio are quite good and you get more than three hours worth of new supplemental material, including some interesting Blu-ray exclusives. For those that don’t already own Casino Royale, this is the version to get. For those that don’t care for extras, you can probably stick to the original release. Either way, there’s no better time to enjoy James Bond.
Sony Pictures presents Casino Royale (Collector’s Edition). Directed by Martin Campbell. Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, and Judi Dench. Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. Running time: 140 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on BD: October 21, 2008. Available at Amazon.
Tags: Casino Royale, Daniel Craig, Eva Green, James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, Quantum of Solace, Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton