Judge Clark Douglas wrote this review without the aid of any eccentric gadgets whatsoever.
Our review of Casino Royale, published January 13th, 2003, is also available.
Always Bet on Bond.
M: "I'd ask you to remain emotionally detached, but that doesn't seem to be your problem."
Facts of the Case
Casino Royale is a "Bond Begins" of sorts, starting out with a black-and-white prologue that shows us the British secret agent's first two kills. The film is about Bond's rookie mission as an MI6 agent, and gives us a taste of what he was like before he became the refined, cold, unbeatable British agent we are all so familiar with. As played by Daniel Craig (Munich), Bond is not unshakable. In many ways, Bond is vulnerable, volatile, and certainly far less cynical than before. When asked if he'd like his martini shaken or stirred, Bond barks, "Do I look like I give a damn?" The plot sends our loose cannon of a hero off to a high stakes poker tournament. Why? Well, there's $150 million in the pot, and a very talented terrorist named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, King Arthur) is hoping to get his hands on it. Bond is paired up with an accountant named Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, The Dreamers), who is responsible for deciding whether Bond is talented enough to buy back into the game should his luck run out.
Before Casino Royale was released, I had a lot of doubts and concerns about the film. I heard they were getting rid of Q, getting rid of Moneypenny, dumping all the gadgets, and going for a harsher, grittier overall feel. I was mostly concerned that they would finally transform Bond from "007, Super-Awesome Secret Agent" to another typical, rough and tumble action hero (ala Jason Bourne). While Q, Moneypenny, and the deadly fountain pens are all indeed MIA here, my concerns have been washed away. This is the James Bond film I never knew I wanted to see. The film not only retains Bond's onscreen persona, it enhances it, making him a more three-dimensional individual than in Bond films of the past. To summarize, Casino Royale does for James Bond what Batman Begins (and subsequently, The Dark Knight) did for the Caped Crusader…it doesn't attempt to redefine him, but it somehow manages to make all of his existing extraordinary elements as credible and real as possible.
Much has been made of the fact that Bond is played here by newcomer Daniel Craig, who is the sixth man to play the role over the course of 21 films. I can say without question that he is the best James Bond since Sean Connery. Eva Green's Vesper is a refreshing change of pace from many of the other Bond girls. For starters, she's an excellent actress, a quality that most other Bond girls have lacked severely. Secondly, she won't be had easily. Vesper isn't waiting around for Bond to flip off some stupid line about "always liking to be on top" and then go to bed with him. Their dialogue is refreshingly clever, thanks a sharp screenplay courtesy of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis. For example, when Bond claims Vesper isn't his type, she rolls her eyes and says, "Smart?" No, he grins. "Single." The only returning member of recent 007 films is Judi Dench, who plays Bond's superior, M. One character, CIA agent Felix Leiter, has changed faces many times over the course of the series, but here he takes the extra step and actually changes races. He is played expertly by Jeffrey Wright, an undervalued actor who is underused here. I hope he gets a chance to shine as the franchise progresses.
The small moments here are revealing and often fascinating moments of character development, rather than obligatory bits of plotting between the action scenes. Still, there certainly are action scenes here, and they're fantastic, particularly an early rooftop chase in Africa, and later a pursuit inside Miami International Airport. The film was directed by Martin Campbell, an effective commercial film maker whose mixed credits include Goldeneye, the Zorro films, and Beyond Borders. However, nothing done prior to this would indicate he had a film as good as Casino Royale in him. This is about as intelligent, thoughtful, carefully crafted and genuinely cool as a film with a $150 million budget can get.
This collector's edition is one of the first hi-def double dips, as Casino Royale has all ready been given a Blu-ray release. If you only care about the film itself, I can't think of any reason to upgrade. The previous release looked absolutely fantastic, and that is certainly the case once again here. What a sharp-looking film this is, with remarkable clarity, very deep blacks, and superb facial detail being among the many attributes of the transfer. Whether you have this version or the original release, Casino Royale really does qualify as a showcase disc for the Blu-ray format. Sound is excellent as well, with a very nice balance between the effects, music, and dialogue. But again, this disc has nothing new to offer in that department.
On the other hand, if you are a sucker for supplements (as I am), then this release may very well be worth checking out. Recently, six Bond movies were released on Blu-ray for the first time and offered only supplements that had been previously available on DVD. This is the second Blu-release of Casino Royale, but this release brings a lot of new bonus features to the table. The initial release was just a bit thin in that department, and this release corrects that. On disc one, we have two new audio commentaries. First is a picture-in-picture track with director Martin Campbell and producer Michael G. Wilson. The second is a "Crew Commentary," a spliced-together track with participation from a wide variety of individuals. The latter has some nice moments peppered in here and there, but I prefer the former, which is a bit meatier and more engaging overall. The picture-in-picture element certainly doesn't hurt, either. There's also a Blu-ray exclusive here, a James Bond trivia quiz. Woo-hoo?
The rest of the goodies are housed on disc two. We begin by repeating the handful of features that were included on the original release: "Bond Girls Are Forever," "Becoming Bond," "James Bond: For Real" and the Chris Cornell music video. Everything else here is brand new. First up are four deleted scenes, running just under 8 minutes when combined. One of these is a brief bit that was clipped out of the black-and-white opening sequence, two are extra sequences from late in the film, and one is a pleasant little moment between Bond and Vesper. "The Road to Casino Royale" (26 minutes) is a very interesting history of the story, from the novel to this film. We see bits of the poorly-made television version that turned up during the 1950s, which was technically the very first Bond film (with Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre!). However, the lead character was an American agent named "Jimmy Bond." Financial problems, rights problems, artistic problems…this is really compelling stuff. We also get some discussion of the disastrously silly (but kind of enjoyable) 1967 version of the story (with Orson Welles as Le Chiffre!), featuring numerous "Bonds" played by David Niven, Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen. Once again, another failed version of Casino Royale, both artistically and financially. "Ian Fleming's Incredible Creation" (21 minutes) is a bit unnecessary, as it offers yet another profile of Mr. Fleming, whose life has been thoroughly documented over the course of numerous Bond DVDs. "James Bond in the Bahamas" (24 minutes) is a discussion of the location shooting in the film, and also attempts to demonstrate that the area is essentially the home of Bond movies. "Ian Fleming: Secret Road to Paradise" (24 minutes) gets even more specific, focusing on the importance of Paradise Island to Ian Fleming and the Bond franchise. The location discussion continues with "Death in Venice" (23 minutes), which, you guessed it, talks about filming in Venice. These are all nice pieces, and the fact that they are presented in HD makes them quite lovely to look at. We move along to action with "The Art of the Freerun" (13 minutes), which details the making of one of the film's most exciting sequences. Another one of those sequences is looked at in "Catching a Plane: From Storyboard to Screen" (13 minutes). Storyboards for the freerun sequence are also offered up. "Filmmaker Profiles" gives us some rather good interviews with director Martin Campbell, composer David Arnold, special effects guy Chris Corbould, D.P. Phil Meheux, stunt coordinator Gary Powell, and second unit director Alexander Witt. Combined, these interviews run 53 minutes. When combined when the two new commentaries, there's a grand total of about 8 hours of new special features. Very impressive.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though I have generally favorable feelings toward this specific release, I'm a bit nervous about the fact that we're all ready starting to see Blu-ray double-dips. Until prices for Blu-ray discs start to become a little more reasonable ($20 for a new release), asking consumers to purchase a title again is a not a good plan. I don't want to start seeing a steady stream of hi-def double-dips until there is a $5 Blu-ray bin at Wal-Mart.
From the great cinematography to the far better than usual acting, from the super-cool opening credits to David Arnold's exciting score, from the surprising quiet moments to the thrilling loud moments, from Bond's first Aston Martin to the time he finally introduces himself as "Bond, James Bond," this is an absolutely fantastic piece of entertainment. At the end of every Bond film, the end credits declare that "James Bond will Return." It took a film like Casino Royale to actually get me excited about that again. One of the great Bond films, and it gets a Blu-ray double dip so impressively thorough that I simply can't help but recommend it.
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