This might not be an entirely popular view, but I wasn’t entirely bowled over by Casino Royale. I entirely concede that Bond needed a reboot, badly, and I also generally agree with the direction decided for the franchise. Their pitch was to entirely reinitialise the Bond story, going back to him becoming a double-O licensed to kill agent, and the events that formed the personality of James Bond as we’ve come to appreciate it.
Conveniently for EON Productions, the very first Bond book was never made into a film in the franchise sequence, since the title was made into a comedy with David Niven and Woody Allen back in 1967. Sufficient time has now passed for them to reuse the title and characters from the original novel, which is probably the best place to restart a Bond franchise from.
So what’s my problem with Casino Royale? I’ve got a few issues, but I think it’s overly conversational, lacks pace, and is a little too influenced by the Bourne series.
That’s not to say that he excellent Bourne series isn’t worth emulating, but I’d have been happier if EON had achieved a more unique styling than copying another contemporary franchise. Because for this new Bond to keep going, it’s got to reassert its own identity, and not stand in the shadow of others.
As for the players; I liked Daniel Craig, his Bond is sufficiently removed from Bronsan, Dalton and Moore to gain my approval, although I don’t think he’s Connery class. Eva Green is one of the few Bond girls who had real sex appeal, and Mads Mikkelsen offers a sufficiently mercurial Le Chiffre. The only part of the acting jigsaw that doesn’t quite fit for me is Judi Dench, the only survivor from the Brosnan era. What she does is fine, but I fail to understand why they needed to keep her, when almost every other aspect to the franchise was revamped? I also never quite got why they insisted on releasing the movie in late December 2006, when waiting three weeks would have launched the movie in a year with 007 in the year number.
The film has some strong scenes and a reasonably strong narrative until the last 30 minutes, when it all slightly falls to pieces. The last part seems almost tacked-on, as if the running time had been agreed, even if the script didn’t stretch that far.
The ‘deluxe’ version doesn’t carry the ‘ultimate’ tag, but I’m not entirely sure why, because I’m not sure what else you could throw in here. The movie comes on one disc and the extras on another.
I’ve looked hard at the movie compared with the original single disc release, and I can’t find any differences at all; it could be the same video data. That’s not a bad thing because it’s actually an excellent transfer, with an exceptionally consistent grain and colour balance between scenes. So what did they do with the extra space that shifting the extras away gave them? The original audio was uncompressed PCM 5.1, which is now being delivered as a Dolby TrueHD mix. Not that most people would be able to tell the difference, as I couldn’t with the equipment I have. I’m sure it’s technically better, but the advantage isn’t obvious.
This disc isn’t entirely extras free, as they’ve included an informative commentary track. Rather than concentrating on a couple of people, all manner of people chip in to this one, including the producers, Barbara Broccoli, and Michael G. Wilson, composer, director of photography, Phil Mayhew, David Arnold, production designer, Peter Lamont, effects supervisor, Chris Corbol, and costume designer, Lindy Hemming. There is also an audio/video commentary with Martin Campbell and producer, Michael G Wilson, where you get to see various behind the scenes material and them chatting in the context of the movie. Rounding out disc one is a Know Your Double-O: The Ultimate James Bond Trivia Quiz.
Where the advantages of the ‘deluxe’ label really hits home is on the extras disc, which is crammed full of wonderful background material. The original version was very poor in this area, but what’s on here fixes that comprehensively. There are no less than five featurettes, all in actual HD for once: The Road to Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s Incredible Creation, Bond in the Bahamas, The Secret Road to Paradise, and Death in Venice. Each of these takes an entirely different perspective on the Bond story and film production, and delivers some really interesting material about how we, and he, got here. I especially found Bond in the Bahamas really interesting, as it talks a lot about the writing and shooting of Thunderball. Why they didn’t put this on the Thunderball disc, I’m not sure, because it’s more relevant to that film than this one. Great stuff all the same, as is The Road to Casino Royale, which details the somewhat bumpy path to bringing the Casino Royale title back into the Bond fold.
In addition to these main course offerings, there are also some tasty side dishes; most of the extra material from the original issue, the Chris Cornell music, “You Know My Name”, four deleted scenes, trailers, and a BD-live link for after-thought items from Sony. In fact, there is so much I’m not going to list it all here, as it would spoil the delight of trawling through it. If you felt slighted by the original versions extras, this release represents a heartfelt apology from Sony.
My only disappointment is that the interface isn’t consistent with the new Bond releases from MGM/Sony, but that’s a minor point.
Overall, even if I’m not entirely sold on the movie, this is a great release and one that dedicated Bond fans will consider a ‘must have’.