Casino Royale: Special Edition (2 Disc Set) Review
Bond (Daniel Craig) sits in the shadows in the office of Dryden, a man he has uncovered as selling secrets. A man that M (Judi Dench) had previously trusted. But Bond has it explained to him that the '00' designation that he so desires only follows two confirmed kills. A licence to kill cannot be granted unless the agent has proved himself capable of it. Except, as Bond explains, he already has one kill behind him, a very recent and unpleasant one. That of Dryden's associate, Fisher. Dryden wonders if Bond felt the kill, if he really has what it takes to become a 00-agent. "Well, you needn't worry", he tells Bond, "The second is..." Dryden never gets a chance to finish his sentence. Bond shoots him dead, considers his actions for a moment and finds himself in agreement. "Yes... considerably."
Bond's next stop is Madagascar, where he is trailing the bomb maker Mollaka (Sebastien Foucan). His own contact having been spotted, Mollaka runs with Bond close behind him, with their sprint through a building site leads to the Nambutu embassy where Mollaka hopes to gain sanctuary. Bond, breaking one of the few remaining rules of international diplomacy, breaks into the embassy, captures Mollaka, destroys most of the building and leaves a trail of bodies in his wake. M isn't happy, telling no one in particular, "In the old days if an agent did something that embarrassing he'd have a good sense to defect. Christ, I miss the Cold War!" Unperturbed, Bond breaks into her home, takes what he needs to pick up the trail once again and leaves for the Bahamas.
There, Bond eyes terrorist Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian) and prevents the bombing of a prototype passenger jet but Dimitrios is too small for the game that's being played, leading Bond to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker who has the financial muscle to play Mollako and Dimitrios like puppets. But Le Chiffre has an air of respectability about him, leading Bond to put down his gun and to face him across a table in the Casino Royale. With Treasury agent Vesper Lynd giving Bond access to $10m of government money as a stake, Bond travels to Montenegro and to the taking down of Le Chiffre. But Bond's confidence is no match for Le Chiffre's reading of the game and having lost his entire stake, Bond grabs a knife and follows Le Chiffre out of the Casino Royale...
There have been efforts to bring the Bond series back to basics before, each one as heralded as Casino Royale. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was an attempt to leave behind the hollowed-out volcanoes of You Only Live Twice in favour of a more serious Bond, one that fell in love, got married and steered away from gadgets in favour of a good old skulking about. But its failure put paid to that turn in the series in favour of Plenty O'Toole, Jill St. John wearing next to nothing on an oil-rig and Ford Mustang driving sideways through Las Vegas. Similarly, when it was thought that Moonraker was a step too far into silliness - the pigeon doing a double-take, more Jaws and "I think he's attempting re-entry, sir!" - the series came back to Earth with For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy. But the sight of Roger Moore dressed as a clown was far too depressing a note for the series and so A View To A Kill took us into a world of mad Nazis, horse racing, the flooding of Silicon Valley and Roger Moore driving the front half of a car through Paris.
Then again, Timothy Dalton tried for a tougher Bond in his two films and was reasonably successful, though not financially so, whilst Goldeneye had the gadgets but found itself rooted in the dying days of the Cold War. Indeed, it is arguable that Goldeneye was a much bigger reinvention of the series than is Casino Royale. And yet even then, Brosnan bid farewell to Bond in an invisible car, a villain with a new face and a shootout above the demilitarised zone that separates North Korea from South Korea. Complete with a new Bond, Casino Royale arrived with a good deal of fanfare - a vast amount of which was the kind of Internet chatter that gives honest-to-goodness geeks a bad name - but wasn't anything that the Bond films hadn't seen before.
Although that's not strictly true. It had, after all, already seen the Scottish Sean Connery and the Irish Pierce Brosnan step into the English Bond's expensive shoes as well as the English Dalton and Moore but it had never seen a blond actor. Nor one that arrived from a series of such critically lauded roles as his appearances in Munich, Layer Cake, Road To Perdition and, going back to near the beginning, Our Friends In The North. That he's already scheduled for the next Bond and the part of Lord Asriel in the film adaptations of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy means that Daniel Craig's star remains ascendant. On the evidence of Casino Royale, that is entirely a good thing as he brings an edge to the action that hasn't been present in the series since Goldeneye.
Cheering is something that comes naturally to Bond, being a pairing of the marvellous action sequences and a lightness of touch that is missing in a host of other thrillers. Think of the Union Flag unfurling in The Spy Who Loved Me, the tearing down of the giant image of Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies or, yes, even Bond's weightless lovemaking of Moonraker and there's little effort required to laugh at the events on the screen and to marvel at the nod and the wink that goes along with its occasional moments of danger. Casino Royale continues that trend, tying in a more grounded chase on foot with a wonderful array of freerunning moves, incredible leaps and an effortless shootout that sees Bond disappear in the aftermath of an explosion. With each shaken martini, the roar of an Aston Martin and in the barrel-of-a-gun titles, Casino Royale remains a Bond film, recalling the two films of Timothy Dalton moreso than any others in the series. In particular, there is the sense that this Bond has not yet found his emotional detachment with the awarding of his 00-designation, taking each slight personally as did Dalton's in Licence To Kill, with Craig relishing his killing of Dryden's contact by drowning, his strangling of an African warlord and, in something that will only come as a surprise to those that have not read the novel, watching the death of someone he cares for. The bitch is dead, the words with which Bond finds the freedom of conscience needed to be a 00-agent.
Even in his being tortured by Le Chiffre in a scene taken from the book almost as Fleming originally penned it, there is the sense that there is some emotional purpose to be had in his torture, something necessary for his placing in MI6. Fleming described the experience as being, "...a parabola of agony [but] that towards the end there came a wonderful period of warmth and languor leading to a sort of sexual twilight where pain turned to pleasure." Craig lives through the torture so to feel alive and it isn't so much an event to move the film on, though it does that very well, as one to give Bond, like the series of films, a feeling of freedom and of being reborn. There is a surprising amount of enjoyment to be had in the film's final half hour with Martin Campbell expanding upon the briefest of sketches in the book to show the Bond that came before the martinis, the girls and the casinos in which he is something of a familiar face. Such moments are where the surprises in Casino Royale come, not only in the casting of Daniel Craig.
However, inasmuch as there is a good deal to enjoy in Casino Royale, there are, however, certain things that don't feel quite right. The film suggests, and it is only a suggestion, that Bond's tracking of Mallako follows on from his killing of Dryden. Mallako would, therefore, be Bond's first kill as a 00-agent and his third overall, leaving it hard to imagine an 00-novice storming an embassy as Bond does here. Then again, realism hasn't been a part of the Bond legacy since the days of From Russia With Love - even that had its moments of utter nonsense - so it is remarkably easy to forget about the technicalities of the piece in favour of the fun that comes with it, amongst the most enjoyable of action blockbusters of recent times, at least, suitably enough, since Die Another Day. Unfortunately, Eva Green is rather a weak Bond girl - her feistiness isn't even a match for the dreary Kara Milovy (The Living Daylights) never mind Teresa di Vicenzo (On Her Majesty's Secret Service) - whilst Mads Mikkelson is one of the less interesting Bond villains. Not even a white cat would do very much for him.
But such things are only minor annoyances in a film that is, in all other respects, vintage Bond. It feels entirely new, as it should do, but also calls to mind some great moments from Bonds past as well as, uniquely some might say, scenes lifted from the book. In doing so, it promises, as did its success, a bright future for Bond, one that even draws out the possibility that, with Craig in the role, we may see more faithful adaptations of Fleming's books that, by their title alone, have already made it to the screen. For those of us as fond of Fleming's books as we are of the films, that would be good news indeed.
The Ultimate Editions did a decent job on many of the Bond movies - less so on some than others - with there being very little between the MGM Special Editions and the Sony releases on those that came later in the series. Casino Royale brings an entirely new look to Bond, one that is closer to the grit and sharp contrast of The Constant Gardener than the typical gloss of a Bond film, albeit one that eventually finds itself in, as Fleming described it, the nauseating scent and smoke and sweat of a casino at three in the morning. This DVD does look very good, with the transfer coping with the bright colours, the strong use of blacks and more frenetic camerawork than is typical in a Bond feature.
There is, however, a slight softness to Casino Royale that suggests the DVD is hiding some of the faults in the encoding. At times, this isn't at all noticeable, particularly in those scenes set in the casino, but is much clearer in the opening half hour and in the final twenty minutes. More than that, though, there is an artificiality to the film that is most evident in Bond's driving after Le Chiffre after his success in the Casino Royale that, more than anything else, brings to mind the lower moments of the later Brosnan films, no less so than the unnecessary surfing of Die Another Day.
But it is a very good sounding film, not only with the default DD5.1 track but particularly the DTS track that offers a little more top end and a lot more at the bottom. Being such a good release, it's then odd to have one obvious problem with the transfer, one that occurs for half-a-second or so at 137m when the sound drops out completely. Having listened to this a few times on a couple of machines, it is repeatable and so is clearly a problem with the disc rather than, for example, my sitting on the Mute button on the remote control. But even at that, it doesn't last for very long and though it's annoying, the half-a-second that it lasts for doesn't necessarily ruin the other 144m of the film.
Becoming Bond (26m16s): If you had read any newspapers, movie magazines or websites in the year before production began on Casino Royale, you will be well equipped for the opening ten minutes of this feature, which recaps the behind-the-scenes decisions needed to cast Daniel Craig, to choose Casino Royale as the project and how best to bring it to the screen. With interviews with director Martin Campbell and actors Daniel Craig and Judi Dench, this is a typical making-of, all the more so that it's Bond, with this following the production to the Bahamas and to Prague, through the ridiculous anti-Craig online chatter and the stuntwork. A good introduction to Casino Royale,
James Bond: For Real (23m32s): Much of the talk on these special features is concerned with how real the stuntwork and the action sequences look, with it being unsaid that the team wanted to get away from the invisible car or Die Another Day in favour of shootings, physical violence and running an awful lot. The sequence across the building site that opens the film is a good example of this, also featured here, in which Daniel Craig keeps up with freerunner Sebastien Foucan (Mollaka) and which, though there's the use of many cameras to flatter Craig, is a simpler collection of stunts than what might have graced a Brosnan-era Bond. Going on to feature the rolling Aston Martin, the truck drive through the airport and the blowing up of the building in Venice, this covers all the major stuntwork in the Casino Royale and though it's all a bit technical at times, it's still an entertaining look behind the scenes.
Bond Girls Are Forever (13m29s, 17m53s, 17m36s): If you've kept an eye on ITV for some holiday-time Bond-themed shows, you'll almost certainly have seen this feature, in which Bond Girl Maryam d'Abo interviews many of those who preceded her and, with Halle Berry, Carey Lowell, Michelle Yeoh, those that followed her. We don't, of course, get all of the Bond girls here but we do hear from Ursula Andress (Dr No), Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball), Honor Blackman (Goldfinger), Jill St. John (Diamonds Are Forever), Jane Seymour (Live And Let Die), Maud Adams (...Golden Gun and Octopussy) and Lois Chiles (Moonraker), some of whom get to watch themselves on screen, marvelling at how young they looked. Some of them do take it a bit too seriously (Andress), others still laugh about it (Blackman) and some of them don't seem at all well-placed in a piece on Bond girls (Judi Dench and Samantha Bond). Unfortunately, d'Abo, who was always a bit wet as a Bond girl, doesn't do a particularly fine job at hosting this, letting herself be talked off the screen by Honor Blackman and Carey Lowell and never really getting to the heart of what makes a great Bond girl. If you don't get a copy of this DVD, watch out for this on ITV as, coming up to May Day and Easter, they're bound to be broadcasting it soon.
Finally, there is the Chris Cornell video for not-very-classic-Bond-theme You Know My Name (4m06s) and Trailers for Premonition (2m32s), Spider-Man 3 (2m32s), Rocky Balboa (2m26s), The Pursuit Of Happyness (2m26s), The Holiday (2m30s) and Spider-Man 2.1 (1m55s). Spider-Man 3, in particular, looks terrific, explaining away Spider-Man's black suit as a result of an inner torment (and not a visit to another dimension) and doing what all good trailers ought to do, make one want to see the film without delay!
Casino Royale is a hugely enjoyable film, being proper Bond and not at all like the various spy shenanigans that occasionally follow in his wake. It was even quite enough to drag me back to Bond having necessitated a break after the efforts of reviewing the many, many Ultimate Editions of last summer. Thanks to CD Wow, this Region 3 is something of a bargain, costing a tenner for a fine two-disc edition. Of course, follow the link below to take advantage of the £1 discount that DVD Times has arranged and it costs all of £9. At that cost, it's almost a crime to pass on it, perhaps not one on a par with those of Le Chiffre but certainly not a bargain that one need pass on.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 03:07:19