Blu-ray is here and Casino Royale est film thus far that demonstrates the power of picture and sound in this amazing high definition format.
The extras are a joke when you look at the recent Ultimate Edition sets of the other Bond films that were released last year.
The James Bond franchise is the most successful series of films in cinema history. So, when it was announced that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were looking to revamp the franchise there were some areas of concern. The biggest shocker to hit the film industry was that Pierce Brosnan was out and that it was time for a new Bond. Rumors began circling like crazy. Actors like Clive Owen, Hugh Jackman, and a dozen more were rumored to be the next actor to fill the role. When Daniel Craig was announced as the official Bond a roar of opposition came from fans all over. There was even a "Craig Is Not Bond" website that started a petition to get the producers to change their minds. It was a sad and humiliating exhibition on the part of the fans, to make judgements based solely on the actor's previous works and different looks from the other Bonds. I mean honestly, who thought Tobey McGuire was going to be Spider-Man, that Christian Bale was going to be the new Batman, and a bunch of other iconic roles. The fact here is that Daniel Craig makes an excellent Bond.
Casino Royale was the first book written by Ian Fleming, and it introduced the world to James Bond. After a decade of inconsistent and so-so Bond films it was decided that character needed to return to his roots, back to the basics. Bond films started to become nothing but mere parodies of themselves. Die Another Day was the biggest sign that a few changes needed to be made. The last great Bond film was GoldenEye so it was logical to call back director Martin Campbell to direct Casino Royale. Another big thing to note about this film is that Paul Haggis was brought on board to do some rewrites, to solidify the script and fully develop the characters. Past Bond films had such laughably bad dialogue that the witty puns the series made famous became poorly executed and just shameful. The plots got so over the top even for Bond films. Die Another Day featured a giant laser, an ice palace, a bi-racial bad guy, and some thug with diamonds in his face. With Casino Royale we go back to the basics of Bond yet we still retain the class and themes that make Bond what he is.
The film's opening sequence is the shortest of all the films (not counting Dr. No since it did not have one). We see that James Bond has just been promoted to double-0 status, we then cut directly into the amazing main titles. Chris Cornell delivers a very Bondesque song with David Arnold arranging the classy orchestral sound mixed in with Cornell's style. The title song is called "You Know My Name", and the titles are highly stylized animatics that use the poker theme of the film. The plot is simple, a terrorist banker decides to raise money to fund a terrorist cell by winning a high stakes poker game at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond is assigned to win the game thus crippling Le Chiffre and the cell. Things go wrong mostly from the mistakes that Bond makes, which is brilliant. This is Bond as a beginner, so he makes plenty of bad choices. In the first action scene, a thrilling foot chase through a construction site, we see Bond stumbling and struggling to catch up with the fugitive. The scene is absolutely amazing and is really the most amazing foot chase I have ever seen on film. Other amazing action sequences include a rundown at the Miami Airport, a staircase fight with a machete wielding crime lord, a shootout in a collapsing building, and just as tense are the poker scenes. I was reluctant of the choice to drop the game of Baccarat and replace it with Texas Hold 'Em, but it was an appropriate choice considering that times have changed. Poker definitely worked and the games are incredibly tense.
Another aspect of this installment is that it is notably more violent than the other Bond films. We also see more blood than we have scene in Bond films before this. In the novel there is a really graphic torture scene and I was wondering how they were going to handle it. They toned it down, but it still will make the men in the theater cringe and thanks to Paul Haggis' touchups he inserted the film's funniest line in the torture scene, which worked perfectly. The violence adds an intensity that really elevates the film and makes it a worthy adaptation since the novel itself was really dark.
While the film has its questionable changes they are all for the better. For one, Judi Dench is M even though Bernard Lee plays the role in the original films up till GoldenEye. There is also talk of "post 9/11" even though the original films stay in their time period of when they were made. If the next Bond film attempts to continue the idea of this new Bond then it will be a big mistake. The next film has to return hitting the ground running as if it were the same old Bond. Even so, this is an incredible action film and an incredible Bond film. Casino Royale is amazing and is equal to the quality of the Connery days. It is also one of the best action films ever made in my opinion.
Daniel Craig is a brilliant Bond and that is all there is to it. The character is quiet as he comes to terms with his environment, we feel that he is out of his element and is slowly molding into the James Bond that we have come to love and know over the past 45 years. Daniel Craig molds the perfect Bond to show guts and arrogance that end up teaching him lessons about how to handle the profession. James Bond doesn't become Bond until the very end of the film and that is enhanced by David Arnold's score. He uses the theme that was established in the main title song, but not once do we hear the James Bond theme. We only hear the theme at the very end when James becomes Bond. Any doubts that Craig was a poor choice should be thrown out, and people who doubted him before with such a passion should bite their tongue and take the shame of being horribly wrong. In terms of supporting roles we have Eva Green, Madds Mikkelson as the villain, and Jeffrey Wright as Felix. Eva Green is the perfect female lead in the film, and you really can't call her a "Bond Girl". She has a presence you can respect and she is not just there as eye candy and a toy for Bond. Madds Mikkelson makes the perfect Le Chiffre, a Bond villain that of course has a some sort of physical distinction like every Bond villain should have. The roles are well written and for the first time we see some real pathos in the Bond franchise.
Casino Royale is genuinely thrilling and works on every level, truly a Bond film that stacks up with the best in the franchise. Daniel Craig will wow you as Bond and I guarantee you'll have a blast at the movies whether you've seen every Bond film before this or you are completely new to it.
The first featurette is a chronicle of the events leading to Daniel Craig being chosen as the next Bond. The featurette also discusses the backlash that was recieved from fans worldwide. We then move on with interviews from Craig as he explains how he had to train for the role and basically how he wanted to do the best he could do. Director Martin Campbell also has some screen time and he discusses the continuity problems that had to happen by casting Judi Dench and some other interesting tidbits. It's a good lengthy featurette.
James Bond- For Real:
While some of the stuff in this featurette was briefly touched on in the previous one, here we go into greater detail behind the stunts. What I love about all James Bond films is that they try to have the smallest amount of CGI possible. Here we see how certain stunts were performed and executed, especially the impressive opening rundown through the construction site. They also have footage of filming the Aston Martin crash and talk about how they accidentally broke the world record for having a car roll a certain amount of times. This was also a nice lengthy featurette.
Bond Girls Are Forever:
Okay, my biggest problem with the release lies here. This is not really a featurette because this documentary was released on DVD a few years ago. I own this on a "limited edition" DVD seperate from any Bond DVD. Since this is Blu-ray they were able to fit it all on 1-disc, but without this extra there would be no need for two discs on regular DVD. It's a disapointment that Sony is recycling featurettes. I'm not saying the featurette is bad, it's really good and very interesting. It has interviews with all the actresses from the Bond franchise who played the most famous Bond girls. Luckily the other two featurettes were lengthy.
"You Know My Name" Music Video Performed By Chris Cornell:
The producers went with a more modern and popular approach to the main titles song this time around. All I can say is that it's fifty times better than what Madonna did in Die Another Day. It's unique in that the title of the film is not spoken in the lyrics, but not out of place since we've had Bond songs before that did that. It's fitting since this is the introduction of the character yet we already have him established as an icon of popular culture. It's a little to rock heavy in my opinion and David Arnold's orchestral contribution to the song is drowned out. Overall I liked it though, and the music video is a great extra to have.
Okay, let be known that this is my first Blu-ray review. I own a Playstation 3 so of course I'm waving my Blu-ray flag in the format war. If HD-DVD wins then so be it, but I'm a Blu-ray man and I think it has an edge over HD-DVD. I have not seen anything on HD-DVD yet so I cannot compare. It doesn't really matter since Sony is the founder of Blu-ray, which means Casino Royale will never be released on HD-DVD. What I can say is that the new high definition formats are going to make my job as a DVD reviewer so much easier. Sure some of the older films you may be able to nit-pick at, but the picture is perfect. I don't know how to stress that there is not a single thing wrong with the picture. Colors are sharp, rich and vibrant. You can make out every detail within the frame and see every speck of dust. There is a scene in the opening foot chase where Bond's target runs through some sand being dumped from a bulldozer and you can make out every grain of sand. For film analysts it makes lighting and cinematography so much easier to analyze. Picture perfect as they say.
Explosive is the only word to describe the sound. My 6.1 system was thumping hard as every single speaker got the workout it deserved. The disc has both 5.1 and 5.1 Uncompressed. Since I do not have HDMI pass-through on my receiver I could not get the full benefit of the uncompressed track, but the basic 5.1 alone is noticeably better on Blu-ray.
While this is the first Blu-ray I am reviewing it is not the first Blu-ray I have bought. It is the first one to have snappers on the side though. Yes, the snapper cases have followed into the next generation. It's a security device and I understand, and it's not that bad. On some regular DVD's you will get two snapping locks, here it's only one. The Blu-ray case for those who don't know is smaller and thinner than a regular DVD case. This means more space on your shelf. A lot of studios butcher the artwork by plastering some high definition slogan on the front. Disney's Blu-ray artwork makes me want to cry, but Sony's is actually subtle and classy. They have circular wedge at the bottom that just says "Experience High Definition". It's subtle and doesn't ruin the artwork unlike some other studios.
Casino Royale on Blu-ray is an experience that no home theater owner should be without. The picture is undeniably outstanding and the sound is thunderously impressive. The extras are a joke if you ask me especially since the longest one was released back in 2002 as a separate DVD. Why are you selling me something I already own? Anyway, this is the best movie to show off your next generation home theater to your friends.