|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 01 May 2007|
Many people were intensely curious about “Casino Royale,” the most recent James Bond movie, when it was released theatrically late last year. But except for some diehards who bristled at the idea of a colder and blond 007, most people were pleased by the movie. Certainly I was.
In terms of the movie itself, based on watching this brand-new Blu-Ray disc, there’s little to add to that review in terms of discussing “Casino Royale” as a movie. The film is a bit lopsided—there are two sensational action scenes in the first half, then none until the finale, set in Venice. At 144 minutes, the movie is probably somewhat too long; this is not helped by seeming to end completely about fifteen minutes before it actually does. And it passed my notice altogether the first time around that a bit of dialogue brings up a question, even a concept, that none of the other Bond movies have dealt with: who were his parents?
The Bond movies have generally been class acts, and have been released on video in every format. Among videophiles, in fact, there’s a joking question about the increasing number of such formats: “How many times do I have to buy ‘Goldfinger’?” That classic was released in beta flat, beta wide, VHS flat, VHS wide, laserdisc flat, laserdisc wide, etc. etc. While “Casino Royale” won’t have to parade through that menu of formats, it has appeared in both standard and high-definition DVD, the latter in the form of this excellent Blu-Ray disc.
The film itself was made to very high standards, and they are showcased in the extreme clarity of the disc. Some aspects even look better—in theaters, the title sequence designed by Daniel Kleinman seemed well-designed but a bit drab, but in high definition, it’s amazing—crisp, detailed, sharp and witty. It’s not up to the level of the best such sequences by Maurice Binder in title sequences of earlier 007 adventures, but it’s classy and a brisk little movie in itself.
The amazing opening foot chase down alleys, through construction sites, up walls and along towering cranes seems even more exciting and vertiginous in high definition than it did on screen. This is an illusion, however, probably the result of seeing such a dynamic sequence right there in your living room.
The sequences featuring mud are nicely squidgy and gooey—the mud looks slimy and slippery, just as (typical of high def) greens pop off the screen. When Craig does his Ursula Andress scene of emerging from the Caribbean, you can see the individual drops on his sculptured torso. (Craig worked out for a year to get his original somewhat slender body into full James Bond shape.) For reasons that elude me, it’s easier to notice that Le Chiffre has mismatched eyes on the home video screen than it was in the theatrical release.
The sound is excellent, just what the film requires, and is mastered well enough that it can be cranked to satisfyingly deafening volumes without distortion or loss of detail. And because “Casino Royale” is a relatively expensive movie, all other technical details are first-class, too.
Alas, the extras do not include a commentary track. Here was a perfect opportunity for director Martin Campbell to speak up—he helmed this as well as “GoldenEye,” the first Pierce Brosnan Bond movie. For Bond fans, it would be fascinating to hear him compare the two actors, as well as discussing the different requirements of the somewhat more traditional “GoldenEye” and this restart of the Bond franchise. Perhaps a more extras-laden “Casino Royale” DVD release is waiting down the line.
If so, they should re-include the extras from this disc. Two of them are presented in high-definition, which is becoming increasingly common. “Becoming Bond” is a fairly standard making-of publicity piece, but it does include mention of the previous two versions of “Casino Royale.” It doesn’t discuss the fact that the Fleming novel was his first 007 outing, or how Bond evolved from the book to the screen. This is useful, however, to see what Daniel Craig is really like. He clearly isn’t the controlled, steel-jawed Bond we see on screen, but a more relaxed, amiable type, funny and relaxed. “James Bond for Real” is another standard making-of featurette, focusing on the effects and stunts. Among those interviewed are effects expert Chris Corbould, stunt coordinator Gary Powell and Craig’s stunt double, Ben Cooke. This is a relatively interesting little documentary.
But the highlight among the extras is the (standard definition) featurette, “Bond Girls Are Forever.” This was made in 2002 by a Canadian company for American Movie Classics, but has been slightly altered since it was first telecast; just how it was changed is unclear. But it’s a surprisingly detailed and well-produced featurette of the type that could so easily have been a throwaway puff piece. It’s hosted (and co-written) by Maryam d’Abo, a Bond girl from “Living Daylights” (Timothy Dalton as 007). She and the camera team travel around Europe and the U.S. interviewing veteran “Bond Girls,” including Urusula Andress, Honor Blackman (in her 80s, white-haired by still striking), Luciana Paluzzi, Jill St. John, Jane Seymour, Maud Adams (twice a Bond girl), Lois Chiles, Cary Lowell, Samantha Bond and Rosamund Pike. Even Judi Dench, a Bond woman if there ever was one, gets in a few words. Diana Rigg and Britt Ekland are neither interviewed nor mentioned, though Rigg’s character from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is alluded to.
Overall, despite the lack of a commentary track, this Blu-Ray disc is an ideal way to own this spectacular, exciting—if too long—James Bond adventure. Make up your own mind if Daniel Craig is an acceptable Bond, James Bond. For me, he does just fine.