Casino Royale: Deluxe Edition (UK - BD)
Chris Gould takes a look at the Sony reissue of the last James Bond movie
In this reboot of the Bond franchise, we're introduced to everyone's favourite spy by way of a stylish black and white sequence that sees him earning his '00' status by eliminating a corrupt government official. After some rather snazzy credits we catch up with a newly licensed to kill Bond in Madagascar, where he is attempting to track down a bomb maker in order to learn more about those financing his terrorist acts. Unfortunately things don't go according to plan, and after an exciting parkour chase across a construction site Bond eventually tracks his quarry to an embassy, where he promptly kills him, demolishing half of the building in the process.
Upon his return to England, Bond is chewed out for his very public execution of an unarmed man and ordered to take a leave of absence by his superior, 'M'. Of course our man James won't let things lie, so he follows intelligence gathered from the bomb maker and heads to the Bahamas, where he encounters scar-faced banker to the world's terrorists, Le Chiffre. It seems that Le Chiffre likes to play the stock market with his clients' money, so when Bond foils his latest plan to corner the market he is forced to organise a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro in order to recover the $150 million dollars he 'misplaced'.
Fortunately the best poker player in the British Secret Service just happens to be none other than James Bond who, with the help of a glamorous representative from the Treasury called Vesper Lynd, enters the game to try and force Le Chiffre's hand (so to speak). Queue plenty of tense poker action, some brutal punch-ups, some old acquaintances (albeit with different faces) and plenty of double-crosses—all of the elements that go towards making a successful Bond movie.
I'm sure a great many of you reading this review grew up watching the various Bond films. I've seen them all at one time or another, but if you asked me to name my favourite Bond I'd probably struggle. Due to my age I'm most familiar with Roger Moore's Bond, as he was playing the character when I was a kid. Of course I'm a fan of Connery's Bond, but I also have a soft spot for the two films in which Tim Dalton had a crack at the character due to their darker tone. I probably couldn't pick George Lazenby out in a line-up, which just leaves mumbling Irishman Pierce Brosnan, who is possibly my least favourite Bond.
I'm sure that last statement will raise a few eyebrows, but I simply wasn't a fan of the nineties and early two-thousands Bond movies. They were just a little too slick for my liking. I guess I enjoyed Goldeneye at the time, although mostly for Izabella Scorupco and Famke Janssen. As Brosnan's movies progressed I felt that they moved further and further away from my idea of a 'spy' movie into the realms of absurdity, culminating with the invisible car that was just about the dumbest thing I'd seen since Moonraker, which at least had the excuse of being made in the seventies shortly after the Star Wars phenomenon.
To be totally honest with you, I'd all-but stopped caring about Bond movies, especially by the time a certain Jason Bourne rolled into town and proceeded to outdo the ailing Bond franchise in every conceivable way. Because of this I didn't really pay much attention when the new Bond flick was announced, let alone care whether he had blonde hair. I wasn't really anticipating Casino Royale, it just sort of crept up on me, but I decided to give it a whirl to see what all the fuss was about. I'm glad I did, because if I couldn't answer the 'favourite Bond' question before, I could after spending a couple of hours in the company of Daniel Craig's re-imagined secret agent.
Craig’s portrayal of Bond takes a few pages from the ‘Book of Bourne’, delivering an altogether more believable emotionally detached government assassin. Gone are the gadgets and increasingly fanciful scenarios, to be replaced by a tough, no-nonsense approach and a considerably more plausible villain in Le Chiffre. Le Chiffre isn’t out to take over the world from a hollowed-out volcano; he’s out to save his own skin after making a few bad business investments, which is slightly easier to relate to. As evidenced by the opening sequence, the film doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of what Bond has to do to protect Queen and Country either. Gone are the days when audiences will accept Bond knocking villains out with a single ‘judo’ chop; this is an altogether grittier experience and the film is all the better for it.
Until recently I was unaware that the UK theatrical and DVD releases of the film were cut. The cuts don't amount to much, just a few seconds trimmed off of the torture scene, but I thought it worth mentioning all the same. Having compared it to my region three DVD release I have to say that the cuts will probably only stand out to you if you're familiar with the uncut version, as the edits are handled well. Apparently the distributors could have had an uncut 15 rating, but chose to go with the more lucrative 12A option.
As with the previous release of Casino Royale, Sony delivers a 1080p AVC encoded transfer in the film's original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. I must be one of the only people who doesn't own a copy of the original Blu-ray release, so I can't comment on whether this Deluxe Edition is an improvement or not. What I can say is that it is a fine looking transfer on its own right.
The opening monochrome scenes look a tad grainy and blown out, but intentionally so. Once we transition to full colour the image settles down a bit, although contrast does remain noticeably 'pumped up' during the exterior shots. Again, this is the intended look of the film, so it's not a criticism per se. Colour rendition is also good, especially during Bond's stay in the Bahamas. The golden, sun-drenched beaches, with their crystal blue waters and lush green surroundings, look terribly inviting. Skin tones are perhaps a little off (think orange), but once again this is down to the look of the film. Interior shots are much colder, with that now familiar blue tint used in so many films. Blacks are also pretty decent.
The level of detail is good, but not up there with the very best the format has to offer. Although close up shots aren't too bad they don't reveal as much as you'd expect from a high-definition transfer, possibly because of the hot contrast. The image is very clean though, which you'd expect given the film's vintage. All things considered this is a good transfer, but I've seen better. Although some of my observations can undoubtedly be attributed to the manner in which the film was shot, the overall impression is still the same. I'm sure many people would argue that a technical appraisal should be purely objective, but in this case the overall look informed my opinion. If I'm being totally honest, this one probably falls somewhere in between an eight and a nine.
Unlike the previous release, which had a PCM 5.1 soundtrack, this reissue features a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 effort. Again, comparisons with the old release aren't possible, but theoretically this lossless Dolby track shouldn't be any different to the PCM track.
Casino Royale won a BAFTA for Best Sound (I actually met the First Assistant Sound Editor once), so you'd expect nothing less than excellence. Once the relatively sedate opening scenes are over and done with, Chris Cornell's rousing Bond theme 'You Know My Name' kicks in, ushering in the beginning of a lively, dynamic track filled with plenty of 'ooh' moments. I was very impressed by how the track remained consistently engaging, but naturalistic, with no one element dominating the others. Dialogue, effects and score all get an equal bite of the cherry and, although powerful, bass is never too much.
One of the best examples of everything working in tandem is the airport scene, during which Bond is attempting to stop a bomber blowing up a prototype airliner. There's a bit where they are careening across the runway in baggage cars, hotly pursued by police, and a passenger airliner comes in to land. As it does so, one of the police cars is caught up in the jet's backwash and propelled towards the back of the soundstage. This mix of thunderous bass and wailing sirens flying overhead is most impressive. All things considered I'd have to say that this is one of the best tracks I've heard in some time.
This new release of Casino Royale is BonusView enabled. For the uninitiated, that basically means it has a picture-in-picture option. As long as you have a compatible player you can watch the film with comments from director Martin Campbell and producer Michael Wilson. The track is pretty informative, although the PiP window isn't on the screen as often as I'd have liked. I also wish they'd make the PiP windows bigger on these things. I realise they want to keep the film visible, but one has to assume that people would already have seen it by the time they start delving into the bonus features.
A second audio-only commentary from the crew is also available, offering insight from the producers, screenwriters, stunt co-ordinator, costumers and more. This is the more technical of the two tracks, and is therefore considerably drier and harder going (at least for my tastes), but it still contains interesting facts about the filmmaking process. It doesn't flow quite as well as the first track because of its 'stitched together' nature, but it's still worthy of your attention.
The 'Know Your Double-O' trivia quiz asks you to enter your name, select single or multi-player and then answer a series of ten, fifteen or twenty questions (your choice). The content is a combination of text and video questions, the latter of which test your observational skills by asking you questions directly relating to the preceding video clips. Each question is timed, and the quicker you answer, the more points you get. My first bash yielded one hundred and forty nine points from twenty questions, which I was fairly happy with given my non-fanatical status. I've no idea how many questions are included, so it's possible this one could grow stale pretty quickly, but it was enjoyable while it lasted.
Finally on disc one we have a series of trailers, including a promo reel for Sony Blu-ray releases, plus theatrical trailers for Hancock, 21 and Vantage Point. Frustratingly the trailer that might have been of interest, the Casino Royale trailer, isn't included.
Disc two kicks off with a series of deleted scenes (for in total, presented in HD with a combined running time of 07:48), presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The first is a completely unnecessary scene that shows Bond being taken to hospital after his torture at the hands of Le Chiffre. The second is a short walk and talk scene with Bond and Vesper Lynd, while the third is an extended version of the black and white opening sequence. The final scene is a slight extension of one of the final scenes in Venice. All things considered I can see why the scenes were cut, because they add little to the film.
'The Road to Casino Royale' (HD, 26:34) concentrates on the film's chequered production history, as it travelled through the hands of a succession of movie producers (including Gregory Ratoff and Charles K. Feldman), to the eventual release of the film we all know and love in 2006. I didn't actually know the whole back story behind the legal struggle for the rights to produce a theatrical version of the novel, so this featurette actually filled in a lot of the blanks.
'Ian Fleming's Incredible Creation' (HD, 21:14) deals with James Bond's origins, discussing the semi-autobiographical nature of the character. There's a fair bit of background info on the author, specifically his involvement in WWII and the events that shaped his post-war decision to write Casino Royale. The featurette also fills in a lot of character detail for Bond himself.
'James Bond in the Bahamas' (HD, 24:16) touches on the use of the glamorous location in the various Bond features throughout the years. One thing I learned from this featurette is that the production didn't actually go anywhere near Madagascar when shooting the free running sequence. Instead, they used a old abandoned hotel complex that was being used by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force. There's also a look at the underwater sequences, including interviews with the stunt doubles on some of the older films.
'Ian Flaming: The Secret Road to Paradise' (HD, 24:28) concentrates on the connection between Fleming and the Bahamas, featuring interviews with plenty of well-to-do socialites who discuss the founding of the Ocean Club on Paradise Island (formerly Hog Island) by Huntingdon Hartford. There's a great deal of background info on the social scene of the time, as well as a little insight into the people who inspired the character of Felix Leiter. To be honest I couldn't really see why this deserved a twenty-four minute featurette to itself, but there you go.
'Death in Venice' (HD, 23:18) is unique in the fact that it's the only on of the new featurettes to include any real amount of interview footage with Daniel Craig and Eva Green. The featurette basically documents the shooting of the film's climactic sequence, in which Bond attempts to rescue Vesper from the sinking Palazzo. There's plenty of behind the scenes footage of location shooting, underwater photography, model making, special effects and the like.
'Becoming Bond' (HD, 27:24) is the first of the featurettes carried over from the original DVD and Blu-ray releases of Casino Royale. The featurette chronicles the search for the actor who would replace Pierce Brosnan as Bond, and includes interview footage with Daniel Craig, director Martin Campbell, writer Paul Haggis and many of the cast and crew. There's plenty of on-set footage, include a behind the scenes look at the freerun sequence. One of the most surreal moments is when Craig is introduced to the media on HMS Belfast, complete with support from the Royal Marines. He's not a bad card player either.
'James Bond: For Real' (HD, 24:34) is also carried over from the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases, and focuses on the considerable amount of stunt work necessary to make Bond look like an accomplished spy. There's a lot of overlap between this and the other featurettes, but there is also a fair amount of interesting behind the scenes footage of the filming of the freerun sequence, among other things.
'Bond Girls Are Forever' (SD, 49:00) is the television feature in which Maryam D'Abo travels the globe meeting other Bind Girls, discussing the experience of working on the films and how the Bond movies affected their lives. Almost every major Bond Girl is featured, from Ursula Andress to Halle Berry, right through to the Casino Royale girls Caterina Murino and Eva Green. Although it has little to do with the main feature other than the inclusion of the girls, it's a perfectly welcome addition to the set.
The Art of the Freerun (HD, 13:39) takes a closer look at the amazing freerunning sequence that kick starts the action in Casino Royale. There's plenty of interview footage with Sebastien Foucan, the co-founder of parkour, who expresses his genuine delight at being in a Bond movie. Foucan gives us a little bit of background info on the origins of the sport and his training regime, and it's amazing to see the guy at work as he gracefully negotiates the toughest obstacles as if they weren't there. This is one of the more interesting features on the disc.
'Catching a Plane: From Storyboard to Screen' (HD, 13:47) concerns the airport sequence that sees Bond trying to stop the second bomber. It features interviews with the director, producer and stunt co-ordinator (among others), who talk us through the complex process of realising the sequence for the big screen. 'Storyboard Sequence: Freerun Chase' (10:14) is along similar lines, but this time you have the choice of watching just the storyboards or a comparison of both storyboards and the finalised footage.
Much to my surprise, 'Filmmaker Profiles' (HD, 53:03) weren't a bunch of written essays on the various filmmakers, but rather a series of interviews lasting over fifty minutes. It's good value, but a pain for reviewers who think they're nearing the end of a mammoth session! Participants include Martin Campbell, Chris Corbould, Phil Mehuex, Gary Powell, Alexander Witt and David Arnold.
Chris Cornell's 'You Know My Name' music video (SD, 04:06) is also included. Cornell is one of only a few male artists to have a song featured over the opening credits of a Bond movie, and I think it fits the tone of the film very well.
The disc also has a few BD-Live features. At the time of writing the only Bond-related features were a handful of promotional trailers for Quantum of Solace. There's also an optional survey and some downloadable trailers for other Sony releases (in SD or HD). To be honest BD-Live is so slow distributors are going to have to do something a lot better with the platform for people to give a rat's arse about it. As it stands, it was barely worth the time it took to load the page. The only saving grace was the trailer about new Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, because the Ukrainian model is breathtakingly gorgeous.
Casino Royale is the best Bond film in years, and quite possibly the best Bond film period. It rekindled my interest in a character to which I'd grown largely indifferent by dispensing with all of the silly gadgetry and focusing on the human element. One can only hope that this year's follow-up, Quantum of Solace, can build upon its success.
This new Deluxe Edition is the release we should have had the first time around, building as it does upon a solid audio-visual foundation with an interesting and informative collection of bonus material. In fact just about the only thing missing is one of those long, in-depth documentaries detailing the whole filmmaking process, but I guess we can't have everything—at least not before the three disc Definitive Collector's Edition! All joking aside, this is a great release of a great film, so if you're one of the few people who didn't buy the Blu-ray the first time around, I can recommend it wholeheartedly.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 20th October 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Audio Descrptive Service 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Hindi
Extras: Commentaries, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, Quiz, Music Video, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini. Caterina Murino, Simon Abkarian
Genre: Action, Drama and Thriller
Length: 144 minutes
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