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Bond is back. Kind of. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last twelve months, you’ll know that Casino Royale is an attempt to restart the Bond franchise starring Daniel Craig, already the fans’ least favourite 007 before he’d even sipped his first vodka Martini. Now that it’s cleaned up at the box office and is sure to do the same on DVD, we can ask ourselves whether it’s a successful reboot or the movie-equivalent of the blue screen of death?

Casino Royale

Feature


Before the obligatory opening titles, which haven’t been removed to suit the new format, we’re introduced to a pre-007 James Bond making the first two kills of his career. Following the stylish black-and-white opening and clever animated titles, we’re straight into the story of scar-faced terrorist banker Le Chiffre losing an evil client’s money, then trying to win it back in a high stakes card game at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Enter Bond with his newly-earned 00-stripes who, along with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), his assistant from the treasury, has to try to stop Le Chiffre winning.

Before this production was announced, Quentin Tarantino made a lot of noise about an idea he had to direct a version of Casino Royale, based faithfully on the first novel in Ian Fleming’s series. He then got the hump because he was either unaware or unwilling to admit that he knew that Sony/MGM had similar plans for their reinvention of one of their biggest franchises. Even though the Bond movies were quickly dropping in quality during the Pierce Brosnan era, they were still raking in the cash. The audience was used to big explosions and fancy gadgets so it was a big gamble to go back to the novels, especially when the first in the series was based almost solely in one glamorous location rather than the usual three or four.

Casino Royale
That is why Casino Royale is a movie in three distinct parts. At just shy of two hundred pages, it would have been difficult to stretch a largely action-free novel out to a full feature. As a result, the first fifty-five minutes of the movie are contrived to draw the audience into the novel’s storyline in a way that includes plenty of action and character development of this ‘new’ Bond. The final fifteen minutes are also tacked on to give an exciting pay-off but feel more like an addition because at almost two and a half hours, this is the longest 007 movie so far.

That’s the only real complaint I have though. I thought the decision to go back to the source text was spot-on. I had become very tired of cartoon violence and unrealistic gadgets that put 2002’s Die Another Day on a par with Moonraker in the overblown action stakes and was very happy to see Bond as a moody, sometimes dislikeable rogue who makes the same mistakes that any rookie would. The opening sequence sets the tone very well for the rest of the movie and it seems a little odd that Martin Campbell, the director who reinvented Bond with Goldeneye, would be the same man to resurrect him again more than ten years later. It makes me wonder what could have been if Casino Royale had been made back in 1995 instead because of all that has gone before, the tone most appropriately suits Goldeneye’s predecessor Licence To Kill.

Casino Royale
Gone are the days of (shudder) Bond wind-surfing on CG waves. Instead, the first big action sequence draws inspiration from Parkour (or free-running) to give us something that we’ve never seen before in the franchise. After that, we’re back in classic 007 territory as he attempts to stop the bad guys blowing up a jumbo jet but I’m glad to say we don’t get the usual quips when a henchman is despatched, only a sly glint in Bond’s eye. Craig’s Bond is much harder and surlier than any of his predecessors. Even Timothy Dalton’s interpretation was tinged with humour but the humour in Casino Royale comes with a hefty dose of aggression. This is very much a 007 that is ruled by his ego to a fault and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, least of all his superiors. For me, Daniel Craig’s performance is outstanding and he gives the character the hard edge we'd been promised for the last two incarnations.

There are minor gripes of course. Product placement is rife, with the Ford motor company doing particularly well as many of their brands are given plenty of screen time. It only really over-steps the mark once, during the otherwise excellently scripted train scene between Bond and Vesper. The way I see it is that brands are important to Ian Fleming’s original character and it is therefore appropriate to have a certain level of product placement within the movie. After all, it never stopped 24 being a great TV show, did it? The card game has changed from Baccarat in the novel to Texas Hold ‘Em but seeing as it’s probably the most popular card game in the world right now, this change is also excusable.

In Casino Royale we’ve got a new James Bond that’s mean and moody in a script that draws on the psychological elements of Fleming’s novel and adds to it with modern updates and moments of action that are appropriate to the times we’re living in. Daniel Craig is the James Bond we need to restart the series and I hope the producers stick to the formula of expanding on the original novels. I would love to see adaptations of the rest of the series, starting with Fleming’s second novel Live and Let Die. No, there aren’t any gadgets, improbably-cast Bond girls or baddies with metal teeth in Casino Royale, but if that’s what you’re after, you’re spoilt for choice—there’s twenty other Bond movies to go back to.

Casino Royale

Video


Other than the picture being a little soft at some points, there’re no complaints from me about the video quality. Casino Royale is a colourful film and the colours are strong and clean, without bleeding. The picture is also very detailed, particularly in wide shots. Look out for the scene where Bond is fighting on a crane near the beginning and you’ll see great detail in the background. As expected, I saw no scratching or dirt and no obvious grain or compression artefacts.

Audio


The disc comes with the choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. For the purposes of this review I chose the DTS track and I wasn’t disappointed. There have been some animated discussions on our forum about the merits of DTS and whether it’s just a louder version of regular Dolby 5.1 surround. The jury’s still out for me but one thing’s true—the DTS track on this title is definitely loud! The powerful track is most effective during the action sequences but the effects do not drown out the dialogue or music and this is definitely a DVD to pick up if you want to show off your surround system. I’ve read elsewhere that there is an audio drop out towards the end of the movie and I was looking out for it but I didn’t notice it.

Casino Royale

Extras


Three featurettes makes up the bulk of the extras. ‘Becoming Bond’ is the best of the bunch, giving us information about the pre-production process and the way the rights to Casino Royale were obtained from the company that made the original US TV special in the 1950s. We also get genuinely interesting behind the scenes footage showing the cast and crew playing poker when they’re off camera and interviews with them all. It turns out Daniel Craig isn’t just a good card player when the cameras are rolling.

‘James Bond: For Real’ goes into more detail of the attempts to achieve realism in the stunt work and focuses on the way the four main action scenes were put together. ‘Bond Girls Are Forever’ feels out of place in this set because it doesn’t focus on Casino Royale, but is nevertheless worth a watch as Maryam D’Abo (Kara Milovy from The Living Daylights) travels the world to talk to other Bond girls. It’s a nice retrospective but it feels like filler. I’m sure all of these featurettes were produced for TV, so in reality there are no ‘new’ extras here. The rest of the disc is padded out with the music video for the theme song by Chris Cornell and the usual raft of trailers for other Sony Pictures productions.

Casino Royale

Overall


Casino Royale is an excellent movie that surpassed my expectations and among all of the reinventions Bond has undergone down the years, this is the most ambitious. On this DVD it is presented very well, in particular the sound quality, and it is a good decision to put the extras on a separate disc so their inclusion doesn’t impact the disc space used for the movie. The standard of the extras hint at a special edition somewhere down the line but for me, this is an essential purchase just for the movie itself.


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