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Casino Royale introduces James Bond before he holds his license to kill. But Bond is no less dangerous, and with two professional assassinations in quick succession, he is elevated to "00" status. "M", head of the British Secret Service, sends the newly-promoted 007 on his first mission that takes him to Madagascar, the Bahamas and eventually leads him to Montenegro to face Le Chiffre, a ruthless financier under threat from his terrorist clientele, who is attempting to restore his funds in a high-stakes poker game at the Casino Royale. "M" places Bond under the watchful eye of the Treasury official Vesper Lynd. At first skeptical of what value Vesper can provide, Bond's interest in her deepens as they brave danger together. Le Chiffre's cunning and cruelty come to bear on them both in a way Bond could never imagine, and he learns his most important lesson: Trust no one.
For more about Casino Royale and the Casino Royale Blu-ray release, see Casino Royale Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on October 26, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Martin Campbell
Writers: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Ian Fleming
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Jeffrey Wright
» See full cast & crew
Casino Royale Blu-ray Review
The reissue features an extra disc of bonus content and a Dolby TrueHD audio track to replace the previous PCM.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, October 26, 2008
As excitement builds for the second film in the rebooted 007 saga, Quantum of Solace, Sony has revisited its prequel, Casino Royale. Boasting a two-disc release with a Dolby TrueHD audio track, the "Collector's Edition" also adds BD Live capability, picture-in-picture, more bonus content than you can watch in one sitting, and an e-Movie cash offer toward a Quantum of Solace ticket. But the best thing about the new edition Blu-ray release may not be the bevy of bonuses. It could be the different audio track (more on that later). Or maybe it's simply the celebration of the franchise reboot starring Daniel Craig, the actor many critics believe to be closest to the original Ian Fleming character. Of all the previous Bonds, Craig is the first to have the boorish personality and ruthlessness of Fleming's spy. The new Bond can still come off as charming or funny when the situation dictates it. But one cannot escape the more solitary, physical demeanor of Craig's 007. Humor, sophistication, and passion are not in his nature. Those attributes seem to come about by pure accident, unlike Sean Connery's Bond, or any of the other predecessors who focused more on charm than on the real characteristics of Fleming's spy. The rebooted series would do away with this suave charade once and for all and start the spy off where Fleming himself started: a little story named Casino Royale.
The movie not only updates Bond, but takes his story to present day. The spy from 60 years ago is now brought firmly within the new millennium with cell phones, laptops, satellite surveillance and a plot revolving around the funding of terrorism. The film shows Blu-ray discs used to backup video surveillance at a security office, along with Ericsson phones and VAIO computers. At times, it seems like an extended Sony ad, but Sony's product placements are all in the flow of the story. Bond is simultaneously revved up with dizzying foot chases and brutal hand-to-hand combat scenes while being stripped down, with none of the gadgets, fancy torture devices or silly frills of the earlier films. After the credits roll, the opening chase scene featuring free-runner Sebastien Foucan, playing a bomb-maker, is hands-down the most ballsy, physically demanding action sequence in any 007 feature. One might expect the rest of the movie to be a letdown after that, but it isn't. The airport chase scene and brutal adventures in Venice, Italy prove every bit as riveting, while the epic scenes and vistas in the Bahamas and Montenegro are as gorgeous as any earlier James Bond film, and the psychology behind the card games make for good spectator sport. Even the villain of Casino Royale is better than the pretentious bad-guys from previous Bond movies. Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) is sinister by virtue of his business securing terrorist funds, his bleeding eye, cool demeanor and gambling skills. When it comes time for the showdown between Le Chiffre and Bond, Casino Royale does away with boring car chases, boat chases, plane chases, elaborate schemes and other frills that go nowhere and focuses instead on a stark torture scene that delivers insight into the characters.
Some Blu-ray fans were upset that the Collector's Edition did not include the extended cut of the film or special packaging. The two discs are simply included in a standard plastic BD case with no booklet or other content of interest. While the extras are a clear step up and the video content is the same, I found the audio to be significantly better--particularly the score--which surprised me considering my usual preference for lossless PCM over Dolby TrueHD. Being audio-obsessed, I found the slight upgrade fully justified the double-dip for me, but it's more difficult to recommend the Collector's Edition to others. For the average Blu-ray collector who already owns the first Casino Royale release, I can't in good conscience recommend the new edition, knowing that it offers no video upgrade and that the initial release was a quality effort from Sony.
Casino Royale Blu-ray, Video Quality
Since the video content remains the same 1080p transfer as the original Blu-ray release, sporting an AVC MPEG-4 encode, it gets the same rating as in the previous review. The opening black-and- white introduction showing Bond's initial kills appear sharp, icy and grainy. The flashback sequences in this intro are stylized as if the picture is printed on black-and-white litho film. The following credits sequence shows a fantastic palette of colors, and good sharpness in the digital graphics. Once the credits end and the more exotic locales are featured, the realism is startling. The opening chase scene only shows one moment of compression artifacts, visible in a jungle plant as Bond begins his chase of the bomb maker. But for a scene featuring nonstop movement, the near lack of digital artifacts is impressive. Casino Royale features a rare transfer that compares favorably with other quality BDs, such as X-Men III. While the latter achieves a more gritty look, the Bond film appears less grainy--almost glossy in its treatment of sweeping vistas, tropical resorts and elegant Old World luxury. The quality picture helps transport us into Bond's world.
In addition to the tonal range and color, sharpness and resolution also contribute to the detailed presentation. These factors help render lifelike definition, revealing that the focal point of the camera is often not on the actors' faces on some shots but on their necks. This cinematic technique is used in shots of the Bond girls as a sort of "beauty shot". Fine grain is visible, which also contributes to the film-like definition. Contrary to some accusation of "grain smoothing", the digital transfer stays true to a first generation print. Many viewers are more accustomed to grain from a normal theatrical print, which is often fourth generation from the negative duplications. Even a transfer from a digital intermediate made from the negative has more pronounced grain. But Casino Royale's transfer appears sourced from the original print and boasts an image far superior to a regular print. It shows no evidence of grain smoothing or digital noise reduction. Nor is it held back by unnatural grain movement that can be distracting in objects moving in a scene.
Watch the scene where M is briefing Bond on the beach near the Bahama resort and pause the picture. The sharpness is so extraordinary and the picture so vivid, it tricks the eye into believing instead of 35 mm film, it is watching an 8" x 10" large format transparency on a light box. The transfer is so clear that it highlights a different "look" between consecutive shots--probably the result of the scenes being shot on different days, in different locations or angles, using different cameras, emulsions, ambient light or camera aperture. But the editing ensures these differences are not jarring, and the honesty of the picture makes the imagery even more powerful. Some viewers have said the colors are oversaturated. But the picture is within the limits of color accuracy and harkens back to the old master of color photography Ernst Hass, who strove to achieve vibrant yet accurate color in his dye transfer prints. At the time, photo buffs asked if he exaggerated the colors. He didn't. Colors in nature can appear naturally vibrant and Casino Royale features a color scheme that is neither muted nor exaggerated. Rather, it achieves a natural, glossy appearance.
Casino Royale Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The audio is a crucial draw of any Bond film. Consider the throaty revving of engines during car chases; the opening signature songs featuring many legends of radio; the bass response as a plane takes off or a missile is launched; the soft voices and sexy accents of bond girls; and of course the trademark 007 theme. Throughout its entire Dolby TrueHD track, Casino Royale does not disappoint. But the big question is exactly how the new version differs from the earlier one? Oddly, I found the TrueHD version to be better than the previous release's PCM track. This made me eat my own words that I expressed previously--that all things being equal, PCM is preferable to TrueHD. But were all things equal? It was not the definition or resolution that I found preferable in the new version, but the mix or prominence of certain elements within the soundstage. I'm not saying Sony used a new mix for the TrueHD version, but at times it sure sounded that way.
The most notable difference was the level. The audio track of the "Collector's Edition" was mastered at a higher volume than the previous version, but even after level matching, the two versions had different tonal characteristics. Let me preface my further comments by saying the mix of "You Know My Name" always seemed a bit off to me in the initial release. Former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell's voice never properly cut through the large-ensemble instrumentation. The entire presentation of the theme song appeared a bit narrow and constricted. So I was pleasantly surprised when the new Blu-ray Dolby TrueHD track presented "You Know My Name" in all its minor-key melodic majesty, open and wide in the soundstage with sufficient air around Cornell's vocals. The mix also featured good separation between guitar, strings, drums and bass. It was a subtle improvement, but an important one that I believe justifies a slightly higher rating than the audio received on the previous review.
The improved sound carries over into other elements of the audio performance, including the prodigious LFE content. Of all the dynamic audio sequences in Casino Royale, the storming shootout/chase scene as Bond pursues Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in a palazzo under construction in Venice, Italy is worth noting. The audio content is nearly unrivaled. It will tax to the max any audio system's performance. Throughout the scene, various elements of the track intertwine and compete, without getting in the way or drowning out the other sounds: the musical score; deep bass groaning of the demolition; large splashes as bits of the structure crash into the water; blasts of small arms fire; and hissing of air out of industrial flotation devices that structurally shore up the Palazzo and keep the building from sinking. Many of these elements have a deep bass factor and the use of the subwoofer is tight, controlled and powerful, ranging from short, deep blasts, to sustained response that shifts in the low frequency, shaking the floorboards and rattling the windows. In the previous PCM mix, the LFE content was more monochromatic, but here it is tighter and appears to have slightly more variability in the low Hz frequencies. In a word, it's more dynamic and realistic. (Not that I know what it really sounds like to be in a palazzo falling into the water, but Casino Royale convinced me.) The underwater segments that end the scene feature another unique audioscape that was engineered especially well, with haunting ambient sounds.
Casino Royale Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
One immediately visible improvement to the new version is the menu featuring cards flying at the screen, with views from the movie appearing as the card's freeze. Compared to the early 2007 BD release of Casino Royale, the Collector's Edition offers far more bonus content. It also provides BD-Live functionality, featuring Sony trailers for other titles and links to online James Bond sites. The new trivia quiz is another "Collector's Edition" bonus, with a one-player or two-player version of "Know Your Double-0". If you have a profile 1.1 capable player, you can also take advantage of the picture-in-picture content included on the reissue. Outlined as "Visual Commentary" in the menu, it features director Martin Campbell and producer Michael G. Wilson, and while there is a wealth of information, it's a bit underwealming. It also overlaps considerably with the documentaries and audio commentary, but that is to be expected. Unfortunately, Sony still gives us a bit of standard definition content, along with the new 1080 documentaries. Then there's the Audio Commentary on disc one, featuring producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, as well as effects supervisor Chris Corbol, director of photography Phil Mayhew, costume designer Lindy Hemming, production designer Peter Lamont and others (except the lead actor and director). The commentators each contribute a bit haphazardly, offering details directly on the action and more technically on every scene. As such, the audio track serves up a wealth of information that renders moot most of the other supplementary featurettes.
"Death in Venice" clocks in at 23 minutes and boasts interviews with Daniel Craig and Eva Green during the film's production. The documentary covers the final sequence featuring the collapsing building scene. "Death in Venice" is fascinating because the power of the scene is almost unrivaled as a demo sequence in the Blu-ray library. The scene was very challenging in production, as one might imagine, and the documentary provides important information about it.
The "Collector's Edition" also five different documentaries in 1080p. The segments show interviews with director Campbell, producers Wilson and Broccoli, screenwriters Haggis and Purvis, Bond historian John Cork, authors John Pearson and Peter Biskind, and even early Bond girls Linda Christian Power, Diane Hartford, and Maureen O'Connell. It provides some insight into the film and beyond, which wasn't available on the earlier edition.
"The Road to Casino Royale", is a 28-minute exploration of the original Fleming story and details the long and winding road to the film's production. As discussed elsewhere, this documentary is quite comprehensive, covering missteps along the road to the 20th sequel to the original 007 movie. "The Road to Casino Royale" shows plenty of material from the Bond archives, including rare photographs. If you didn't see it in the original blu-ray, check it out here.
Producer Barbara Broccoli says Casino Royale is the "holy grail" of Fleming novels. "Ian Fleming's Incredible Creation" is a 21-minute documentary explaining why she thinks so. First it details the story, Fleming's influences and bio, and then the challenges for adapting his story to film and bringing it into modern times. Certainly a brilliant idea for rebooting the Bond series, producing the movie presented both unique opportunities and challenges that clearly piqued Broccoli's interests.
"Bond in the Bahamas" and "Ian Fleming: The Secret Road to Paradise", clock in at 24 minutes each. These featurettes focus on the Caribbean location where parts of Casino Royale and other Bond films--including The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only and Thunderball--take place. tackles the location where a good portion of 'Casino Royale' takes place. The two documentaries tend to overlap and come across as a bit promotional of the Bahamas as a travel destination.
"Becoming Bond", a standard definition, 24-minute documentary, delivers all the requisite "making of" material. It includes interviews with Craig, Broccoli, Wilson, director Martin Campbell, screenwriters Haggis, Purvis and Wade, co-star Green and others. Featuring rare, still photos of Ian Fleming and footage from Craig's first day working on the film, the documentary attempts to put Craig into the perspective of Bond legacy and does a good job of it.
"James Bond for Real", another 24-minute, standard definition documentary from the previous Blu-ray release, focuses on the stunt work that went into Casino Royale from a technical standpoint. It uses pieces of many of the same interviews that were used for "Becoming Bond". For me, it's more fun to watch the film and enjoy the finished effect of the stunts than to go through all the technical production issues.
New to the "Collector's Edition" reissue are four deleted scenes in 1080p, totaling eight minutes in length. These include "Rescue and Recovery," "Squandering Government Funds," "Cricket Pavilion" and "Gettler Raisers Bond's Suspicions." None of these scenes are particularly important and it's easy to see why they ended up on the cutting room floor.
A standard definition music video is included to highlight former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" theme song. Great tune, in the tradition of other minor-key compositions that become Bond themes over the years, and the video delivers a good preview of the movie. Wish it was produced in 1080p.
Casino Royale Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Casino Royale reboots James Bond into a thick plot of terrorist brokerage crime, high-stakes gambling and of course international espionage. In the midst of it, we come to know the new 007 and his brand of action, brutality and loyalty. His relationship with Vesper Lynd shows him to be capable of love, but fundamentally distrustful of anyone--and that probably includes his own boss, M (Judy Dench). The new brand of violence and less sociable psychology of Bond highlight a welcome change. Previous incarnations of 007 were at their best when they emulated the wit and charm that made Sean Connery's Bond so popular. But he was not the scrappy, blue eyed Bond from Ian Fleming's spy thrillers. Daniel Craig is--or at least he comes far closer than any previous actor. And the virtual absence of any silly gadgets, contraptions, overelaborate torture schemes, tired car chases and other formulaic Bond fare make Casino Royale appear fresh and new. It retains moments of humor and levity, but overall has a darker, more serious aura. I recommend this new "Collector's Edition" reissue as a slightly better package to catch up on the newly rebooted 007. Familiarize yourself with it now. In Quantum of Solace, we are set to see the full wrath of revenge from Bond. I can't wait to see what Craig does with it.
Casino Royale: Other Editions
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