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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 J.C. Ribera on May 15, 2007 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
Bond. Blu-ray. A Beginning.
Reviewed by J.C. Ribera, May 15, 2007
The Film: Bond. Rebooted.
As you may know, this latest Bond film marks a new beginning for the official film series, with a new actor and a new, never before filmed by the "Bond" team, novel, which happens to be the first James Bond novel by Ian Fleming: Casino Royale. The book, which I read many many years ago, and was written in the 50's, deals with Bond on a mission which involves him having to use his abilities at a Baccarat card game at the Casino Royale. The story was "adapted" before for a US b/w TV show in the 50's (Jimmy "Card Sense" Bond - Barry Nelson) and as a British comedy in the 60's (Sir James Bond - David Niven, with various other Agent 007s thrown into the mix). Casino Royale the new film, having a new Bond actor and using the very first story as its starting board, on the other hand, deals us a "slightly" different take on the novel. It's set in present time and we are seeing Bond at his beginnings as a 00. I must confess that being raised by the classic Bonds (of which Connery is my favorite) and also an admirer of the Hitchcock proto-Bond thrillers, I was a little apprehensive about this new Bond. From what I had seen on pics and promos I thought I might not accept it and I'm sure many Bond veterans might have been wondering the same before watching the film. Would this Bond cut it? Knowing that the movie was surely bound to be a Blu-ray disc, this also happened to be the first Bond movie I didn't get to see in theaters. I had never seen Craig acting before. Having my preferred Bond be suave-but-rough Connery in tailored suits, while watching the new film the first time I was enjoying the movie, but kept thinking I wouldn't accept this as Bond. Not only did he look different but he behaved different, sometimes even like a brusque unruly child with his gestures and manners, so admitting this as Bond (as opposed to an actor playing Bond) was not happening in a total complete manner.
Never judge a book by its cover, or a film till it's finished. By the time the film ended, Bond was back. A diamond begins as a rough lump of coal, but diamonds once cut, Are Forever.
You want plot summaries? Not from me :D
The Disc: Home Theater. Revolutionized
Well, as I mentioned above this was the first time I missed a Bond film in the theater. Being high on chronological reading and viewing, what better way to start watching the new Bond's inception in my Home Theater as a Blu-ray experience. New Bond, new continuity, new format. It was a strange feeling when the player sucked in the new disc and I knew my first viewing experience of new Bond would have no film/theater reference. Would I think I was missing out on something from not watching it on 35mm? Would I even be able to judge? In the end the image would have to stand on it's own and be judged by itself. So begins my first Blu-ray review. Movie watching. Reborn. It's only the beginning. I should have feared nothing.
The Tech: High Def. Defined
Image: The film begins with a high contrast b/w image (maybe trying to clue us in that this is the beginning by suggesting the past) it was at moments as if I was looking at a Film Noir CinemaScope version of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. But the man from UNCLE was never like this. Sharp, icy, grainy, brutal. Like if shot on Tri-X photographic film (Or nowadays T-Max) used for documenting life's gritty reality, jumping to flashbacks printed on b/w litho film. Then the credits sequence came in and it was like going through the Stargate, all perfectly rendered Bond Baccarat 21st Century psychedelia with dazzling colors and graphics. Couldn't see a blemish. And then the film proper begins as with all Bonds. We go from locale to locale, shot after shot with impeccable quality and tonality, dead on natural saturated color(s and )scale. One thing Bond films have always been is travelogues showcasing the best of exotic lands or different parts of the world, and that's one thing that kept creeping up at the back of my mind while watching the film: it looked like perfectly professionally exposed Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides on my screen. Just that they moved. If one word could be used to describe this transfer it would be film-like. As in Large Format Transparency seen on a Transparency viewer illuminator, come to life. Is that good. No video look, no theatrical 4th generation print look, but Color Film Transparency look.
Color was so perfect I almost wondered if it was adjusted on my display, which I know it wasn't, because mine is not THAT expensive. It's a rare transfer where I don't think things at least once like "maybe I should tweak the brightness up or down a little or adjust the color on that scene". I really was surprised by this. I guess it only proves that calibrating displays to Standard pays off in the end. Again, in matters of tonal curve and colors this transfer is the definition of reference. If I adjusted the color controls on the display I'm sure I'd screw it. Comparing (assuming now that the display is correct) to other transfers is easy to gauge the intended look of other films. Taking for example one of my favorites BDs, X-Men III, is easy to see that film strives for a more contrasty gritty look, while the Bond film, even though the character is rough and goes through a hard story, he lives in a glossy, sophisticated secret agent reality. The X-men live in a gritty science fiction future. Bond, well he lives in a world of lush tropical resorts and ancient elegant Old World luxury, in other words, a Bond World. I just love it when the transfer and the tech transcend so much they transport us to the intended artistic reality.
But tonal range and color are not the only components of image quality though they are somewhat dependent on the others. How is sharpness, resolution and grain or lack of? Well photographer types might have an idea when I said Kodachrome/Ektachrome slides. In other words the image quality is excellent. The image is sharp and detailed, to the point you can see that sometimes the camera focus is not on the actors' faces on some shots but maybe on their necks (to make a beauty shot for example) The film is fine grained and you can see this fine grain in most shots if you look closely on movie sized viewing. I've seen some people mention "grain smoothing" some even arguing that the theatrical prints they saw were grainier but they might have never seen fine grain film transfered to digital. What many people don't realize is that normal theatrical prints are 4th generation from the negative dupes.
Even a film having Digital Intermediate made from the negative, the best you could hope for to see on a regular theater would be a mass produced print made from an internegative burned from the DI unless you happened to see special answer prints. In this transfer it seems to have been done from the original elements and you get an image much superior than on a regular print. I saw no evidence of grain smoothing or DNR, while enjoying the film so if any is there, it is unobtrusive. Shots are sharp and detailed. I see no unnatural grain movement (at least that /I can discern) and much less in objects moving in a scene. Just taking a look at the opening chase scene you can see that no compression artifacts affect what are constantly (for several minutes!) moving shots. In fact on a big screen the image is so clear the effect is dizzying. On smaller screens, or watched from distances used by most regular home viewers, the image sometimes appears grainless. But the grain is there, you just have to enlarge the image big enough. Just like in a theater.
The transfer being so clear, also on some scenes you can see a difference in "look" between consecutive shots, probably the result of the scenes being shot in different days, location, cameras, emulsions, ambient light, camera aperture etc. (remember movie shots are assembled like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle of scenes and shots done in different days). While on other discs these differences are sometimes jarring, on Casino Royale they are well managed and kept to a minimum.
The general sharpness look seems to been chosen as smooth, befitting as I mentioned before the lush fine grain photography. No peaked sharpness, no edge enhancement, no overemphasizing of detail, to achieve a totally film-like look. This is not to say the image is not sharp or lacks detail. On the contrary! Look at M, with Bond, on the beach. You can see everything tack sharp. The sharpness varies sometimes from this, to a little softer than this, to some shots where the sharpness is truly breathtaking. There are a couple of shots of Bond and Vesper Lynd, that I had to stop the playback to look at again. For a moment I really thought that instead of seeing 35mm movie film, I had put an 8" x 10" large format transparency on my illuminator and I had magically hit play and made it move. In general, in comparison to X-men again, most shots in X-Men look sharper than shots in Bond as in "hard sharp" but this is a stylistic choice. X-Men also has sharp pinpoint grain and you can see almost down the throat of every wrinkle and make-up detail. Bond is smooth, glossy, and grain free like a Vogue magazine shoot. My own personal preference is usually down the throat sharpness (which the Vesper Lynd/Bond car scene does have) but that's just the projectionist/cameraman in me always trying to get everything beyond focused. The movie in no uncertain terms looks sharp and detailed, just not on a intense way (like X-Men). Perhaps this is why some may not have found the image "spectacular". Sharpness real, is not enhanced. So it might not look "spectacular" at first glance, but it's just set right. So it looks natural. Like film. We have been accustomed to watching so many years of SD with the sharpness set high that a natural high definition image may look tame at first. Not a "video" look, nor a soft blurred look. A High Definition film look. The detail, combined by the cleanness and natural contrast of the image results in the image looking great, and if you have the ability, excellent shown on a big screen.
Also worth mentioning is that some people have found the colors "over-saturated" and I disagree. Reminds me of an old master of color photography (Ernst Hass) that strived for color accuracy in his dye transfer prints and people asked if he exaggerated the colors to which he replied that no he didn't but his prints were so accurate in color that people mistook the accurate colors as oversaturated, while colors in nature was were truly that way. You have to remember that HDTV color is a little better than US SD color too. And this is a Bond movie so it's gonna look good. This movie doesn't have a muted color scheme or a Austin Powers pop color scheme but a natural glossy color magazine look. In fact, today's best home displays, like CRTs, DLPs and even LCDs properly calibrated can achieve better average contrast than what most theaters do (<-200:1), so for bright scenes you could see in your HT an even brighter, more contrasty image, which gives you the perception of greater color and clarity.
This Region A disc has the US theatrical version.
So now, for my original question. Did I end up thinking I missed out on something by not watching it in a theater? What do you think? ;) In short, I could find no fault with the image.
Sound: After dedicating so much to the image I'll be brief on the Sound.
The disc comes with 48kHz 16 bit uncompressed PCM sound and it sounds great. Sony audio CDs use Superbit/DSD mapping or other dithering techniques and maybe they use this when doing the 16bit tracks but I don't know. It certainly is better than listening to 2 channel LPCM on Laserdisc for those that love that sound, as it's LPCM, but now in multichannel. The mix is modern aggressive and Bondbastic when it has to be. One thing I'd like to mention is the David Arnold music. I thought it was classy and it's different "theme" fitted the new Bond movie well, giving it a seriousness of tone that raised the movie a level or two of what a lesser track could have done. Sometimes it even sounded nostalgic. The new themes made it so that when you heard the classic Bond strands their point was more poignant.
The movie comes also with a standard 5.1 compressed DolbyDigital track of 448 kb/ s. Some have complained it's not 640 but I'm in the opinion you shouldn't bloat High Definition discs with several high resolution audio tracks at the expense of the image. Something like a TrueHD with DD core, or a DTS HD MA with DTS core (and maybe a small 5.1 384kb/s DD or 192 kb/s 2.0 DD one just in case) should be enough one day. As of today, we don't have those advanced codecs implemented as the norm, LPCM + lower bit-rate DD suit me fine. The image quality shouldn't suffer at the expense of the sound quality just because not everybody has all sound codec combinations today. LPCM and 448 DD instead of 640 is a good choice given the current state of affairs. I didn't listen to the franšais or espa˝ol tracks except briefly. My familiarity with French is not good enough to distinguish if it was European accented or a Quebešois. But I could tell the Spanish track seemed to be done by Latin American accented actors instead of Castillian (Spaniard) ones, for those whom these things matter.
Subtitles: The subtitles are white (thank God) and what I'd consider large (larger than theater subtitles). They run over under the image in long sentences. The options cover about 90% of the population in Region A (the only mayor language missing may be Japanese). The Supplement subtitles are another matter, only Corean was included. Note: The movie subtitles are all there, but at first glance most of them are hidden and you may take a while to figure out how to select them from the subtitles menu.
Menu: The menu is presented over a very grainy b&w 1.78 mpeg-2 loop that has the Bond theme in stereo LPCM playing over images from the movie for about 1 minute. It's divided into the usual choices and has a cool "archived dossier" theme, with a decisive sound when you make the selections or navigate. The only problem I had was in the subtitles submenu (see above) but once you find out how they are selected, you'll have no problem accessing them.
The 27:24 long Becoming Bond is presented in 1.78 wide approx. 16 Mb/s mpeg-2 1080p and talks about the process of selecting the new Bond and shows some of his first days of shooting. A couple of shots are upscaled. The sound is 192 kb/s stereo DD. Sometimes it sounded to me that it was done in 25/50 and slowed down to 24 but if that's the case, after a while I got used to it and didn't think about it anymore.
24:33 Bond For Real. Also presented in 1.78 wide approx. 20 Mb/s mpeg-2 1080p, 192 kb/s stereo DD, it deals with a detailed look at the opening chase/crane and airport stunt sequences.
4:08 Chris Cornell video. Letterboxed 2.40 inside 4:3 coded 480 x 720 mpeg-2 video of about 7 Mb/s with the title sequence song "You Know My Name" in 192 kb/s DD stereo mildly integrating Cornell singing with scenes from the movie.
49 minute Bond Girls Are Forever (2006) in 4:3 coded 480 x 720 mpeg-2 video of about 6 Mb/s and 192 kb/s DD stereo, with Bond girls interviewing Bond girls ;) and many clips of them from the films. Sure to please lots of Bond fans.
Well as you can see after watching the movie, I was totally pleased and satisfied with the disc, and the Bond. In fact, I didn't have any qualms to introduce my girlfriend to the Bond world with it, and let it be Her first Bond. And we look forward to our next Blu-ray Bond experience, be it a High Definition 1.85 '60s Dr. No, or a second Craig movie, perhaps a remake of the second Bond novel (with the new Felix Leiter returning to), Live And Let Die
Because with Bond and Blu-ray,
Tomorrow Never Knows
It's only the beginning.
(cue Bond theme here)
Deci will return in Mad Max 2
PS3 (60Hz output)
1080p Direct View LCD 1:1
1200p upscaling Direct View LCD
NTSC (interlaced) CRT TV
Ancient CRT Front Projector
Yamaha & Technics Speakers
Monster and Belkin interconnects
Evaluating Viewing distance 2 PH
Sometimes viewed at 4PH
Deci A. Zulado
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Casino Royale Blu-ray, News and Updates
• 300, Casino Royale Pick-up Awards at HD 2.0 - December 5, 2007
High-Def 2.0 was a one day conference sponsored by Home Media Magazine in cooperation with The Hollywood Reporter and the Entertainment Merchants Assn. As part of the event, awards were given out for the best high definition discs as part of the High-Def Disc Awards. ...
• Casino Royale First High-Definition Title to Ship 100,000 Units - March 27, 2007
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (SPHE) today announced that the blockbuster Bond title Casino Royale, released March 13 on Blu-ray Disc, has hit the 100,000 units shipped mark and is setting records at retail for greatest number of high-definition copies sold ...
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