When I was a little kid, I was a hardcore James Bond fan. I lived for the gadgets and the crazy stunts; the submarine cars and space shuttle shoot-outs; women with names like Pussy Galore and henchmen with decapitating bowler caps. Sadly, these same hokey elements that once engaged us would be the very things that would drive me away from the franchise as my tastes migrated toward more realistic action heroes like Tom Ryan, Jason Bourne, and any film in which Clive Owen is given a gun.
Which brings me back to Bond.
You see, at one time, Clive Owen was considered the heir apparent after Pierce Brosnan’s run was through, but, apparently, no one ever bothered to ask him about it. They did ask another broody Brit, though, and, while not nearly as popular as Owen was at the time, Layer Cake headliner, Daniel Craig, had a certain something (besides the blonde hair) that the Bond producers felt they could rebuild the franchise around.
And rebuild it they would.
Casino Royale is a total reboot of the Bond mythos, opening with a noirish black and white segment that introduces us to the craggly-faced James – more thug-for-hire than suave man of mystery. He’s there to kill a man, and that’s it. There’s no sense that what he’s doing is going to save the world or whether or not the man he’s there even deserves to die; there’s just a man and a job. We learn that it is with this assignment that Bond receives his double-0 credentials. In any other Bond film, this would have been met with a riotous pun, a roll in the sack, a Cuban cigar, and then, perhaps, a jetpack ride to the moon. In Casino Royale, we see James frantically scrubbing the blood of the man he’d just beaten to death off of his hands, barely able to meet his own eyes in the mirror above the grimy restroom sink.
In just these first few minutes, Daniel Craig completely wins me over. I also fear that I am developing a man-crush, and pull my wife closer to me to compensate.
The rest of the film stays somewhat true to the Bond formula in that we follow 007 around the world to exotic places while he tracks down bad guys – in this case, Le Chiffre (Pusher’s Mads Mikkelsen), an investment banker for terrorist groups with a knack for poker. When Le Chiffre loses an African warlord’s money in an investment scheme foiled by Bond, the banker throws together a one-hundred million dollar poker tournament in hopes of getting back his client’s money. Bond, no slouch at the game himself, takes part in the tournament with the goal of taking down Le Chiffre and giving him no option other than to turn state’s evidence against his many clients in exchange for protection from her majesty.
What I really love about this whole plot is that, while it’s still slightly fantastic, it’s not above the realm of possibility. I mean, Le Chiffre isn’t planning on melting Earth with a laser mounted on the moon, or sinking Florida with an army of giant robots; this is just a greedy guy who makes his living making wealthy evil organizations wealthier. If you don’t believe fat cats like that exist, then you haven’t watched the news from Wall Street, lately.
And, as for Bond, there’s nary an inexplicable gadget to be found. As a matter of fact, the only negative that Casino Royale shares in common with previous Bond films is that it seems like it runs about twenty minutes longer than it needs to. Still, if the only complaint I can muster is that there's maybe a little too much of a good thing, well, that's saying something, isn't it?
It’s sad to say, but today's tough times call for even tougher action heroes, and it’s nice to know that 007 is still up to the job.
Sony antes up yet another sterling example of their commitment to quality Blu-ray releases, bringing Casino Royale to Blu with a lovely 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer that is just stunning to look at. The image is sharp and defined, with such an incredible sense of depth and detail that it's as if you're sitting in the same room with Bond for a game of Hold 'em. Colors are vivid yet not overly saturated as to keep with the series' new, more rough and tumble aesthetic, and blacks are rich and wonderfully balanced. This is, hands down, one of Sony's best looking titles to date.
And Casino Royale sounds as good as it looks, with a dynamic Dolby 5.1 TrueHD track that gives your home theater system a rigorous workout. Surround effects envelop, while deep, rumbling bass, crisp highs, and crystal clear dialogue work in perfect aural harmony. The film's Parkour sequence, in which Bond chases after the baddie up and down stairways, walls, and, ultimately, a large construction crane, best exemplifies the sonic range of the mix, with pulsating music, revving engines, and car horns and crowd noise existing in the same tonal space as the meaty slap of bodies hitting pavement, footfalls on concrete, and the heavy breathing of Bond and his fleeing suspect. Awesome stuff!
This encore Blu-ray appearance by Casino Royale is a loaded 2-disc affair that's brimming with fantastic new HD content, and exclusive Blu-ray features that include a "Bonus View Picture-in-Picture visual commentary" with Director Martin Campbell and Producer Michael G. Wilson, the “Know Your Double-O” Trivia Quiz, and BD-Live capability. Other extras are carryovers from the previous release, but it's quite a haul! Extras include:
* Ian Fleming’s Incredible Creation – A remarkable look at the birth and continued success of James Bond, including never-before-revealed information about Bond’s creator and the origins of 007.
* The Road to Casino Royale – The story of why it took over 50 years for the Bond filmmakers to bring Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel to the big screen, featuring the amazing behind-the-scenes stories of the many attempts to make the film.
* James Bond in the Bahamas – A fascinating examination of the links between the the cinematic Bond and the Bahamas, with never-before-told behind-the-scenes stories from Casino Royale, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, For Your Eyes Only and The World Is Not Enough.
* Ian Fleming: The Secret Road to Paradise – A revealing exploration of the world of James Bond’s creator. In this documentary, discover why Ian Fleming was drawn to the Bahamas, and learn the cinematic Casino Royale’s unique link to an important chapter in 007’s secret history.
* Death in Venice – A break down of one of the key scenes in the film.
* Becoming Bond – An intimate look at how Daniel Craig stepped into the role of James Bond.
* James Bond: For Real – A behind-the-scenes look at the ground-breaking action and the stunts in Casino Royale.
* Bond Girls Are Forever – An extended version of the 2002 AMC television special, with new footage and interviews of the new Bond Girls.
* The Art of Freerunning – An in-depth look at the freerunning chase and the freerunning technique with the sport’s founder, Sebastien Foucan.
* Filmmaker Profiles: in-depth conversations with key creative forces behind Casino Royale, including never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage
* Freerunning Chase — Watch the storyboards presented in animatic form, or view them in comparison to the finished film sequence.
* Catching a Plane: From Storyboard to Screen, featuring outtakes and never-before-seen footage.
* Music Video: Chris Cornell “You Know My Name”
* Crew Commentary: Audio Commentary with scene-specific comments and observations from many of Casino Royale’s creative team.
And much, much more!
It’s truly something to see an aging franchise come roaring back with such raw energy. By dumping all of the elements that had long ago drowned it in a sea of self-parody, the James Bond franchise has resurfaced with newfound relevance. Sony, once again, gives its Bond film the royal treatment, with a stellar transfer, fantastic audio, and a selection of extras fit for her majesty, herself.