Casino Royale on Blu-ray
Bond is back, badder than ever, in Casino Royale, the movie that brings us Daniel Craig in his first outing as 007.
Rumor and scuttlebutt had it that Craig is the best Bond ever, or at least the best since Sean Connery originated the cinematic Bond in Dr. No. Is he? It's really too early to tell, but he's probably as good as Connery was in Dr. No, and he's head and shoulders above the buffoonish Bond that was Roger Moore's portrayal. And he's at least as good as Timothy Dalton was in "The Living Daylights" (Dalton's second outing was just plain bad, as a Bond movie). He's also better than Pierce Brosnan was as Bond.
But Connery? Let's give Craig a few more Bond movies and about forty years to work his way into the cultural psyche and then take another look. For now, though, he's just what the doctor ordered: a tough Bond who can alternate between being death on two legs and the suave sleuth of Bond's fame.
Things kick off well, with Craig's Bond making his second kill, a feat that (undoubtedly among other requirements) can qualify him for promotion to "double O" status. Then, after another set of great opening credits, we get to a breathtaking action sequence that's probably Bond's first fully fledged mission as OO7 (you see, this is an "origin" story, an intriguing idea never really explored through the 756 Bond films that came before). The action and the stunts are spectacular, but the scene ends badly for the inexperienced Bond as he's photographed by a security camera shooting the now-unarmed man he'd been chasing. That photo is plastered all over a media that's always looking for scandal, prompting just such a scandal, one that threatens to cost Bond his new gig.
But it can't do that, lest the other movies in the series magically disappear in a space-time conflict….
The overall plot revolves around MI6's quest to bust a terrorist financing network whose most public persona is a fellow called Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), banker and financial guru to the most vile among humanity. Bond's quest takes him from London to the Bahamas and then to Montenegro where he takes part in a game of poker in which he's supposed to clean out Le Chiffre so he'll be a bit more malleable and start spilling his guts to the good guys rather than having to face down the bad guys whose millions he's just lost at the table.
It doesn’t work out that way, of course, and in the aftermath of the card game Le Chiffre tortures Bond in a way never before seen in the movie franchise (though it is featured fairly similarly in the book, if memory serves). This is a Bond with balls!
Daniel Craig's – and the producers'/screenwriters' – new take on Bond is most welcome. For one thing, rather than just chuckling his way through events without even getting his hair mussed, he really takes a licking (but keeps on ticking, fortunately) throughout the course of this film which makes him a more believable character than the comic book hero he's become.
In fact, you could say that this time out, they've concentrated on Bond, the character, rather than Bond, the caricature – and it's about time!
He's a surprisingly human Bond, too, capable of emotion and errors in judgment. In one scene, after Bond Girl Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, playing a bureaucrat completely out of her league with OO7) freaks out and what she's just experienced and sits twitching in the running shower, we are treated to what may be the most tender and touching moment in Bond film history, at least since the death of Diana Rigg's character in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service".
Casino Royale also makes Bond an almost gadget-free zone - at least comparatively speaking. Oh, sure, there are gadgets galore, but other than a couple of "spy toys" they're mostly gadgets that anyone can have in this high tech world – Internet-enabled cellphones, notebook PCs and the like. The best gadget, naturally, is the new Aston Martin – but as always it's seen far too briefly.
Speaking of gadgets, this also seems to be the Bond film with the most blatant product placement in the history of the franchise. Sony Ericcson phones abound, as do Sony Vaio computers. Could this have anything to do with Bond movies now being properties of Sony? Nah!
We also have Aston Martins, Range Rovers, a Mondeo and Jaguars aplenty – all of which are, or have been until recently, Fords. It isn't one big commercial, but it made us chuckle to see that the tradition of populating a movie with one company's cars continues today.
But it's the story that counts and this is the best Bond in years. It's minimalist compared with some of the bloated Bond outings, there are good twists and turns throughout and at some points in the story we aren't really sure who's really whom, or who's really working for whom.
So, yes, Bond is back and we're very happy about it. Let's hope Daniel Craig will have a long and successful run and that the movies don't once again become parodies of themselves.
The Blu-ray format is ideal for a big movie such as this one. And we like the 1080p transfer, which does a nice job of bringing the big screen experience to the home theater. Alas, it isn't perfect, not that much is. The opening credits look great, and the rest of the film (we aren't going to bother talking about the transfer of the grainy black and white opening scene) features rich and vivid colors with a great sense of depth. Blacks are excellent, too, though we thought the contrast was a tad hot. Then again, we thought so when we saw the film in the theater, too, so maybe it isn't the disc.
The audio is presented in uncompressed 5.1 PCM, and it's delightful. Since this is a Bond film, we expect lots of audio effects, from gunshots and explosions to great-sounding cars and the like. The airport sequence, with the thinly disguised 747 playing an Airbus A380 knockoff, is the sort of thing you can use to show off your system. The dynamic range is wide, the bass rumbles just like it should and the imaging between the channels is just great. Even the quiet passages work well, with great ambience.
You even get a good set of special features on the Blu-ray disc. There's "Becoming Bond" (Guess what that's about!), a feature on the Bond girls throughout the ages, James Bond for Real, and a music video.
Welcome back, Bond. James Bond. We missed you.
Casino Royale, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.