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Casino RoyaleCasino Royale on DVD

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.

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 his 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 his first fully fledged mission as 007 (you see, this is an "origin" story, an intriguing idea never really explored before through the 756 earlier Bond films). 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 the media, prompting a scandal that threatens to cost Bond his gig.

But it can't, 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. Bond's quest takes him from Madagascar to London, the Bahamas and then to Montenegro where he takes part in a climactic game of poker as he tries to clean out Le Chiffre to make him a bit more malleable so he'll start spilling his guts to the good guys rather than 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).

Daniel Craig's – and the producers'/screenwriters' – 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 throughout the course of this film which, considering the number of encounters he has, makes him more of a believable character than a comic book hero.

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!

And he's a surprisingly human Bond, capable of emotion and error. In one scene, after Bond Girl Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, playing a bureaucrat completely out of her league with 007) freaks out and sits twitching in the shower, Bond finds her and we are treated to what may be the most tender and touching moment in Bond film history.

This movie also makes Bond an almost gadget-free zone. Oh, sure, there are gadgets galore, but 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 it's seen far too briefly.

Speaking of gadgets, this also seems to be the most blatant Bond film when it comes to product placement. 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 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 whom, or who's 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 DVD is a two disc set that, while not labeled as a special edition, has more than enough stuff  to qualify it as one.

Disc one features the movie (in anamorphic widescreen or Pan&Scan – and we advise you to get the widescreen version), and the audio/video quality are definitely up to snuff. The picture is sharp and crisp and colorful (except, of course, for the opening black and white scene). Audio is offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it's also very good. We wish they'd have offered a dts choice as well, though.

Disc one also includes some trailers, but there's no commentary and we found that rather surprising considering all the other good stuff.

Disc Two makes up for this oversight, however. It's full of interesting features, most of which are offered in widescreen as well. There's a piece on Craig as Bond (and the search for him), another on the stunts – and a (full frame) TV special on the Bond Girls, hosted by Living Daylights' Maryam D'abo and featuring an amazing selection of BG's from Dr. No right up to Casino Royale.

It's good stuff, and makes the package worth owning rather than just renting.

Welcome back, Bond. James Bond. We missed you.

Casino Royale, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
144 min. Anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1, 16x9 TV compatible/Pan&Scan sold separately), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio
Starring Daniel Craig, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright and Judi Dench
produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli,
written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, directed by Martin Campbell

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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