Plot: What’s it about?
It’s been a few years since the last James Bond installment and the main member of the cast has once again been re-formatted with a newer, younger face and he’s a blonde to boot! Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year, you’ll know that the veneer of Pierce Brosnan has been replaced with the grit of Daniel Craig. This is, of course, a natural progression with a franchise like James Bond. I mean would we really want to see Sean Connery in a bathing suit nowadays? Ok, maybe some women actually would but with a 40 year old franchise, fresh blood is needed every so often and Mr. Craig is now the new Mr. Bond. And if anyone had doubts of a new Bond, “Casino Royale” certainly proved them wrong. The movie is the most successful in the history of the franchise and has given it a new shot in the arm so to speak. Naturally, critics call Daniel Craig “the best Bond in the franchise’s history” but I beg to differ. More on that later, though. Love him or hate him, James Bond has a new face, a new swagger and a new hairstyle. Are ya ready?
“Casino Royale” does venture into some unknown territory as we meet James Bond before he was actually a “Double O” agent. For the uninitiated the two zero’s represent two kills, which he happily provides early on in the movie. Bond (Daniel Craig) is sent on his first mission as a spy. He encounters the main villain, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a notorious gambler whose trying to restore his bankroll in a game of high-stakes poker. Yes, gone are the days of baccarat (or maybe I should say they’re “yet to come”) as James Bond is now a poker man. Naturally he meets up with a treasury official who stakes him (all in the name of “her majesty” of course) by the name of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) who will be playing the role of “Bond Girl”. All treasury agents look like this? Can James Bond take down Le Chiffre in a game of Texas Hold Em or will he even survive the match?
Ok, now the bad part. I really didn’t find “Casino Royale” too entertaining. It’s a well-made movie and it certainly fits the role of “Bond movie” to a tee, but something about it just rubbed me the wrong way. First, the older James Bond movies always had entertaining villains which “Austin Powers” mocked with exuberance. This one didn’t have much of that. Instead, they tend to focus on how “gritty” this new Bond is and yes, that’s great and all, but I liked the gadgets, the “shaken, not stirred” and the fact that Bond never really had cuts and scars on his face. Call me old-fashioned but for all the glitz that this new movie had to offer, I wasn’t really in favor of things changing. I realize I’m in the minority here and let me set the record straight: I didn’t dislike this movie, I just felt that it wasn’t on par with other James Bond movies. All of the elements are there, or maybe I just need to warm up to a new Bond (I didn’t like “Goldeneye” either). Any way you cut it, audiences did like this new Bond and he’s on Blu-ray for the first time (no pun intended). Lastly, I will say that Eva Green is right up there with the most beautiful women in Bond history, if nothing else gawking at her in high definition is a treat in itself.
Video: How does it look?
Sony’s initial offering for “Casino Royale” looked good, but not great and their efforts here are the same as before. The 2.40:1 AVC HD transfer certainly has all the gloss in the world, but there were a few instances in which I just wasn’t that impressed. The contrast seemed to be off in a few of the outdoor scenes and some of the indoor scenes seemed to be a bit overcooked as well; as if everyone had been in the sun for too long. Naturally, there is no sign of edge enhancement and the detail is off the charts. Beautiful, panoramic views of some of the word’s most exotic places are shown and all look fantastic. “Casino Royale” is certainly eye candy for everyone involved, but I was expecting just a bit more.
Audio: How does it sound?
The previous edition of “Casino Royale” featured a PCM Uncompressed track that sounded pretty darn good. Since then (about 18 months ago, I might add) Dolby’s TrueHD has taken over as the sound mix of choice. The uncompressed mix is amazing and certainly adds a lot of depth to what would be a somewhat lifeless track otherwise. Dialogue is, of course, clean and natural free of any distortion and the LFE comes into play quite often as well. Surround effects only add to the ambiance giving “Casino Royle” high marks in the audio department which, at times, makes the room shake.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Sony’s initial offering of “Casino Royale” contained just enough to warrant a purchase but let’s face facts here, there’s a new Bond on the horizon (“Quantum of Solace”) so it’s time to re-issue the best-selling Bond movie as a “Special Edition”, ain’t life grand? The good news is that all of the previously included supplements are present on this two-disc edition. Tthe featuettes aren’t all bad and we start off with “Becoming Bond”. This is a typical expanded EPK featurette with interviews from the cast and crew and the man himself, Daniel Craig. We get some inside information as to how he was approached and how he finally won the big role. “James Bond: For Real” is a spotlight on the stunts in the film (yes, James Bond movies have some stunts in them) and we get all we need to know here. Rounding out the supplements is “Bond Girls are Forever”, a rather lengthy (50 minutes) piece with interviews from Bond girls of the past. The music video “You Know My Name” is also included.
Now for the new stuff. A full-length audio commentary has been added with producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson and a bevy of crew members. Stars Daniel Craig and Eva Green aren’t present. The commentary is very technical in nature and discusses the set design and the meticulous nature of the framing of the scenes. It’s a good track and fans will get a kick out of how much information is present in it. Five new featurettes are included which give us pretty much everything we need to know about the film, ranging from the journey of “Casino Royale” to the big screen right down to the locations (Bahamas, Venice, etc.). These are shown in HD which is a real treat. The other new material here is a picture-in-picture commentary track with director Martin Campbell and, like other PIP features, this one has a lot of redundant information, though it’s a nice feature if you’re a fan of the film. Also included is a James Bond trivia quiz and the disc is also BD-Live enabled. If you don’t own the first version, this is the one to get but I suppose it depends on how big a Bond fan you are.