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DVD Review

DVD cover

James Bond
Casino Royale - Deluxe Edition


Starring: Daniel Craig
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: £17.99
Certificate: 12
Available 20 October 2008

James Bond’s first mission as 007 leads him to Le Chiffre, banker to the world’s terrorists. In order to stop him and bring down the terrorist network, Bond must beat Le Chiffre in a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond is initially annoyed when a beautiful Treasury official, Vesper Lynd, is assigned to deliver his stake for the game and watch over the government’s money. However, as Bond and Vesper survive a series of lethal attacks by Le Chiffre and his henchmen, a mutual attraction develops, leading them both into further danger and events that will shape Bond’s life forever...

What did I tell you? As I wagered in my review of last year’s two-disc release, Sony has re-released Casino Royale with a bunch of additional special features (and a cheaper price tag to boot). I’m not convinced that there’s really three discs’ worth here, but at last we have audio commentaries and deleted scenes, both of which were conspicuous by their absence from the previous release.

Disc 1 contains the main feature and two audio commentaries, one of them with director Martin Campbell and co-producer Michael G Wilson, the second featuring other members of the crew, including co-producer Barbara Broccoli, production designer Peter Lamont, special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, screenwriters Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, and composer David Arnold.

Disc 2 carries the same content as the second disc of the previous DVD release, about two hours of material including the making-of documentaries Becoming Bond and James Bond: For Real, both narrated by Rob Brydon (whose voice-overs I find hard to take seriously following his work on Flight of the Conchords!). Meanwhile, Maryam d’Abo (still one of the loveliest Bond ladies, in my opinion) presents the retrospective Bond Girls Are Forever. On this disc, you will also find the music video to Chris Cornell’s excellent theme song, “You Know My Name”.

Disc 3 contains deleted scenes, storyboard deconstructions of the freerunning and airport action sequences and more than three hours of documentary featurettes, including the fascinating Road to Casino Royale, which explores the complex ownership issues that kept Casino Royale from reaching the screens as an official EON production for so many years. James Bond in the Bahamas and Ian Fleming: The Secret Road to Paradise spend more time discussing Thunderball than they do Casino Royale, but they nevertheless provide an illuminating insight into Fleming and Bond’s many connections with the Bahamas and the links that exist between Thunderball and Casino Royale. The Art of the Freerun and Death in Venice deal with more technical aspects of the film’s production, specifically the freerun chase and the spectacularly destructive special effects scenes near the end of the film. There are also Filmmaker Profiles on numerous members of the crew and a nice glossy booklet - and I do mean booklet, not pamphlet.

But what about the movie itself? Well, my opinion hasn’t really changed...

The last time the Bond franchise was re-launched, a decade earlier with GoldenEye, I found the result to be a little wishy-washy for my palate. For me, it appeared to sit on the fence in terms of its depiction of Bond. Is 007 a fully rounded character or some kind of superhero? Is his womanising deplorable or enviable? The makers of GoldenEye, including its director Martin Campbell, seemed to want to hedge their bets and have things both ways.

Now Bond has been re-booted again, following a hiatus of four years. Once again, Campbell has been commissioned to helm the debut of the new Bond, this time played by Daniel Craig. This is a much more confident production than GoldenEye was, and a far riskier venture, though I still detect an air of indecision...

The movie has been hailed as a return to 007’s roots, an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s very first novel. The franchise is being reset to year one, depicting a Bond only recently promoted to Double-0 status and still decidedly rough around the edges. Casino Royale starts off in black and white, without the famous gun-barrel sequence in its customary position. In this film we see 007 don a tailored dinner jacket for the first time - with some reluctance - and he doesn’t give a damn whether his vodka martini is shaken or stirred. There’s no Moneypenny or Q, and very few gadgets in evidence: just a cutting-edge mobile phone and an Aston Martin equipped with a computerised glove compartment. The humour is there, but this time it is dry and dark rather than cheeky or cheesy. And there’s no hi-tech villain’s base to get blown up at the end.

I would talk about the baddies having more realistic, down-to-earth goals than your standard Bond foes and consequently posing a more believable menace, but in fact this isn’t so radical for the series. For example, Franz Sanchez in Licence to Kill was a powerful drugs baron, while Elliot Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies was a ruthless media mogul.

The production team shy away from going the whole hog in terms of their adaptation of Fleming’s first book. The film is set in or close to the present day rather than the 1950s. This isn’t, therefore, the origin story of the character we have been watching on our screens for the last 40-odd years but rather some newer version of him. Exciting action sequences are still very much in evidence, particularly during the first half of the movie, the plot of which is entirely original. The second half is a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel, even down to the structural flaw of an ending that is hampered by an overlong and badly placed romantic interlude.

Running contrary to the “year one” ethos is the presence of Judi Dench as M. With every other recurring character from the series either recast or removed, I am forced to wonder why the role of M was not similarly recast. She doesn’t seem to be playing the exact same character - her M used to be disparaging of the Cold War, and Bond as a relic of it, but now she says she misses those simpler times, and her language is coarser than we are used to - so why keep the same actress? Don’t get me wrong, I think Dame Judi is great, but her participation muddies the waters in a way that could prove confusing to casual viewers, making it unclear whether this film is a fresh start or the continuation of a series.

On the other hand, her presence could be taken as evidence of a long-held fan theory that there has been more than one spy called James Bond. Her promotion of the agent in this movie could represent the initiation of just the latest in a long line of agents (one for every actor who has played him) to operate under the code name of James Bond. It would certainly explain how he suddenly got younger between 1985 and 1987!

Though the standout performances are those of Craig and Dench, Eva Green holds her own as the aloof, understatedly sexy Vesper, though it is possible to detect a trace of her French accent even though her character is supposed to be British. Mads Mikkelsen rather underplays his role as Le Chiffre (a villain suffering from a credit crunch a couple of years ahead of the rest of us), though there’s no denying the chilling quality he exudes. However, as an asthma sufferer, I must express my annoyance as yet another screen character fails to use an inhaler correctly! Le Chiffre will have gained little benefit from his reliever because he never holds his breath after taking it. Oh well, at least he doesn’t spray it into his open mouth like breath freshener, as I’ve seen some characters do!

Despite my above reservations, I do like Casino Royale - a lot. As a fan of the Timothy Dalton Bond films, I appreciate the efforts of Campbell, Craig, Haggis, Purvis and Wade to make 007 more human and the franchise less fantastical. Here, as in Licence to Kill, we see Bond getting injured in a gritty and realistic way. I can only hope that the success of this movie and its follow-up, Quantum of Solace, will lead to a widespread reappraisal of the woefully undervalued Dalton movies.

In the meantime, the Daniel doubters (myself among them) have largely been silenced by the merits of Casino Royale, the most daring Bond film in years. A right Royale treat.


Richard McGinlay

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