Boy oh boy, I remember when my colleague Paul Mavis got eviscerated when writing his review of the film, and Joshua Zyber wrote a dissenting opinion, if you will, for the Blu-ray version of the feature. So now, with another disc full of proper supplemental material in a new release just in time for Bond 22 (a.k.a. Quantum of Solace), not to mention countless viewings of the film on cable over the past 18 months, let me see if I can throw my opinion in the ring without it being eaten by a metaphorical hungry, hungry hippo.
For those who haven't seen the film, this incarnation of Bond was done as a prequel of sorts, based on Ian Fleming's novel and adapted by Neil Purvis and Robert Wade (The World is Not Enough), with an additional writing pass by Paul Haggis (Crash), and directed by Martin Campbell (,GoldenEye). This time Bond is played by Daniel Craig (The Golden Compass), and is designed to capture him before he reaches his full apex of suave debonair, yet precise work as an agent for Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond is determined to find Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, Pusher), who is a banker for many of the terrorist organizations in the world, and helps Steven Obanno (Isaach De Bankole, Manderlay) specifically to achieve these goals, with the mutual introduction of the mysterious Mr. White (Jesper Christensen, The Interpreter). All paths for Le Chiffre and Bond take them to Casino Royale in Montenegro, home of a high-stakes winner-take-all poker tournament where James has his checkbook monitored by Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, Kingdom of Heaven), who works for the Britain treasury, and while she resists him at first, there's something about that guy that people just can't ignore, you know? So he falls in love with her, not knowing the secret she keeps that could destroy them both.
As one who's not read any of the Fleming novels but has seen all of the films once or twice, I'm aware that Purvis, Wade and producer Michael Wilson have been wanting to give Bond a bit of an edge for awhile now, and have even tried this with overtones by Craig's predecessor in the role, Pierce Brosnan. But here, James is a little less refined, with a little harder exterior, and a little more punk rock, whereas previous Bonds were a little more easy listening. Many people have enjoyed this reimagining of Bond for this reason, however I think it's led to a very possible double-edged sword for the franchise:
First, I think that at its heart, Casino Royale was a reboot for reboot's sake. The problem with that, at least in this case, is that when you take into consideration that Craig is only signed up for a couple more films after Quantum of Solace, does the successor reimagine this new Bond, or build on what it is that Craig creates? And where do Wilson and producer Barbara Broccoli go with these stories is another key. Bond was battling Eastern European baddies long after the wall fell down, and that was one of the reasons the franchise grew stale to begin with. These two Craig films as Bond are now ones that go into new territory; a bad script could throw the franchise into peril if the producers aren't cognizant of it, so it's better to make a good story, rather than a fast one.
Second and more importantly, just what is it that Craig created with Bond? The more than I see Casino Royale, it becomes a little more apparent to me that he's nothing more than a pitbull who expects women to fall for him because of sheer physical qualities which admittedly, are abundant. He tries to show a charm that is hinted in Casino Royale, but as a character in any other situation, this simply comes across as arrogance. He runs through drywall and looks for people with this look on his face like he's very protective of his rawhide. That's hardly a look for the most dashing cinematic secret agent of our time, isn't it? Think about it, if you take the previous Bonds out of the equation for a minute and focus on the material, you'd expect this protagonist who's streamlined without being bulky, and Craig is supposed to be the protagonist before all of these stories to some degree, and he looks like he walked out of a BALCO clinic. I think the "best Bond since Connery" hyperbole is a little bit nonsensical for this reason, but also because the character is in two different periods of his life, so how fair can a comparison really be? The imagery that Campbell tries to convey doesn't help either. Lots of it is basically to show Craig off as eye candy, but any sort of new territory is a change from the character we know and are aware of. The scene of him coming out of the water and the scene with him in the shower with Vesper as they're both clothed help to underscore a certain degree of "feminizing" Bond, if you will.
Oddly enough, while as a Bond film it didn't really do the trick for me, I liked it for the action sequences in the film. The black and white opening sequence helps set the tone of the brutality in close quarters that follows, and the action sequences help me forgive the deficiencies and overly long runtime of the film. The sequence where Bond chases the bomb maker up a building is really cool, and took me by surprise when I first saw it; now I just watch that every friggin' time now. Quantum of Solace appears to have a little more action than Casino Royale did, which makes me look forward to this new ground. But as a Bond film, this version of Casino Royale seems to be a dilution of a cinematic icon; for an action film it manages to work fairly well.
I'm going under the impression that the same 2.40:1 AVC MPEG-4 encode that was used on the first Blu-ray version was used here, but that's not a bad thing in the least, as blacks are excellent, colors are reproduced accurately and you can spot quite a bit of detail both in the foreground and background, where there's a dimensional feel to the Montenegro and Bahamas exteriors. Fleshtones don't look all that natural, but I've seen the film enough times to go out on a limb and say that it looked that way in the theater, so it can't be an inherent flaw with the disc. The bottom line is that this looks the same as it did before on Blu-ray, which is to say it looks pretty damn good.
The PCM soundtrack on the one-disc version of Casino Royale has been dropped and replaced with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track. I didn't have the PCM soundtrack to do comparisons with, but I thought that dialogue was stronger and more consistent sounding from the center channel, directional activity and speaker panning was consistent and immersive from the jump, and the Bond score and music possesses a nice smart dynamic range that's worth enjoying. The subwoofer activity is also noticeably more active, especially during the free-running sequence, but when you think it's a little excessive, it's restrained on the runway sequence, during the end specifically. So while the soundtrack might come across as a little bass-intensive at first, I think I'd prefer the TrueHD soundtrack if I had a gun to my head, but after a lot of deliberation.
For those of you who waited for the inevitable double-dip multi-disc release, and didn't jump on the initial release, your patience is rewarded. Sony, you get a collective poke in the eye from Joe the Consumer for releasing this edition now, which should have been the proper edition of the film. The Blu-ray version is on two discs, starting with two commentaries that grace the disc, the first of which is a picture-in-picture joint with Campbell and producer Michael Wilson. The pair's relationship really comes through on the track, as one picks up where the other leaves off, and each has their fair share of production stories and anecdotes that are fun to listen to. Campbell still has some regrets about some certain scenes, but he's proud of the final product, and gives a lot of love to the other departments on the film, and readily mentions what was shot by the second unit, and what was principal photography, and each shares their thoughts on Craig in general. It's a nice complement to the film. The other track focuses on the crew, and includes over 15 participants, all of whom have been edited together for one track. Some of the participants includes Purvis, Wade, Haggis, editor Stuart Baird, and longtime crew members like production designer Peter Lamont. Things like shot breakdowns and score inspirations are discusses, along with ideas for set design. Producer Barbara Broccoli discusses bringing on Craig, Campbell and Haggis for the film, and Haggis talks about some challenges the story presented, while other things like stunt sequences are also covered. It's a little more technical and the material is drier, but it's worth a listen. A trivia quiz on Bond, titled "Know Your Double-o," is next, and includes footage and text questions based on the film. It's fun for a minute or two, but not much more. Trailers for Hancock, 21, Vantage Point and other Sony releases complete the first disc.
But wait, there's more! Moving onto disc two, you've got four deleted scenes (7:48), all of which are redundant to the final cut of the film. Then a boatload of lengthy featurettes follow. Almost all of the material is in HD and produced by John Cork, who handled the supplements on the previous Bond 2 disc editions and is a member of the Ian Fleming Foundation. Things start with "The Road to Casino Royale" (26:34), which focuses on the long and winding road to getting a proper interpretation of Fleming's novel realized. An early TV adaptation is shown with clips, including Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. But the rights for the book, as they're passed around to various individuals, are discussed in great detail and candor, and the flaws of the TV adaptation (and the first film) are discussed to boot, and the impact of other Bond movies on the first film is talked about as well. Wilson talks about how it finally came back around to them too, while Purvis and Wade discuss what they wanted to accomplish here. It's a decent piece. Next is "Ian Fleming's Incredible Creation" (21:14), covering Fleming's influences for writing the book, and a little more biographical information that I don't remember seeing on the other Bond DVDs, and the possible real-life elements that Fleming used for the book. "James Bond in the Bahamas" (24:16) not only covers the Casino Royale production in the Caribbean island, but the other Bond films that have spent time down there as well, including some interesting trivia about the building used in the opening sequences. A lot of "then and now" footage of the locations is included, and it's a good piece. "Ian Fleming: Secret Road to Paradise" (24:48) covers more on the impact of the tropics on Fleming's life, but feels a little bit redundant from the earlier materials. "Death in Venice" (23:19) covers the last stunt sequence in the film, and to see how much of it was done with miniatures was very impressive, to be sure, while the actors talked about acting underwater. "Becoming Bond" (27:24) was on the previous edition, and discusses the media frenzy around Craig, and Broccoli and Wilson's thoughts on him for the role, and both sides of the issue were given time, which was nice. "James Bond For Real" (24:33) talks about the stunt work Craig does for the film, and has lots of footage of him rehearsing and participating in choreography for those sequences, and the stunt crew discusses how Craig adapted to the physical nature of the role. "Bond Girls Are Forever" (49:00) is a retrospective on the female leads of the films, as they talk about how they got the roles and any memorable scenes they appeared in, but other supporting female characters like M and Moneypenny are also talked about, along with the obligatory promotional footage for Casino Royale. "Art of the Freerun" (13:38) includes much test and principal footage of those sequences with the stunt coordinator for those sequences, who happens to be a noted freerunner. "Catching a Plane" (13:47) is script to screen comparison footage of the airplane/bomb sequence, along with crew interviews and conceptual footage of the scene early on, while "Freerun Chase" (10:19) has your choice of storyboard only or storyboard to film comparisons. The music video for the Chris Cornell song is next, (4:08), followed by profile footage of Campbell and other members of the crew (53:03).
But wait there's still more! Finally, each disc is BD-Live enabled and has downloadable content on it (which you can download in HD or SD format), all of which is meant to whet your appetite for Quantum of Solace. "Start of Shooting" (2:50) covers just that, as Craig and director Marc Forster (Stranger Than Fiction) discuss the new film in broad strokes, while training footage of Craig is also included. "Locations" (3:06) focuses on the locations that the production shot in for this film and includes some location scout footage. "Meet the New Bond Girl" (2:14) introduces us to Olga Kurylenko (Hitman), while "Director Marc Forster" (2:39) talks about, well, Director Marc Forster. There's also redeemable e-cash for Quantum of Solace when it comes out, found on the sticker of the packaging.
Thoughts on the film aside, I'm going to presume that a lot of people have purchased the one-disc version of Casino Royale already and are wondering if they should double-dip. The only things from the one-disc version that are the same as the two-disc version are the video presentation and the extras. Sony has thrown in a new soundtrack and a whole bunch of extras, and is offsetting the cost of going to the theater for the sequel, so I think a double-dip is in order. As a standalone recommendation, fans of Bond will love how extensive this release is, never mind of how good it looks and sounds, so it's definitely worth adding.