Not for the first time, there's a bad apple in M16 and James Bond has tracked down the corrupt section chief Dryden to Prague. But the chief knows that Bond won't kill him as he needs two kills to get double-o status. The trouble is, unknown to him, Bond has already made his first kill - killing his underworld contact in a brutal and prolonged fight in a bathroom. Needless to say, Bond soon dispatches Dryden and finally earns his double-o status, and thus begins his active service as one of the chosen few M16 agents with a license to kill.
M", the head of the British Secret Service, sends Bond on his first mission as 007, leading him to Le Chiffre, banker to the world's terrorists. But, like his terrorist friends, Le Chiffre makes money for his friends the dirty way and he has plans to short sell stock in an aircraft manufacturer before blowing up a newly revealed Skyfleet passenger jet to sink their stock - and make a killing. However, Bond follows one of Le Chiffre's henchmen to Miami where he manages to prevent the attack taking place and leaves Le Chiffre with some extremely heavy losses that his customers won't be happy about.
Under immense pressure to recoup his clients money, Le Chiffre sets up a high-stakes poker game at the Casino Royale in Montenegro - with each player requiring a $10 million dollar buy-in. Hoping that a defeat would force Le Chiffre to assist the British government in exchange for protection from his gun tooting creditors, MI6 enters Bond into the tournament. But, for all of Gordon Brown's money burning, Her Majesty's government has no plans to simply give Bond a pile of money to spend as he wishes. So, all too aware that should he lose, the funds will help the terrorists they are trying to stop, Bond is teamed with the beautiful treasury official Vesper Lynd.
Arriving at the casino, Bond and Vesper are soon in the thick of things, surviving a series of near deadly attacks by Le Chiffre and his henchmen. But, with Bond's unique looks and charms managing to melt the most frozen of hearts, Vesper's icy, no nonsense, front starts the thaw and a mutual affection develops. But with the stakes so high, and another well known secret agent on the scene to assist, Bond and Vesper are not going to find their path easy and events soon lead to a terrifying confrontation that will give Bond his ruthless streak.
There's still plenty of life in standard DVD yet, so when back catalogue titles are released on Blu-Ray to simply make a pile of money then there is no real reason to upgrade to Blu-Ray (or even the now defunct HD-DVD). However, when we're dealing with classic cinema - and let's face it, Casino Royale is one of the best ever films, there's always room for a well presented and feature packed Blu-Ray release. So, upon sitting down to watch and review Casino Royale I had to sit there with my jaw firmly planted on my knee as the picture quality is simply awesome.
Whilst I'll admit that I'm fairly new to this high-definition lark, and it takes a lot to impress me, the crispness and shear clarity of the image is amazing. To get the full benefit of a 1080p presentation, not only do you need a fully HD compatible television, but it's vital that the picture transfer is up to the job. It may well be worth while avoiding those cash-in titles where the transfer comes from old picture stock, but when we're blessed with recent theatrical releases and pristine prints then you should be opting for Blu-Ray. And it goes without saying that, in the case of Casino Royale, Blu-Ray is most definitely the route to take.
The image transfer is stunning, with a massive range of pristine colours, superb black levels and a wonderfully bright and clear picture that draws you so far into the film that it almost makes you think you're sat on the beach at Paradise Island. Having been use to standard DVD for too long, the level of detail on this Blu-Ray disc is simply astonishing and every bit of detail in either the scenery or cast is available for inspection. In fact, the thing that stood out the most was Daniel Craig's blue eyes. I've no idea whether they were CGI enhanced, but either way, he's got an impressive set of peepers. There's no doubting that Casino Royale can be used as reference material and I'm sure most electrical stores will be using it as their in-store demonstration.
The audio is provided by a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Whilst I am unable to fully review the audio, still relying on a trusty Yamaha 5.1 decoder, the audio score still manages to be outstanding. Even though you're always going to expect something from a Bond film, from the moment the film starts your expectations are more than matched. The dialogue is crisp and clear in the centre channel whilst the front stereo and rear effect speakers are a throng of activity from explosions, gun fire and just about every sound effect in the book. Even the much underused LFE effect channel is brought to life with some ground shaking bass effects that will register as a small earthquake. It's simply sublime and, even if you omit the outstanding picture transfer, this is demonstration material in itself. If it sounds so good on a standard 5.1 setup, heaven knows how it sounds on a full HD system. I can't wait to upgrade.
The Java based menus are animated and scored across both discs whilst the extras are spread out over a number of menus. It's not the most dynamic of menus you'll see on Blu-Ray and, even on the largest of screens, the text is a little too small to be easily read, but this deluxe edition is positively bursting with extras. Running over the two discs they are far too many in number to go into any great detail, but fans of this film and the Bond franchise will be more than happy with the extras on offer here.
Although a feature that will become the norm on Blu-Ray, the Picture in Picture Commentary with Director Martin Campbell Producer Michael G. Wilson makes a change from your standard audio commentary. Although not on screen throughout the film, the two men are seen watching the film and they discuss plenty of subjects including the production of the film, casting, camera techniques, the special effects and the inevitable exotic Bond locations. The full length Audio Commentary with the Crew is hosted by Barbara Broccoli and has contributions from a whole host of technical people. Given the number of people involved in the commentary it's very detailed with very few pauses. Given that Casino Royale is a long feature, it's definitely an information overload, but at least you can flip in and out of it at your leisure. If the audio is likely to spoil your enjoyment of the film then you can always opt for the subtitle option.
If you know your Bond then the Ultimate James Bond Trivia Quiz will sort out the henchmen from the heroes in a quick fire quiz where speed, and knowledge, will decide whether you'll earn your 00 status. Unfortunately, the questions are not that complicated although some did have me stumped and I soon got bored. Finally, there's a nice bit of filler material with Trailers for Handcock, 21, Vantage Point and a Coming to Blu-Ray reel. However, considering this is essentially a release to promote the new Quantum of Solace film you would have thought the teaser or theatrical trailer might have been included too.
As if the extras on the first disc are already enough to keep you happy, disc two kicks off with four Deleted Scenes. Running for eight minutes, the scenes can either be watched in one go or individually selected from the menu. These are not truly deleted scenes, but just extensions of existing scenes and, whilst interesting to watch here, you can see why they were cut. It's also great to see that the scenes are the finished article in pristine condition and in Dolby Digital. Running for twenty-six minutes, the Road to Casino Royale featurette looks at the time it has taken to bring a true representation of Fleming's first book to the screen. It's full of information about Fleming's life, the American TV version of the film and the appalling 1967 spool staring David Niven and Peter Sellers. I always knew it was a tricky road, especially with the never ending trail of film rights, and there's plenty of detail on the legal problems they encountered in order to get the film made.
Running for twenty-two minutes, the Ian Fleming's Incredible Creation featurettes looks at what went into creating the Bond character we know and love. If you already own the other Bond films on DVD or Blu-ray then you'll probably already know the stories, and the people telling them, but for those people who don't then it's a very informative look at how the character came about. Running for twenty-four minutes, the James Bond in the Bahamas featurette looks at why the team has kept on returning to the Bahamas. Looking at Thunderball, For Your Eyes Only and Casino Royale, there's plenty of familiar locations, and locals, revisited including the hotel used in Thunderball and its unsuccessful attempt at expansion the unfinished result used as the half-built hotel in the awesome free-running scene.
The extremely interesting, and detailed, featurette Death in Venice featurette looks at the sinking of the building in Venice. Running for twenty-three minutes, you'll discover that the building seen in the film collapsing into the waterway was actually a model and that a full sized set was built on the 007 stage that could sink and tilt. There's plenty of interviews with the crew behind the mammoth set and models along with an interview with Eva Green about her underwater acting. The twenty-eight minute Becoming Bond featurette has been brought over from the original DVD release. It shows Daniel Craig's rather embarrassing introduction to the world press as the new Bond and, although interesting at times, it's your typical bit of PR fluff.
The twenty-four minute Ian Fleming : The Secret Road to Paradise looks at delightful Paradise Island in the Bahamas used by numerous Bond films. Examining the various hotels used in the films, it's a rather interesting look at the extremely rich hotel owners, the filmmakers, some of the cast from the old films plus the numerous friends and relations of Ian Fleming. It's accompanied by clips from Thunderball and Casino Royale plus plenty of photographs of Ian Fleming. The twenty-five minute James Bond : For Real featurette is the second of the features taken from the original release. It's basically another promotional feature, albeit a fairly interesting one, to showcase all of the major stunts performed in the film. Whilst it's not as good as the Death in Venice featurette, with some repeated information seen elsewhere, it's still worthy of a look in just for the free-running stunt work which the producers first noticed in Channel Four's documentary Jump London.
If you're not already suffering from an overload of extras, the fifty minute Bond Girls are Forever featurette is the final extra to be taken from the original release. Hosted by Maryam d'Abo, the Bond girl from Living Daylights, ably assisted with plenty of clips from the various films, she tracks down and interviews the actresses, including Halle Berry and Ursula Andress, that Mr. Bond has had his wicked way with. If you're still interested in the art of free-running then the fourteen-minute The Art of the Freerun featurette looks at Sebastien Foucan and his run through the building site set. Whilst some of the scenes are repeated from previous featurettes, there's an interview with Sebastien and lots and fawning from the producers and stunt co-ordinators.
We're now coming to the end of the extras with the thirteen-minute Storyboard Sequence : Freerun Chase. This can either be viewed as just the storyboard or compared against the actual scenes in the film. I've never really understood the point of Storyboard features on DVDs, although I guess they are nice bits of filler material, and this goes on to be proved by the fourteen-minute Catching a Plane: From Storyboard to Screen featurette. With lots of waffle from all the designers involved, we have lots of storyboard artwork interlaced with the film. Other than showing off how good the storyboard artists are, it's all pretty pointless stuff really. Finally, in the ultimate in padding material, but brought up to date for the Blu-Ray generation, with have video Filmmaker Profiles for director Martin Cambell, Special Effects guru Chris Corbould, director of photography Phil Meheux, stunt coordinator Gary Powell, second unit director Alexander Witt and composer, and all round musical wizard, David Arnold.
Finally, for good measure, we have the most disappointing part of Casino Royale - the rather lacklustre four-minute music video from Chris Cornel. However, before you collapse from the information overload, there's the BD-Live feature on both discs. Unfortunately, my DVD player didn't want to play ball (it wanted more space than I had available) and I was unable to access the feature on either disc. However, either way, content will be downloaded from the Internet so you'll need a good broadband connection and the correct settings on your Blu-ray player.
There's no doubting that the shine was starting to go from the Bond franchise. In fact, I mentioned this in the Bourne Supremacy review and that Bourne was on track to take on Bond and see him pensioned off. Fortunately, the Bourne series has reinvigorated Bond and after seeing Casino Royale at the cinema, and enjoying it again on DVD, it quickly became one of my all time favourite films and best Bond film to date. I even thought it would be hard act to replace Pierce Brosnan, but Daniel Craig breathes new life in to what is a gadget free and grittier Bond. In fact, Bond is now the Bond that Ian Fleming had always planned him to be. Let's just hope it stays that way and that in the Quantum of Solace he stays true to the character now and into the future. To coin a phrase from a famous phone company, the future is bright, the future is Bond.
Casino Royale is the first Blu-Ray disc to be reviewed by DVD365.net and if all discs are going to be as jaw dropping as this then the age of HD is going to be one heck of a ride and I can't wait for the opportunity to review more titles. The only downside to this title, if it can be classed as one, is that if you already own the original Blu-Ray release then there may be very little to convince you replace your copy. Never the less, don't let this put you off owning one of, if not the, best Blu-Ray releases to date. Fortunately, if you venture on-line, then a brand spanking new copy can be bought at a tidy discount. Highly recommended.
- Ian Fleming's Incredible Creation - A remarkable look at the birth and continued success of James Bond, including never-before-revealed information about Bond's creator and the origins of 007.
- The Road to Casino Royale - The story of why it took over 50 years for the Bond filmmakers to bring Ian Fleming's first 007 novel to the big screen, featuring the amazing behind-the-scenes stories of the many attempts to make the film.
- James Bond in the Bahamas - A fascinating examination of the links between the the cinematic Bond and the Bahamas, with never-before-told behind-the-scenes stories from Casino Royale, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, For Your Eyes Only and The World Is Not Enough.
- Ian Fleming: The Secret Road to Paradise - A revealing exploration of the world of James Bond's creator. In this documentary, discover why Ian Fleming was drawn to the Bahamas, and learn the cinematic Casino Royale's unique link to an important chapter in 007's secret history.
- Death in Venice - A break down of one of the key scenes in the film.
- Becoming Bond - An intimate look at how Daniel Craig stepped into the role of James Bond.
- James Bond: For Real - A behind-the-scenes look at the ground-breaking action and the stunts in Casino Royale.
- Bond Girls Are Forever - An extended version of the 2002 AMC television special, with new footage and interviews of the new Bond Girls.
- The Art of Freerunning - An in-depth look at the freerunning chase and the freerunning technique with the sport's founder, Sebastien Foucan.
- Filmmaker Profiles: in-depth conversations with key creative forces behind Casino Royale, including never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage
- |Martin Campbell, Director|Chris Corbould, Special Effects|Phil Meheux, Director of Photography|Gary Powell, Stunt Coordinator|Alexander Witt, Second Unit Director|David Arnold, Composer
- Deleted/Extended Scenes
- |"Rescue & Recovery"|"Squandering Government Funds"|"Cricket Pavilion"|"Gettler Raises Bond's Suspicions"
- Freerunning Chase - Watch the storyboards presented in animatic form, or view them in comparison to the finished film sequence.
- Catching a Plane: From Storyboard to Screen, featuring outtakes and never-before-seen footage.
- Music Video: Chris Cornell "You Know My Name"
- Audio Commentary with scene-specific comments and observations from many of Casino Royale's creative team.
- Bonus View Picture-in-Picture visual commentary with Director Martin Campbell and Producer Michael G. Wilson
- "Know Your Double-O" - the Ultimate James Bond Trivia Quiz, a BD-Live enabled multi-skill level, multi-player trivia game
- BD-Live Features