Mar 20, 2007

DVD Review: Casino Royale (2006)

There’s not really too much to say about Sony’s recent DVD of Casino Royale. The transfer is unsurprisingly excellent, and the extras are slim, despite this being a two-disc set. As for the film, I still feel pretty much the same as I did when I reviewed it when it was in theaters. It’s an excellent Bond movie, and Daniel Craig is great in it. It is a bit overlong, and it’s interesting to note which parts you instinctively skip when you have that ability on DVD. For me, it was the lengthy Miami airport sequence. It’s a good, tense chase with some exciting music and great effects (I love it when the police car flies up in the jet stream!) but it seems like a bit of an unnecessary detour. After the gritty prologue and the adrenaline rush of that amazing opening foot chase, I was eager for the plot to get underway. It’s off to a good start with Bond’s gambling and investigation in the Bahamas, but seems sidetracked (literally, since 007 actually leaves the Bahamas only to return) by thirteen minutes of airport mayhem before we get into the meat of the story in Montenegro. I realize that it’s important for Bond to thwart Le Chiffre’s deadly investment scheme, but it doesn’t need to take so long, and we’ve already seen a top-notch tanker chase in Licence To Kill. Of course, the look on Craig’s face when the terrorist inadvertently blows himself up is priceless.

There is no commentary track, and neither the mouth-watering teaser (with that Carmina Burana-like vocal version of the James Bond theme) nor the excellent trailer for Casino Royale is included. (Though you do get trailers for The Holiday and The Pursuit of Happyness, if that’s any consolation...) A good chunk of the "over 90 minutes of extras" they promise on the box comes from Maryam D’Abo’s documentary Bond Girls Are Forever, which isn’t even a new feature! (It was originally made for AMC to promote Die Another Day and released as a Best Buy exclusive with the DVD of that movie.) Of course, this is Bond Girls Are Forever 2006, which means that we get a few extra minutes edited into the final third featuring Eva Green and Caterina Murino, whom D’Abo doesn’t even interview in person. No attempt is made to disguise the fact that the focus of the piece is Die Another Day, and that Halle Berry and Rosamund Pike feature most prominently. The good news is that this and the two new featurettes you do get are all excellent documentaries. If you didn’t already have Bond Girls Are Forever, it’s a worthy addition to any Bond fan’s library, produced and hosted by one of the best of the Bond girls.

Becoming Bond is a half-hour look at Daniel Craig’s casting and the challenges he had to overcome in taking over from Pierce Brosnan as the world’s most famous spy. It’s surprisingly candid, going into detail on the tabloid press’s repeated assaults on Craig and the so-called "fan" nonsense like Craig himself is able to look back on it now from the enviable position of being the most commercially successful Bond ever in new interview segments probably taped on the set of The Golden Compass, judging from his facial growth. The documentary addresses the unjust criticisms of Craig for wearing a life jacket on his way to the initial press conference announcing his casting (soundly refuting them by showing footage of the actor protesting a Royal Marine’s insistence that he do so) and not being able to drive a stick shift. While it’s refreshing to see such potentially controversial issues addressed in a promotional piece, the scope is fortunately broader than that, and also covers the initial filming in the Bahamas with a good deal of behind-the-scenes footage.

Narrated entirely earnestly by comic genius Rob Brydon, Bond For Real touches on a bit of the same material, but generally picks up where Becoming Bond left off, focusing on the spectacular stunt work in Casino Royale. A lot of attention is given to free-runner Sebastien Foucan and the sport he co-created, parkour, which he demonstrates in the African foot chase. We’re even treated to clips from the original BBC documentary on the subject which first caught the writers’ eyes. We also meet Craig’s stunt double, and get shots of him and Craig on set, performing in the fight with Foucan on beams suspended high above the ground. The Miami airport chase is covered, too (why on earth did they wreck a Jaguar as their test vehicle for that police car stunt?), as is the amazing Aston Martin crash and roll. (Seven rolls, actually, setting a world record.) It’s incredible that they actually performed that stunt for real, and that someone was actually driving the car!

Neither of these documentaries is a thorough, in-depth making-of, and they’re certainly not on the level of the "Inside..." docs on the DVDs of the classic Bond movies, but they’re both better than average, and not just the electronic press kits that are sometimes recycled onto the initial DVD releases of big films. Both are definitely worth a watch for even a casual Bond fan.
There should be no doubt that Sony plans to revisit Casino Royale with a more loaded special edition DVD in the near future (director Martin Campbell has even said as much, revealing that he’s recording a commentary track for that release), but in the meantime this is a disc that no 007 addict can be without. Of course, if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that because you probably already have it!

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