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Reappraising the Daniel Craig Bond Films: Casino Royale

With the recent release of The Daniel Craig Collection on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray and the upcoming adventure No Time To Die slated for Spring 2020 this seems like the perfect time to use the brand spanking new box set we’ve been sent to reappraise Craig’s 007 films so far. 

We’ll work our way through them one-by-one, checking out the new discs as well as, you know, if the film is any good, and then finish with what we’ve learned from watching them all back-to-back – as opposed to with years in-between – and see what we can surmise to expect from No Time To Die and beyond.

So, cue up the Bond theme and the gun barrel sequence and let’s start at the beginning with CASINO ROYALE.

First off, the set is classy and functional, with unfussy artwork and a book-style innard that allows you to page through the discs. The Blu’s are tucked behind the UHD’s which will remind you many times about how you don’t have a UHD player or telly, but everything sits snug and secure, even though the lack of a booklet is sad.

The disc boots to a main menu that instantly signals care and quality with clever in-universe renames of the options — like “Initiate Mission” instead of Play and “Language Decryption” instead of Audio Setup — and a well-crafted menu loop plays in the background showcasing some of the film’s prettier shots.

The film itself begins with a lean and mean pre-titles sequence that sees Bond ruthlessly rub a couple of guys out to attain his 007 status and you forget how this bit being in black and white was such a cool shock the first time you saw it.

It’s a bit grainier than the rest of the feature too to emphasise the gritty moodiness, but the video encode handles it well, staying crisp and keeping the grain instead of smearing it out  with DNR (digital noise reduction.

The titles kick in and you realise the mix is LOUD. It’s not distorting, but you’ll drop it a click or two so as not to rile your neighbours. The surround sound is rich and full with plenty of activity in the rears and plenty of oomph from the subwoofer.

The picture really shows off with the colour and detail in the title sequence, which is brilliant with casino-related ephemera and spades and diamonds etc. flying about and looking super cool. There’s also a really nice subtle touch when one passes over a playing card and you briefly see Eva Green’s face on the Queen of hearts. 

No-one is half-heartedly doing anything on this film. This is Bond’s return after the dwindling receipts and reactions of the Brosnan era’s dregs and from the off and throughout it feels like everybody involved was laser-focused on making Casino Royale rock.

And it has a truly breathless pace that juggles action and cool with illustrations of who this new Bond is and how he operates. 007 chases a bomb maker, who also happens to be the real-life pioneer of parkour, back when parkour was fresh and not done to death in eeeeeverything, and we see how Craig’s Bond uses brute force and cunning to cut corners and catch up with him.

We also see that after the CGI fest of Die Another Day the focus is back on cool stunts and that Craig’s Bond is built. Every action hero is hench now, but a swole 007 was also a big change at the time. The action just keeps going too, with frequent highlights like a broad daylight public arm wrestle cum knife fight in Body Worlds and a thwarted attempted bombing of Miami airport.

The action-packed and sexy breathless first hour also features the introduction of our Bond villain for this instalment: Le Chiffre, Mads Mikkelsen’s instantly iconic baddie who has at least one too many traits with his asthma, bleeding eye, facial scars and instantaneous percentage calculation, but pulls it off through being flipping dark but infinitely charming. Anyone who watched Hannibal will tell you this is pretty on-brand for Mads.

The second half pulls up a seat at the poker table and buys into an extremely tense high stakes game of life and death, that is at one point literally heart-stopping and also interspersed with the odd machete fight, car crash and invention of a signature cocktail. PLUS, we get the intro of Casino Royale’s main Bond girl — and the Daniel Craig Bond’s obsession that opens him up, rips him apart and turns his heart colder than a refrigerated Walther PPK — Vesper Lynd. Green plays the tough “I’m the money” Treasury agent with total grace and is ruthlessly intelligent, reluctantly sexy and easy to fall in love with. When she later flips we feel just as turned over as 007 and easily side and identify with him even more.

The poker scenes work well, teaching you the rules as they go along so you’re not in the dark even if you’ve never played before, but the “tells” are comically over the top at times.

There are plenty of the series’ tropes present to make us feel at home, but also neat and sly digs at others, like the franchise’s penchant for ridiculous and sexist female character names.

A new signature that we’ll see used again in the following Craig instalments are the flashes of style. Panache shots that are there to 1. Look totally cool and 2. Illustrate that new Bond is bringing back the prestige, these aren’t just blockbusters – they’ve got a touch of class. Illustrate here with the aforementioned colourless flashback, as well as a gnarly sequence where the lighting and grading are taken to dizzying extremes when Bond is poisoned.

Something else you notice revisiting Casino Royale is that it is near timeless. It’s easy to identify the decade of every other film, but Casino Royale can only be carbon-dated by the Sony-Ericsson phones a couple of horrible sunglasses choices.

It was, and is, a great start to Craig’s tenure, but it already felt very long – even before this extended version. After all the action and the poker, you suddenly realise that there’s STILL 45 minutes of brutal balls torture AND a trip to Venice to go, which is exhausting but at least easily remedied with a pause and cup of tea when watching the Blu.

The dialogue frequently clangs too, with lines like “If you’d just been born, wouldn’t you be naked?”, the thing about “You should see what I can do with just my little finger” and “The whole you’ve stripped my armour from me” business feeling heavy-handed and eliciting a small wince. It is forgivable though as is does at least feel brutally honest and unfiltered, and writers Haggis, Pervis and Wade’s edges are smoothed and services retained from here on.

Still, we are left with a great tease for the next one, H, P&W leaving the film and the franchise poised for the next part and setting up an emotional throughline AND an overarching secret society.

Casino Royale establishes perfectly who this new Bond is and what he’s about, and it also feels different and challenging, but not entirely unfamiliar, with a lot of kudos for this earned by director Martin Campbell, who already pulled this trick off with Goldeneye, making him one of the most important and pivotal Bond helmers.

The disc is perfection too. Nicely put together with the great AV quality we already discussed, the extended version, and a host of special features, including an audio commentary, deleted scenes, Becoming Bond featurette, behind-the-scenes featurettes including The Road to Casino Royale and more, Ian Fleming’s Incredible Creation and Ian Fleming: Secret Road to Paradise featurettes, the Chris Cornell music video and the Death In Venice sequence.




James Bond (and this feature) will return in Quantum of Solace.

The Daniel Craig Collection is available now as a combined 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray box set.

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