Casino Royale Blu-ray Review
PictureSony's top Blu-ray title is presented here on a BD-50 in full 1080p MPEG4 video, and it looks absolutely stunning. With a pristine source print that the transfer keeps very filmic, the 2.40:1 image is alive with colour and vibrancy. As a reproduction of the film I saw at the flicks five times in a row, this is extremely accurate.
Colours, which if I'm honest, do look artificially bright and vivid, are incredibly rich and strong. From the lush scenery of the Bahamas - splendidly green foliage, scintillating azure seas - to the amazing primaries that throb with life - the yellow of the fuel truck, the reds of the Body Exhibition and the blues of Craig's eyes - the picture is constantly spreading the spectrum across the screen with a palette that is robust, deep and entrancing. Flesh-tones, though, can come over as little too flushed and orange, although, personally, I didn't find this a distraction. Scenes set around the picturesque clinic retreat in which Bond recuperates look utterly magnificent, with wide panoramic views, a deep sense of distance and marvellous colours.
Blacks are sumptuously deep and incredibly strong. Night-time scenes and the interiors of the dinner-jacket-rife Casino Royale bathe the image in shadow, allowing the lit portions and the colours of the screen to shine through with a visual coherence that is especially embracing. This heavily contrasted framing is well-maintained with some moments, such as Bond striding towards the Casino effectively cutting the image in two - darkness at the bottom, light and colour filtering through the upper half - with the dappered-up Bond cutting through the black foundation into an, otherwise, glittering image. The infamous torture scene is, perhaps, the best example of how deep and dramatic the black level can be - with only a few shafts of sickly light and Bond's battered torso and Le Chiffre's glowering countenance to break up the gloom. One sequence, however, is too dark. The fight on the stairwell with African bad-boy Obanno (Isaac De Bankole) loses a lot of detail in the impenetrable shadow of the tussle, which is a little disappointing.
Besides that sequence, detail is thoroughly excellent throughout most of the film. Depth of field is impressive and provides that all-important three-dimensionality, with the collapsing house in Venice, the crowded plaza and the cobbled streets of Montenegro looking phenomenal. But the building site chase and the gun-blazing destruction in and around the embassy offer tremendous levels of finite visual information packed into a busy, fast-moving frame. Close-up detail is also extremely good. At the flicks I remarked - somewhat anally, I admit - that you could see the tiny spots of Daniel Craig's shaving rash and that this would be a good thing to reveal the clarity of the disc transfer. Well, worry not, zit-fans, for they are still perfectly rendered here, too. In fact, every crag, crevice, cut and graze that Bond has are lovingly captured in glorious hi-definition.
On the digital front I did, sadly, detect some slight motion-drag and aliasing, and there was a very small degree of noise in the image from time to time. Though, and let me stress this, none of these factors conspired to take much away from what is, essentially, a truly warm, engrossing and spectacularly colourful and vivid picture that is a joy to watch again and again. And again.
SoundEven better than the image transfer, folks, is the simply amazing PCM 5.1 Uncompressed track that lifts this release right up into a different zone altogether. To put it quite simply, this is a pure reference track and, as well as being the best PCM track that I've heard - and I've some absolute classics - this may well be one of the best produced soundtracks that I've heard, period. Casino Royale has a literally faultless audio mix that seems to go further than the mix I heard at the THX cinema I kept seeing the film at originally. For a start, David Arnold's score and even Chris Cornell's song have been bestowed much more in the way of surround activity, really bringing the music into play in a much more dynamic and surprising manner by pumping out lost of little incidental notes and pieces from the rears that I, for one, had never heard before. Just listen out for the echoing guitar effect that warbles its way around your eyes during the moment when Bond gets off the plane in Nassau.
The bass levels are astonishingly deep and full-on, rooting every impact - big or small, from rampaging fuel trucks and whooshing jet engines to the clanging of a steel door and the rolling thuds of a spinning Aston Martin - with strength and a realistic reverb thrown at you. The high ends are well held and scintillatingly sharp and clear, and the mid-range is constantly warm and enveloping, leading to a track that is thorough and comprehensively detailed.
Steerage is impeccable, with bullets, cars, explosions and voices all channelled perfectly around the set-up. Panning is always seamless and the film features many sweeps back to front, front to back and from every which way but loose around the speakers. There is activity taking place around you at almost all times and it is delivered with nothing short of total realism and a full-flowing naturalistic sound that is the realm of only the most intelligently thought-out and produced mixes. Even the quietest scenes have perfectly integrated ambience to keep you immersed in the film. For all the bombast that rocks the room, the dialogue is never swamped or submerged and delivery is always first class from the eerie accent of Vesper to the gloriously growly, smoke-filled voice of Giancarlo Giannini's Mathis, and from the starched-yet-warm commands of M to the strong and layered tones of Bond, himself.
But, for a second, let's just revel in the juicy stuff that the soundmix provides. Listen out for Mollaka's gunshots during the crane-sequence - we hear the rounds firing front and centre and hear the wonderfully metallic snap of the ejected cases issuing out from almost behind us. The fantastic moment when Bond drags Mollaka down machine-gun alley in the embassy has glass, bullets, wood-splinters and ricochets engulfing the room with pin-sharp precision and devastating directionality. The terrific bit when the police vehicle is swept up in the blast of the plane's engine and the earlier deluge in the airport when the sprinkler system goes off. The sound of the big air bags supporting the floating house hissing when raked by bullets and the awesome sinking of the building, with masonry tumbling, stairs and landings giving way and, of course, the incessant gunfire and fist, knee and foot impacts. Listen out for the lift as it plunges into the water and the resultant surge around the speakers when Bond dives under. And then there's the crystal clear presentation of every gunshot in the film that literally poke through the air with a crunching thump. Extremely well-designed, folks.
The DD 5.1 mix is eminently engaging and exciting, too. But it cannot hold a candle to the exemplary PCM Uncompressed.
ExtrasTo be fair, it really isn't surprising that Casino Royale hasn't received that much in the way of extras ... though, if we are honest, it is disappointing. In the run-up to the film's debut, we had gained the excellent Ultimate Editions of all the other (official) 007 movies, so it does feel a little bit of a cheat that the Bond-bonanza hasn't continued with the very release that brought about such fascination in the first place. Of course, we all know that a fantastic, all-singing, all-dancing edition will come along eventually. And, at least, there is some uniformity here since the BD and the SD releases carry the same extras.
So, what have we got then?
Well, the disappointment continues, I'm afraid. The three documentaries have all done the TV rounds already, so there is nothing new here to savour. Without a commentary - which would have been great as any participants on it would actually be able to remember the film they were talking about, unlike the other Bond chat tracks of late - it is left to Becoming Bond (26.16 mins) to fill in the background on Daniel Craig's transformation from respectable jobbing actor, perpetually bobbing about just beneath the radar of fame, to media-lashed superstar-in-the-making. Featuring interviews with Craig, Martin Campbell and Judi Dench, this is a pretty decent look at how the franchise took a gamble in its new re-imagining. Great to see Craig making his debut before the media by zooming up the Thames under escort from the Royal Marines. Shame about that lifejacket, though. As he, himself, remarks, he'd have come across better if he'd worn arm-bands. A good little scene-setter, folks, that even makes reference to the anti-Craig canvassing that took place.
James Bond: For Real (23.32 mins) is a look at how this production aimed for a grittier feel in it depiction of the action and the stuntwork - less outrageous and more authentic hands-on stuff, without the use of CG to cheat. The major set-pieces are covered, such as the awesome building site chase and the Miami Airport sequence - the truck was originally supposed to plough on through the belly of the plane - the record-breaking rolling of the Aston Martin and the collapsing of the house in Venice. All good stuff, if a little technical at times.
Then we get something that, although an attractive-enough proposition to grace any disc, really doesn't belong here at all. Bond Girls Are Forever just has The Living Daylights' heroine, Maryam d'Abo hosting a fairly routine and predictable show that explores and celebrates many of the women who have been wooed and saved by Bond, in all his previous incarnations. We meet Carey Lowell, Halle Berry, Honour Blackman, Jane Seymour, Maud Adams (who had two outings in The Man With The Golden Gun and Octopussy), Lois Chiles, the great Michelle Yeoh, and even Ursula Andress, whose iconic debut has now been turned on its head by, of all things, a bloke with big ears. Considering that this is on a Casino Royale disc, a brand new direction for Bond and a huge movie event in all departments, the feature feels somewhat redundant and superfluous. Surely, there was more stuff about the film in question that could have been incorporated. This feature would be okay on one of the Ultimate Editions of an older Bond film, but it is woefully out-of-place and tacked on here. And Maryam d'Abo is a moose, whichever you look at it ... and a poor presenter. Bring back Liz Hurley.
And finally, there is the Chris Cornell video for “You Know My Name” (4.06 mins) and Trailers for Rocky Balboa, Stranger Than Fiction and The Pursuit Of Happyness.
Not the best selection, really. Not even a trailer for Casino Royale, which is rather perplexing.
VerdictWell, in case you haven't already guessed - I loved Casino Royale. For me, it just did everything right, from the catchy black and white prologue and the wildly different title sequence, through the decidedly low-key mission and traumatic denouement that sees the full birth of 007. It is violent, realistic, bereft of the cheese that mired the franchise and focuses on a Bond who is resilient rather then refined, brutal rather than urbane. Like I said about Christian Bale's portrayal of Batman, this is a hero that could exist and should exist. The daftness is gone, the edge is back. Long live Daniel Craig's Bond. This debut marks him out as possibly the best Bond - only time will really tell - and certainly the biggest hook to ensure the longevity of the series into new millennium. Despite a couple of very minor flaws, this is fast, cool and aggressive, making 007 rock like never before, proving quite conclusively that nobody does it better.
On Blu-ray, Casino Royale positively shines and the sound is absolutely amazing. A much better stocked release is sure to come along but, for now, there is no reason to delay. Get it today. Awesome.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.15