Casino Royale Blu-ray Review
Is it really nearly 18 months since I put my first Blu-ray into my player with trembling hands? As a film geek from way back, when that Blu box tumbled through my letter box (before I even had my player) I could not wait to watch Bond in High Definition. Even then, my distaste for studios who released extras starved material on HD was formed - and the original almost vanilla release of Casino Royale was the perfect example of this. Here we are further down the line with a Sony double dip, coinciding with the release of Quantum of Solace Sony finally give us the disc they should have done the first time. Obviously the extras are the main attraction here, but will upgraders benefit from better sound and vision?
Luckily, I still had my first gen copy of the film on Blu-ray so could do some comparisons. Is the picture significantly better than the previous iteration? The answer has to be no, but then again I always felt the original was an excellent transfer anyway. There is some slight improvement here to be sure, but I suspect those with a more advanced home cinema will be more impressed when running the two discs together, than those with a standard hi def plasma or LCD.
The film opens in black and white, as Bond carries out a hit on behalf of her majesty's government. This scene may be deliberately grainy, but the contrast is what really shines here. The blacks are inky, and the contrast between the dark office and the bright toilet where his first kill is carried out is beautifully rendered. This scene blew me away when I first saw it, and whilst we may have all seen much HD material in the intervening months, this still impresses now. Looking at the two scenes together, I would suggest that the contrast on the new edition has been ramped up ever so slightly, making the blacks blacker and the scene slightly more impressive.
From this deliberately low key beginning, we move very quickly onto the free-running chase through a building site in Madagascar. This is filmed under clear blue skies, and this is the first opportunity for the transfer to show colour levels and depth - and it does not disappoint in the slightest. The level of detail that is present here is quite simply a revelation, and be it the slightly tatty parts of the building that are under construction, or the sharp, angular edges of the crane against the deep blue sky, everything is rendered absolutely beautifully. The sense of depth and of height you get during these scenes is dizzying at times and is one of the best adverts for HD that you could possibly imagine. . It is true that the colours might not be as realistic as they might be - every colour is slightly over-emphasised to give it an over saturated warm feeling. This is the same in both transfers, but the 2008 release just seems to be very slightly richer with the colour, very slightly more defined with the sharpness. It is not an immediate difference - you would have to really stop and look with both transfers together to notice, but it is there. This is still the scene I show when I want to illustrate Blu-ray and it looks just as impressive here
Whereas the rest of the transfer doesn't quite live up to this superlative beginning, it is still an excellent picture that shines through. The source, as one would expect, is absolutely pristine with no blemishes to spoil the experience. Here there is little improvement over the original Blu disc. However, the 3D pop that was rendered in the original, with that incredible sense of depth, is possibly even more pronounced here. Black levels, impressive during the opening scene, remain deep and pleasing throughout the whole film. Contrast is well rendered, and detail is consistently excellent throughout. This really shows in close-ups, but is present too in other scenes. Dark scenes are still clear and easy to follow, with shadow detail being spot on.
Casino Royale was always an excellent transfer and nothing has changed here. If you own the first edition disc, and have not got a top of the range projector setup, you are unlikely to notice a great deal of difference between the transfers, but it is good to know that if you do upgrade you are getting more than just a larger extras package.
The original Casino Royale disc has a PCM 5.1 sound mix, but this has been dropped and replaced with a TrueHD mix for the re-release. Again, I had no problems with the original sound mix, and to me the new one sounds pretty much identical.
For identical, in this case, read “totally impressive”. This is a Bond film, and sound design has always been crucial to the whole Bond experience. Here, though, with a home HD sound source to work from the sound designers have really excelled themselves.
What is immediately noticeable is the sheer dynamic range of the soundtrack. From the quietest background sound of cicadas chirruping away, up to the thunderous sound of an aircraft taking off - every sound effect in this mix is placed perfectly to match the action on screen. From the highest treble frequency to the lowest, deepest rumbling bass from the sub - this is a beautiful mix.
The attention paid is equal in all areas of the mix. The front soundstage is beautifully separated but with the dialogue anchored perfectly to the centre. The score is given room to breathe and appears to be almost an organic part of the film, wreathing in and around the dialogue without ever drowning it out. Indeed, early on in the Madagascar scene, Bond has a conversation via his earpiece that I could never hear in the cinema. Here in this mix (and to be fair in the previous one too) it is perfectly clear.
This is not one of those mixes where the rears are used un-necessarily. However, within this mix they are used equally well to add subtle ambience to quiet scenes (the aforementioned cicadas, the hubbub in the hotel) as they are to underpin action scenes. The directionality of the rears is perfectly cued to the action on screen, and they really do serve to immerse the viewer in the action.
The LFE too is impressive. This is most noticeable in the scene of the jet taking off but also appears in the opening chase sequence and elsewhere in the film. The bass goes deep and is really going to give your sub a workout.
How does this compare to the previous PCM release though? Well, both soundtracks are uncompressed - and to be honest I challenge anyone to notice the difference. The reason this review took me so long to produce is because I watched the film on both discs several times to be absolutely sure before producing a verdict, as a lot of you are likely to be torn over upgrading. Hand over heart - whereas you can see (if you look) and improvement in the picture, there really is so little difference in the two sound mixes that neither is inferior. Both are excellent mixes that your amp will thank you for running through it.
Here we go. It doesn't take close inspection to reveal that the extras package has been SIGNIFICANTLY ramped up here. The Bond re-releases on DVD had superlative extras package but the original Blu-ray was very poor indeed. Sony may be trying to make you double dip, but at least they are putting in the effort this time.
The list of extras is so extensive that I am going to take a slightly different approach to them in this review, listing them and commenting on each one individually. Some are Blu-ray exclusive and I will flag these up as such.
Picture in Picture Commentary
Exclusive to Blu-ray, and only playable on Profile 1.1 players or above, this commentary features director Martin Campbell, and producer Michael Wilson. I must say, that whilst I am not a fan of commentaries generally, I do tend to enjoy them more when they contain a visual aspect. It seems to involve me as a viewer more. This is an excellent example of the genre, even if it is not present on screen all the time. When it does pop up, it means the participants have something to say, and it is interesting to gain their insight into the film. It would, perhaps, have been nice to have Craig take part as well, but this is still an excellent feature.
This is quite a hard commentary to follow, as it features a wide range of participants - a list so long I am not going to type it here. It is pieced together from various interviews carried out at the time, but it is extremely well put together. It is, at times, quite difficult to tell they are all not sitting down together. More wide ranging that the video commentary, and reproducing some of the material that appears in the extras, this is still another excellent addition to the disc and well worth a listen.
Ultimate James Bond Trivia Quiz
A quite challenging trivia Quiz that finally manages to break my aversion to “game” extras by being really good fun and well put together. The object is to gain 00 status by playing against the clock and showing your Bond knowledge. There are a wide range of questions, and being a casual fan I found this to be quite a pleasing challenge.
No-one has yet convinced me of the point of BD Live and this doesn't help. At time of writing this only includes a placeholder page with a few links.
Four deleted scenes are presented in a quality full HD, and with 5.1 sound. The four scenes are : "Rescue and Recovery," "Squandering Government Funds," "Cricket Pavilion" and "Gettler Raises Bond's Suspicions." These are mainly scene extensions and do not add too much to your understanding of the film. They can be watched individually or as one whole.
The Road to Casino Royale
This is absolutely riveting stuff. Lasting half an hour, this documentary traces the history of bringing the novel to the screen. Featuring fascinating archive footage of an early American TV effort, the 1967 David Niven effort, and delving into the challenge of updating it for the modern world this is detailed and interesting with no filler whatsoever.
Ian Fleming's incredible creation
This looks at the history of Bond and how he was created by Fleming. Again, this is really interesting stuff for its whole 20 minute runtime.
James Bond in the Bahamas
This is interesting, but could possibly have been shot by the Bahamas tourist board. It looks at the scenes filmed there for Casino Royale as well as the other Bond films in history that have filmed there. The addition of the history of the other films made here does make it interesting.
Ian Fleming : The Secret Road to Paradise
This takes a slightly different approach to the above, as it looks at the creation of Bond and his attraction to the Bahamas from the point of view of the people who live there and who move in the same circles that Fleming moved in. It may sound superfluous but in fact it does give some more interesting background into the creation of the character. It may have fitted in better as part of the previous featurette, but as it lasts 25 minutes on its own - I think it was right to separate them.
Death in Venice
A 23 minute in-depth (sorry) discussion of the collapsing building scene that forms the climax of the film. This is also fascinating, and goes into a lot of detail on a logistically challenging scene.
Carried over from the original Blu-ray release this is really promotional fluff. Interesting for some of the behind the scenes footage included, and it is always funny to see Craig bombing up the Thames in a life jacket, but this is unlikely to be watched more than once.
James Bond for Real
This is a 25 minute technical study of the amazing, organic stunts that form a major part of the film. It is amazing to see exactly what lengths they went to in order to give the film a realistic look. Fascinating stuff.
Bond Girls are Forever
A 49 minute film that was included on the original release and is included again here. It is more about the history of Bond than it is about Casino Royale (it was made before it was even decided to make Casino Royale), but it is still good to have it here for the sense of completeness. It also provides an interesting contrast, a bridging point between old and new Bond.
The art of The Freerun
Possibly my favourite Bond scene ever (apart from the corkscrewing car), this excellent scene gets its own 13 minute deconstruction. I am really running out of superlatives here, so I will just say that I enjoyed this as well.
Catching a Plane : From Storyboard to Screen
I do get a bit bored with storyboard to screen comparisons, so this is the only extra here I find rather superfluous. The first time I saw one of these (Jurassic Park) it was interesting, but really now they are getting a bit obvious. Not my favourite extra.
Storyboard Sequence : Freerun chase
Actually, forget that. This featurette shows the storyboards to the soundtrack and is done in a very clever way. I actually quite enjoyed this, and found its presentation unusually original.
It's a profile. Of the filmmakers.
The music video for the theme song “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell.
Phew. That's your lot.
Casino Royale comes back to Blu-ray in a double dip. The film itself needs little introduction. If you have seen it, then you know just how good it is - if you are one of the few who haven't then it really cannot be over stressed just how good this film is. Not just as a Bond film, but as an action film in general. In this world of dark reboots and franchise reinvention, the repositioning of Bond is a genuine triumph.
The question is, is it worth upgrading. That question is quite easy to answer. Yes. This is not only the Casino Royale disc we should have got the first time round, this is one of the standout discs on the format. The picture is a very slight improvement on an already superlative transfer, and the sound is near identical to the original. The extras are fascinating, whether you are a Bond fan or a casual viewer. Stir into the mix some exclusive (and excellent) Blu-ray extras and it is a no brainer. I am very sorry to have to tell you this, but if you have any interest in this film you need to get this disc. It is a high water mark for Blu-ray and for Bond.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £38.96
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