“Casino Royale” Review 2

I’ve just re-read the book and re-watched the film. I haven’t read the book for years, and I haven’t watched the film since it came out. I’m re-reading the books in order (though I’m not going to watch the film for each book – that would be torture – I may take another look at From Russia With Love, Doctor No, Goldfinger, For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights when I get to books 5-8 and 14 respectively if only because those are the films I like!)

The film’s really still as impressive as it was 2 years ago. It’s incredible how true it is to the book, and how much it dares to improve on it. Yet at the same time, it’s notable (and perhaps unfortunate) how true it also is to the traditions of the films, with all of the trademarks, from the naff quips to the disfigured villain’s tic (in this case the ventolin inhaler which Bond bugs). The cold war and SMERSH update unexpectedly well to a post-9/11 secret organisation engaged in bankrolling terrorists in a symbiotic relationship that is only threatened by Le Chiffre’s failure at the card table; the stakes are as high as in the book and even when tension of the card game that provides the heart of the film is unfortunately interrupted by disgruntled clients it is to reinforce the peril that Le Chiffre faces simply from Bond’s skill and luck at the table. Even the silly difribulator in the glove compartment is an improvement on Fleming’s walking-stick gun. And all for all the fuss made about Daniel Craig and his swimming trunks, in the book he takes them off!

Although the sequence in Madagascar has to be one of the best stunt sequences in any Bond film ever, after this it’s not until the card game that the film really gets going. Here the excitement and the tension of Fleming’s story is realised so well it eclipses the book. It’s only the last quarter of an hour of the film where doubts about the changes made set in. It is good – but does it match up to Vesper’s final evening with Bond in the book, where in the knowledge of what she will do she is so cold she almost makes Bond look human?

“Yes dammit, I said ‘was’. The bitch is dead now.”

And I missed Mathis’ talk about playing Red Indians which, while not very politically correct, would have had some resonance given Bond’s behaviour in the Nambutu embassy, as well has helping to define Bond’s conviction to stay with MI6 to prevent such traitors simply strolling off with state secrets.

Performance-wise, Mads Mikkelsen is a little cartoonish as Le Chiffre. While it’s true that there’s not a lot of the character in Flemings original to realise, his portrayal has little depth and it’s not until his final scene that he pushes the desperation he must feel at his predicament. On the other hand, Eva Green is incredible; similarly poorly served by Fleming’s sketch of the character Green makes Vesper cooler, smarter and sexier than her literary precursor. Both the sparky encounter on the train and the shivery scene in the shower give the her a range and depth that Fleming failed to capture. I’ll admit I’ve fallen in love with a few previous Bond girls but Green’s Vesper is peerless. And the chemistry with Craig, who it has been widely noted is simply excellent, is electric.

Will the Quantum of Solace, a.k.a. New Bond 2, live up to quality of Craig’s first outing? There are several factors against this. There’s the source material: Casino Royale‘s best moments, the heart of the film, are around the card game and the torture scene which come straight from the book. Take that away and you’ve got a distinctly less impressive runaround. As noted, the old Bond cliches are there – for example in the Nambutu embassy, when the sirens go off and all the men with machine guns run out it’s reminiscent of every film from You Only Live Twice to Tomorrow Never Dies, it’s just that it’s done with a conviction and care that makes it work. So then there’s the Martin Campbell factor: he’s a man with a track record of launching new Bonds; in the past subsequent films have failed to live up to the promise of the first. And for me the most persuasive argument that we’re about to be served a dud is the budget factor – Casino Royale has a smaller budget than the three films that preceded it, yet Quantum‘s budget is over twice as big, easily the most ever spent on a Bond film. The final nail in the coffin is that despite having the good sense to use Fleming’s title for the film, this will be marred by naming mysterious organisation from Casino Quantum for, I imagine, no better reason than trying to justify the choice of title.

On the plus side, there’s Daniel Craig again, it’s the shortest Bond film ever (even though Casino Royale was a full 2 hours 20 it would have been a much better film if 40 minutes had been trimmed from the first half). There’s Paul Haggis back writing the script. Then there’s the fact that even if it’s not another Casino Royale, as long as it’s not Moonraker or Die Another Day it’ll probably make me happy.

About Simon Wood

E-learning officer, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more…

13 thoughts on ““Casino Royale” Review 2

  1. How can someone not love Moonraker? I mean, it’s Bond in space! What could be cooler than that? (OK, the space marines were a bit naff…)

    Since Cubby Broccoli died, I’ve felt that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have spent way too much effort to modernize 007, with not terribly successful results – save for Casino Royale, which I think can be squared largely on Paul Haggis’ shoulders.

    Restarting Bond worked well in Casino Royale, and, clearly Quantum of Solace continues where Casino Royale left off. I suspect that they can pull it off – for this second film. But I wonder if they’ll start to run into problems in the third.

    Bond is melodrama, through and through. It’s somewhat unavoidable in melodrama that the main character can only “grow” so much. Where can 007 go after he gets his revenge?

    In this film it seems he’s going to set his own assignment, but will he just go back into the old Bond mode of showing up in M’s office to get his briefing and off he goes on Her Majesty’s business?

    Yes, I think film #3 will be the measure of the success of the “new” series.

  2. How can someone not love Moonraker? I mean, it’s Bond in space! What could be cooler than that? (OK, the space marines were a bit naff…)

    Since Cubby Broccoli died, I’ve felt that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have spent way too much effort to modernize 007, with not terribly successful results – save for Casino Royale, which I think can be squared largely on Paul Haggis’ shoulders.

    Restarting Bond worked well in Casino Royale, and, clearly Quantum of Solace continues where Casino Royale left off. I suspect that they can pull it off – for this second film. But I wonder if they’ll start to run into problems in the third.

    Bond is melodrama, through and through. It’s somewhat unavoidable in melodrama that the main character can only “grow” so much. Where can 007 go after he gets his revenge?

    In this film it seems he’s going to set his own assignment, but will he just go back into the old Bond mode of showing up in M’s office to get his briefing and off he goes on Her Majesty’s business?

    Yes, I think film #3 will be the measure of the success of the “new” series.

  3. I don’t have a sarcasm detector plugin for WordPress, so I’m not sure if your first question is serious, but I suspect not… I sometimes think Die Another Day was so awful it was actually worse than Moonraker but that’s only because the human brain can’t remember the actual sensation of pain.

    I do think a lot of effort has gone into making Bond modern from Doctor No onwards, not just with the gadgets and the cars but with the style of the films which have always had a strong “flavour” of the era in which they were made.

    I’m not as optimistic as you, either. Look at money spend – the only other time a Bond had a budget significantly smaller than its predecessor was For Your Eyes Only when they realised they had just gone too far over the top and decided to go right back to the fundamentals; rather like Casino Royale after Die Another Day. Without the menace of SPECTRE from the first half a dozen or so films, the villains had to get worse and worse until they had to want nothing less than to wipe out humanity and go and live under the sea (The Spy Who Loved Me) or in space (Moonraker). The, with For Your Eyes Only they made a whole film where about recovering a device that’s about as swish and sexy as a pocket calculator (the ATAC) when a Naval spy ship is sunk by accident! It’s still hugely more tense and exciting than any of the “world domination” movies. Unfortunately it then began to unravel, with the subsequent films getting a bit bigger and sillier throughout the remainder of the Moore era, and that’s what I fear is going to happen again. New Bond #2 is going to be Octopussy to Casino Royale‘s For Your Eyes Only and yes, New Bond #3 is going to be View To A Kill.

  4. I don’t have a sarcasm detector plugin for WordPress, so I’m not sure if your first question is serious, but I suspect not… I sometimes think Die Another Day was so awful it was actually worse than Moonraker but that’s only because the human brain can’t remember the actual sensation of pain.

    I do think a lot of effort has gone into making Bond modern from Doctor No onwards, not just with the gadgets and the cars but with the style of the films which have always had a strong “flavour” of the era in which they were made.

    I’m not as optimistic as you, either. Look at money spend – the only other time a Bond had a budget significantly smaller than its predecessor was For Your Eyes Only when they realised they had just gone too far over the top and decided to go right back to the fundamentals; rather like Casino Royale after Die Another Day. Without the menace of SPECTRE from the first half a dozen or so films, the villains had to get worse and worse until they had to want nothing less than to wipe out humanity and go and live under the sea (The Spy Who Loved Me) or in space (Moonraker). The, with For Your Eyes Only they made a whole film where about recovering a device that’s about as swish and sexy as a pocket calculator (the ATAC) when a Naval spy ship is sunk by accident! It’s still hugely more tense and exciting than any of the “world domination” movies. Unfortunately it then began to unravel, with the subsequent films getting a bit bigger and sillier throughout the remainder of the Moore era, and that’s what I fear is going to happen again. New Bond #2 is going to be Octopussy to Casino Royale‘s For Your Eyes Only and yes, New Bond #3 is going to be View To A Kill.

  5. Perhaps I was being a tad sarcastic, but not entirely. Moonraker was the first Bond film I ever watched, and I saw it on a great screen. Try imagining the film and other films are they were in 1979. I was about 15. I went to the film with a friend and was not remotely aware of what the film was about, but I was a fan of Roger Moore. The film starts of with great (but technically implausible) hijacking of the shuttle and then the knock Bond out of an airplane without a parachute!! And then swoops down like a peregrine on the pilot and fights and takes the guy’s chute. Remembering that no one had done that in movies before, it was incredible! The film couldn’t go bad in my mind from that point forward.

    Afterwards, of course, everyone was copying the plane stunt. It had gone way too far when Bill Bixby, in the Incredible Hulk, was pushed out of a plane without a parachute.

    That’s my defense of Moonraker, and it’s what started me as a Bond fan.

  6. Perhaps I was being a tad sarcastic, but not entirely. Moonraker was the first Bond film I ever watched, and I saw it on a great screen. Try imagining the film and other films are they were in 1979. I was about 15. I went to the film with a friend and was not remotely aware of what the film was about, but I was a fan of Roger Moore. The film starts of with great (but technically implausible) hijacking of the shuttle and then the knock Bond out of an airplane without a parachute!! And then swoops down like a peregrine on the pilot and fights and takes the guy’s chute. Remembering that no one had done that in movies before, it was incredible! The film couldn’t go bad in my mind from that point forward.

    Afterwards, of course, everyone was copying the plane stunt. It had gone way too far when Bill Bixby, in the Incredible Hulk, was pushed out of a plane without a parachute.

    That’s my defense of Moonraker, and it’s what started me as a Bond fan.

  7. I believe it was also the first film I watched, albeit on a small screen. So it probably started me as a Bond fan too (the first book I read was Casino Royale but I can’t remember whether this was before or after seeing a film).

    Even so, looking at it now it’s clear Bond was in space pursuing the audiences of Star Wars films. Add the cheesy Jaws comedy stuff… The effects that don’t quite work… Roger Moore “attempting re-entry” (eugh)…

  8. I believe it was also the first film I watched, albeit on a small screen. So it probably started me as a Bond fan too (the first book I read was Casino Royale but I can’t remember whether this was before or after seeing a film).

    Even so, looking at it now it’s clear Bond was in space pursuing the audiences of Star Wars films. Add the cheesy Jaws comedy stuff… The effects that don’t quite work… Roger Moore “attempting re-entry” (eugh)…

  9. Sure they were chasing the Star Wars audience – that was me! (and a couple other kids, I suppose) 🙂

    You only have to look at the end of Spy Who Loved Me to see that something big had disrupted the Bond world. The words, “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only” sums it up pretty well.

    Moonraker was hastily put together and thrown ahead of For Your Eyes Onlyto go after Star Wars and to capitalize on the then new Space Shuttle program. It’s also painfully clear that it was just a basic rewrite of Spy Who Loved Me written by the same screen writer, Christopher Wood. (Although I believe Richard Maibaum co-wrote Spy.)

    But, I must disagree about the effects. Derek Meddings was the master of model photography. The space effects in Moonraker – while, like most movies, don’t stand up to technical accuracy regarding space flight – were beautiful. They easily rivaled Star Wars.

    Also, apart from the orchestral rendition of the gun barrel sequence and the lackluster opening/closing theme, John Barry’s score is one of the best. I’m so pleased he took this score rather than Marvin Hamlisch or Bill Conti – although I am sure they were going fully orchestral to evoke the feel of John Williams’ Star Wars score.

    I was so disappointed when the newly remastered Bond soundtracks came out and there was no bonus material on the Moonraker score. It was already one of the shortest Bond soundtracks available, and I gather it is because it was recorded in France and the master tapes were lost.

    Yeah, Jaws was a problem.

  10. Sure they were chasing the Star Wars audience – that was me! (and a couple other kids, I suppose) 🙂

    You only have to look at the end of Spy Who Loved Me to see that something big had disrupted the Bond world. The words, “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only” sums it up pretty well.

    Moonraker was hastily put together and thrown ahead of For Your Eyes Onlyto go after Star Wars and to capitalize on the then new Space Shuttle program. It’s also painfully clear that it was just a basic rewrite of Spy Who Loved Me written by the same screen writer, Christopher Wood. (Although I believe Richard Maibaum co-wrote Spy.)

    But, I must disagree about the effects. Derek Meddings was the master of model photography. The space effects in Moonraker – while, like most movies, don’t stand up to technical accuracy regarding space flight – were beautiful. They easily rivaled Star Wars.

    Also, apart from the orchestral rendition of the gun barrel sequence and the lackluster opening/closing theme, John Barry’s score is one of the best. I’m so pleased he took this score rather than Marvin Hamlisch or Bill Conti – although I am sure they were going fully orchestral to evoke the feel of John Williams’ Star Wars score.

    I was so disappointed when the newly remastered Bond soundtracks came out and there was no bonus material on the Moonraker score. It was already one of the shortest Bond soundtracks available, and I gather it is because it was recorded in France and the master tapes were lost.

    Yeah, Jaws was a problem.

  11. Wow! I never spotted that Spy Who Loved Me promised James Bond would return in the film after next – cool! But yes, Moonraker is Spy over again (in space rather than under the sea, but still…). Which wouldn’t be so bad, if Spy weren’t so poor.

    With regard to the effects, I wasn’t having a pop at the space effects, so much as some of the terrestrial sequences. A particularly poor speeded-up-film car chase sticks in the mind as being very nearly as feeble as the awful blue screen para-surfing of Die Another Day (it’s a while since I saw it so I don’t remember the detail, but I think it involved Jaws) .

    I’ll concede the score is excellent, though I think you’ve overlooked the utterly, utterly wonderful end-title disco version of Moonraker which even puts Hamlisch’s Bond 77 in the shade. Though I do feel moved to defend Bill Conti’s score for For Your Eye Only which, though I found it bizarre and risible in equal measure when I first heard it, has grown on me over the years (unlike the title theme which is as dire now as it ever was).

  12. Wow! I never spotted that Spy Who Loved Me promised James Bond would return in the film after next – cool! But yes, Moonraker is Spy over again (in space rather than under the sea, but still…). Which wouldn’t be so bad, if Spy weren’t so poor.

    With regard to the effects, I wasn’t having a pop at the space effects, so much as some of the terrestrial sequences. A particularly poor speeded-up-film car chase sticks in the mind as being very nearly as feeble as the awful blue screen para-surfing of Die Another Day (it’s a while since I saw it so I don’t remember the detail, but I think it involved Jaws) .

    I’ll concede the score is excellent, though I think you’ve overlooked the utterly, utterly wonderful end-title disco version of Moonraker which even puts Hamlisch’s Bond 77 in the shade. Though I do feel moved to defend Bill Conti’s score for For Your Eye Only which, though I found it bizarre and risible in equal measure when I first heard it, has grown on me over the years (unlike the title theme which is as dire now as it ever was).

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