UMD Movie Review: Casino Royale

Casino Royale

One thing I have noticed over the years is that geeks can be very fickle. When film and television franchises are rebooted or remade, understandably the lead roles are recast. In most cases this is because the reboots take place decades after the originals were made and the original cast simply are too old to reprise their roles or in some cases have sadly passed away. Other times the producers and directors simply want to take their projects in a different direction and feel that a completely fresh approach is needed and that includes the cast.

While fan outcry is understandable when changes are made, it’s something that hasn’t seemed to affect two of the UK’s biggest home-grown sagas that have both been running for well over 50 years. Not only have sci-fi fans embraced new actors taking on the lead role in Doctor Who well over a dozen times since 1963 (and I dread to think what the real total is counting audio, stage and all of the various spin-off productions) and then there’s James Bond… As with Doctor Who, everyone has their own “favourite” Bond as each actor has brought his own personality to the character and subtle changes have been made over the years to adjust to the individual lead actor and the world as a whole so no two Bond fans would have a favourite for the same reason. And that brings me on to the current actor to hold the mantle, Daniel Craig,

Released in 2006, Casino Royale is adapted from Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel although this first outing for Daniel Craig isn’t the first attempt at bringing the movie to the big screen. That dubious honour went to more light-hearted version from 1967 that starred the late David Niven in the role of Bond and was played more closely as a parody of the Bond series than as a serious adaptation of the novel and it differs significantly from the 1954 television adaptation as well.

Now I mentioned before about film and television reboots for a reason. Normally the Bond movies simply recast Bond and continue telling fresh adaptations of Fleming’s novels or new stories. Not in this case. Instead, Casino Royale is something of a reboot of the Bond franchise. Being an adaptation of the first novel, we’re introduced afresh as Daniel Craig’s Bond is shown to be a more reckless agent than the one we have been accustomed to over the years. He has only just earned his “00” license to kill and his boss M is still wary of his conduct in the field. Sadly, and against her better judgement, he turns out to be the most suited and best qualified for this particular mission…

Bond has been sent to deal with Le Chiffre, a notorious international banker who is known to be working with countless terrorist groups across the globe. Le Chiffre has built his financial empire by investing his client’s funds illegally but when one plot is foiled by Bond he arranged a poker tournament to win his money back before his investors take lethal action.

Bond enters the tournament, backed by government funds and overseen by another agent, and it’s his job to win the tournament, strip Le Chiffre of his funds forcing him to coioecoop with the British Government and reveal details of all of his clients…

With all of the Bond movies changes are made to the movies from the novels. Some for dramatic reasons and others simply to tighten the pace of the films. In many cases what is written simple doesn’t translate to the screen or would make for an entertaining action film. In the case of this latest incarnation of Casino Royale, there was one thing I noticed that was changed from both the novel and previous adaptations. As the film’s title suggests, a major part of the film revolves around a casino and action taking place within it. In the novel and first two adaptations Bond has to take part in a high-stakes game of baccarat but for this version the game has been changed to poker. While it may seem like a strange thing to do, changing such a key part of the movie, it makes perfect sense from an audience perspective. As a game, most viewers are bound to not only be more familiar with poker but also its rules, certainly Texas Hold ‘Em as seen in the film. Whether it’s through watching televised games, playing poker online or even on video games on countless consoles, there aren’t many people who wouldn’t know the basics. Baccarat? I don’t know a single person who knows how to play it!

I have to be honest and this is the least Bond-like of all of the movies that were released up until this point. As a long time fan of the movies, I’ve come to expect certain things from the franchise – lots of action and lavish set pieces, gadgets, corny one-liners, and the usual bevy of Bond girls. I know that’s not a particularly politically correct thing to say these days, but those are the hallmarks of a traditional Bond flick. Casino Royale, in contrast, has none of those. There were some action sequences but they were limited when looking at the overall length of the film and it felt as if it plodded along for most of the time and was a chore to watch.

Generally the movie has been praised by its fans and critics alike for avoiding all of these Bond tropes and moving back towards the feel of the novels but for me it just didn’t work and left the film feeling like a completely different franchise altogether.

The gadgets… I appreciate the fact that the story wasn’t about Bond being an action hero and didn’t need them but to be honest I missed them. The lack of any humour gave the film too much of a dark overtone as well. All throughout watching the film it never felt like I was watching a Bond film but more an average action/adventure movie instead. Had this dropped the 007 connection then I think it would have worked better. I appreciate what the producers were aiming to do but for me it simply didn’t work.

Onto the UMD transfer and the picture quality is superb but I’d expect no less from the involvement of Sony Pictures. Sound was quite flat and lacking depth but I’d put that more down to the PSP’s speakers than anything else and the film did sound better through headphones. Sadly the film has been modified from it’s original 2.35:1 ratio and is presented here in a 1.78:1 ratio instead to fill the whole screen of the PSP. While that means it looks good for viewing, part of the picture is missing. It’s not a major issue but could be for purists.

Overall while the presentation is generally of a high standard, it’s the movie itself that lets it down. It’s not the strongest of Bond stories as it is and really needed more to counter the slow, drawn out segments of the film where – to be frank – absolutely nothing happens. A lot of time is wasted in the film and it could have easily been 20-30 minutes shorter without losing anything making it a more enjoyable film in the process.

This is definitely one of those UMDs that is hit and miss. It certainly delivers on a technical level but as a film it will split people right down the middle. It does seem to appeal more to those who aren’t typical fans of the previous Bond movies, but for me this is one reboot that just doesn’t work

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