Casino Royale (Blu-ray)
Bond is back, and he's a bad man. Yes, 007 has blond hair and blue eyes for the first time, but it's his character that takes on much darker tones here. His license to kill is his primary occupation, not a smart-ass tagline and Daniel Craig is almost feral under the cool veneer of James Bond. This remarkable and gritty new entry takes the series out of the realm of gadgets (no Q anywhere to be found) and special effects, and back into the realm of hard, breathtaking physical stunts, which is something director Martin Campbell, of Mask of Zorro fame, excels at. Even the theme song is grungy, being sung by former Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell. And it's exhilirating from the opening foot chase to the finale. Not only is Bond back, I can't wait for him to return!
If you've been reading UAV regularly you already know that Casino Royale was the first movie in either HD format to crack Amazon's top ten DVD sales chart and also the first HD movie to sell 100,00 copies. This 1080p transfer on Blu-ray is another first for Sony- while all of Sony's previous BDs have employed tried and true MPEG-2 compression, Bond is crunched with MPEG-4/AVC. The results are mixed. While the colors are vivid and the transfer is impressively sharp and detailed, the image looked unnaturally textured if not a little grainy. The bright outdoor sequences look somewhat compressed in dynamic range, and oddly flat, lacking in contrast. The nighttime interior and exterior sequences maintain a much more natural balance of contrast, which is odd as it's usually the other way aroound. It reminded me of Talladega Nights in that regard. I've seen enough high quality transfers crunched with AVC to know better than lay the blame there. This is a very good HD transfer, it's just not quite the reference quality home run we all want a new Bond film to be.
The uncompressed PCM soundtrack is everything action movie fans want in a soundtrack. It's agressive at all times, has a ton of bass and seemingly limitless dynamics and impact. There is just no comparison between compressed Dolby Digital and DTS and uncompressed PCM in dynmamic range, and this improvement is not at all subtle. I had a lot of "what did he just say?" moments with Craig's dialog, but the rest of the dialog seemed clear. The score is terrific and sounds both approriately grand and nuanced, and again the uncompressed PCM has life here that the compressed formats don't. Overall the track is compelling in creating the sonic spaces the movie takes place in. If anything, my single, weak complaint is that the LFE bass is a bit overcooked, but hey, that's not a bad problem to have in an action flick.
The extras are mainly in featurettes, and some of them in 1080p HD no less. A Chris Cornell theme song video is in, but no trailers are included. not a big mystery there- something tells me this isn't the last time Casino Royale will be released on Blu-ray Disc. But c'mon, no trailers?!
I'd recommend that you buy this disc for the quality of the movie and also as a Blu-ray demo piece. Video nitpicks aside, this BD gets the job done on both counts. But what's the point? Looking at the sales numbers, you've probably already bought it!
Picture: 8.5 out of 10
Sound: 9 out of 10
Video reviewed on Marantz VP-11S1 1080p DLP projector, 80" wide Stewart Filmscreen Studiotek 130 screen and either Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray Disc player or Toshiba HD-XA2 player via HDMI to Anthem AVM 50. Audio sent as PCM over HDMI to Anthem AVM 50. Ayre MX-R monoblocks and Theta Dreadnaught power amps, and Vandersteen loudspeakers. All video cables by Bettercables, all audio cables by AudioQuest