Battle ‘Royale’8 Nov, 2008 By: John Latchem
James Bond fans have high expectations for their favorite film series and expect the DVDs to live up to that legacy.
Over the years, the Bond films have been released several times on home video, coming in the form of two-DVD sets loaded with extras and, most recently, on Blu-ray Disc.
The 21st film in the Bond canon, 2006’s Casino Royale, was also released as a two-DVD set, but it was missing certain things fans have come to expect from Bond DVDs, such as a commentary track.
Bond historian John Cork, president of video production company Cloverland, thought it could be better. The result is the recent three-DVD deluxe edition of Casino Royale, and a new two-disc Blu-ray set of the film, released on the eve of the Nov. 14 theatrical opening of the latest Bond epic, Quantum of Solace.
“Casino Royale was spectacular,” Cork said. “To see this novel that I read when I was 12 years old turned into a film faithful to Fleming’s intent, but so modern, is a tribute to the talent behind the film.”
Cork said the previous Casino Royale two-disc DVD and Blu-ray release, which he didn’t work on, had some excellent behind-the-scenes material on it.
“The perception was that it wasn’t enough to be considered a big mammoth release that James Bond movies should be,” Cork said. “So there was an opportunity to put together a really great DVD release.”
The collector’s edition includes commentary with director Martin Campbell and franchise producer Michael G. Wilson, plus new featurettes produced by Cork.
“There is a lot out there on Bond,” Cork said. “A lot of stuff ends up being repetitive of material done over and over. The key is finding a story that hasn’t been told.
For Casino Royale, Cork created a new documentary about the origins of the James Bond character and his creator, Ian Fleming.
“Casino Royale is a story that reaches back to the very origins of James Bond,” Cork said. “So it’s a good idea to talk about Ian Fleming, the man who created James Bond.”
The Fleming retrospective includes new interviews with people who worked in the field of espionage.
“There’s a tremendous enjoyment within the intelligence community to see secret agents lionized to such a degree,” Cork said. “In the real world of espionage there is very little similar to Bond.”
Cork also traced the history of adapting Fleming’s 1953 Casino Royale novel, from a 1954 TV special to a 1967 spoof, through the more faithful 2006 version starring Daniel Craig.
Cork has been producing extras for Bond home videos since the mid 1990s and said doing so has helped him uncover a number of potential topics to explore in extras. One is the featurette “James Bond in the Bahamas.”
“We looked at the Bahamas, and realized how many Bond movies were shot there,” Cork said. “A remarkable percentage of the population of Nassau Island has worked on a Bond film over the years. You talk to them and stumble on so many little factoids.”
The extras were shot in high-definition to accommodate the Blu-ray version.
“We want to shoot with the best possible equipment,” Cork said. “Blu-ray is not a forgiving format. We want to make sure the material is as solid as possible.”
Cork, who provides extras for such studios as Fox, Sony Pictures and MGM, says Blu-ray is changing the way producers think about making extras, and that his company is already selling all its standard-def equipment.
“HD is an expensive world,” Cork said. “Studios will have to make the decision to see if the extras justify the expense. But what I think the studios that are committed to special features have done is create a library of content that can keep these titles evergreen.”
The new Blu-ray version of Casino Royale also offers a picture-in-picture version of the commentary track.
“It’s a new experience to watch them as they watch the film. To see the expressions on their faces,” Cork said. “A picture-in-picture commentary offers a tremendous opportunity, but also a lot of pitfalls.”
Cork said that many audio commentaries might involve unintended discussions or misremembered facts, which will lead to producers asking follow-up questions once the commentary is recorded. These revised answers are then edited into the commentary to fill holes or correct other information. This isn’t possible with a video commentary, Cork said, since people would be able to detect the edit.
The video commentary for Casino Royale, however, didn’t present too much of a problem.
“Michael Wilson and Martin Campbell are great,” Cork said. “They know how to interact with each other. They’re pros. They know what they’re doing. And that makes it so much easier.”
Cork also contributed commentary, with fellow Bond historian Steven Jay Rubin, to a new special edition of the 1967 farcical version of Casino Royale, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and MGM. The film was turned into a spoof on James Bond when producer Charles K. Feldman, who owned the movie rights to the book, couldn’t convince the producers of the regular Bond series to make a serious version with Sean Connery.
A retrospective featurette on the new 1967 version DVD produced by Rubin details how the production strayed from its original concept and veered into chaos as Feldman tried to make the biggest, wildest film ever. The final product shared five directors and a cast of some of the biggest stars of the time, such as David Niven, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, John Huston and Ursula Andress.
“This is a movie that involves the people behind The Maltese Falcon, Annie Hall, Citizen Kane and Dr. Strangelove,” Cork said. “That alone makes it a notable film. I also think this movie has a lot of what people watch Bond films for: outlandishness, great sets and great music. It just went totally out of control. Those are always wonderful films to talk about.”
Because Cork touched on the 1967 film in his history of Casino Royale featurette for the 2006 DVD, he was careful to work with Rubin to make sure the behind-the-scenes material for the two special editions didn’t overlap.
“If you’re going to get people to buy these films again, you have to give them the highest quality possible,” Cork said. “The extras should enhance the film, if they’ve seen it previously, and provide the details that allow people to get as excited as they were watching their first Bond movie.”