48 Things We Learned from the ‘Casino Royale’ Commentary

And you thought we were done with James Bond articles for a while, didn’t you? Not so. With Skyfall continuing to tear up the box office in both North America and overseas, and with it officially becoming the highest-grossing Bond film in the domestic market, it’s not going away. Add to this the fact that MGM is giving the film a push for award consideration (a long shot, sure, but that theme song by Adele certainly has a chance to win something), and you’ve still got Bond on the brain a month after the film opened.

It’s time to look back to one of Bond’s beginnings. Not the books, and not the start of the film franchise in the 1960s. Instead, let’s crack open the DVD of Casino Royale, which rebooted the franchise from the rocky path it was on behind frontman Pierce Brosnan.

For the Collector’s Edition of the Casino Royale DVD and Blu-ray, which came out in 2008, director Martin Campbell explains in the then-new how the series was given a new start. He is joined by the film’s producer.

There will, of course, be spoilers for Casino Royale below, but you might also want to make sure you see Skyfall before reading this in its entirety, considering there are one or two interesting connections between the films.

And on to the commentary…

Casino Royale (2006)

Commentators: Martin Campbell (director) and Michael Wilson (producer)

1. Most of the interiors of the film were shot on sound stages in Prague, Czech Republic. Reshoots were done in London, and locations were used for the exteriors. As with most films, the countries in which the film was shot were not necessary where they took place.

2. The opening “prequel” to the film was shot in black and white to give it a film noir look. The scene that takes place in the office was meant to look a bit like The Ipcress File with its retro tone.

3. Juxtaposed against the office scene in the prologue, the bathroom fight sequence was shot with heavier grain and a handheld camera. This shows an ugly killing, which Bond has difficulty with, compared to the neat one in the office.

4. The actor playing the man Bond kills in the bathroom had been an emergency room doctor who quit the medical profession to become an actor.

5. Campbell makes special note of the fact that the film does not open directly with the gun barrel sequence. “It’s certainly a departure from what we’re used to,” he says.

6. The title sequence was created by Danny Kleinman, who had done several of the recent title sequences for the Bond films. This was developed on a tight five-week schedule during post-production to meet the mid-November release date. Using the patterns and symbols on playing cards, this sequence is noticeably missing the scantily clad Bond girls from the past. “I regret it. I used to love it, but it just didn’t fit in with the tone of the movie,” Campbell explains. “He really doesn’t become Bond until the end of the movie.”

7. Wilson was on set during the shooting of the photographic elements for the title sequence when he got a call telling him the 007 stage was burning down. The stage was rebuilt eight months later with technological advancements.

8. Paul Haggis’ contribution to the script is described as “a character sweep” by Campbell, rather than a rewrite.

9. The military camp scene in Uganda was shot at Pinewood Studios. Production designer Peter Lamont brought in red clay to the set to give the ground an authentic look.

10. While Casino Royale featured relatively few big-name actors for the North American audience, the film had many actors who were famous in other countries. Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Le Chiffre, is a leading man in his home country of Denmark. Similarly, the other players in the poker game at Casino Royale are famous character actors from various countries.

11. Martin Campbell insisted the Mikkelsen not blink, saying it would give the character a much more villainous quality.

12. Sébastien Foucan, who plays the bomb-maker Bond chases on foot, is one of the founders of Parkour. His smooth movement was juxtaposed against Bond’s clumsiness during the chase. Campbell compares his movements to that of a ballet dancer.

13. Almost all of the freerunning chase scene was shot by the second unit director Alexander Witt and took three weeks to shoot. Campbell provided him with storyboards but encouraged him to add shots and improve the action when he felt it was necessary. This became one of the most famous scenes in the movie, and Campbell says that he was asked to do a commercial based on this sequence just days before recording the commentary.

14. The jump from the crane near the end of the freerunning sequence was a practical stunt and not CGI.

15. Most of the freerunning sequence was shot at the same hotel in the Bahamas used in the 1965 Bond film Thunderball. After that production, management and backers of the hotel could not decide on how to use it, and it was abandoned in 1969. This location was chosen not just for its connection to the Bond franchise but also because vacant building sites are rare in the Bahamas, and they could dress the set and shoot there without displacing workers or guests.

16. Eighteen takes were needed to get the shot of Bond crashing through the window in the Ugandan government building.

17. Both Campbell and Wilson were enamored with Judi Dench as M. Campbell says, “For an actress of such experience, what’s interesting is that she continually worries about how well she’s doing. And it’s almost as though it’s her first part, you know? It’s incredible.” Wilson points our that between takes, Dench would stay on set, drink tea and do cryptic crossword puzzles.

18. The receptionist at the hotel in the Bahamas is Christina Cole. She was used in the screen tests for the different actors auditioning for James Bond.

19. Campbell and Wilson had many conversations on whether M should be in bed with someone. On the day of shooting, they decided to put someone in the bed (thought it’s not specified if he’s a husband or lover). He is played by the film’s transportation coordinator.

20. Both card dealers featured in the film are trained card dealers. The woman playing the dealer in the Bahamas is a professional pit boss.

21. Various other members of the crew had cameos in the film. Wilson was a hand double for Bond during the first poker game in the Bahamas. He was also the chief of police in Montenegro who is hauled away by the cops after being framed by Mathis. The film’s director of photography (Phil Meheux) is the Treasury official in M’s office near the end. Pete Britten from the special effects department plays the man who injects the implant into Bond’s arm. Ben Cook, who is Daniel Craig’s stuntman, plays one of the MI-6 agents who haul off Mathis near the end of the film. Also, not on the crew but associated with the film, Richard Branson of Virgin is seen going through airport security during the Florida airport bombing. He got the cameo because the production had a deal with Virgin Airlines.

22. Campbell calls Craig “the best Bond ever.” There is no mention of Pierce Brosnan whatsoever, even though Campbell restarted the franchise with him in 1995 with GoldenEye. (More on this subject later.)

23. Two Aston-Martin cars were used in the production. One was a standard transmission and one was an automatic transmission. Contrary to what was reported, Daniel Craig could drive both cars.

24. The bodies playing poker at the Bodies exhibition in Florida were made specifically for this film. Campbell almost decided to leave it out because he thought it was too obvious.

25. The bombing of the airport in Florida was originally conceived as an attack on a cruise liner, but it was changed because the filmmakers couldn’t figure out how to have enough action in it.

26. A police SUV is flipped over by the blowback from a landing jet’s engine. Campbell got the idea from this shot after seeing a video of the exact thing happen to a van that got caught under a landing plane.

27. According to Campbell, the Florida airport attack had 15 to 20 endings before they settled on the terrorist exploding. Though his dead body is not shown in the film, they shot takes of the dead body, including a rolling, bleeding head. Campbell claims that he never intended to use any of that footage.

28. Campbell and Wilson liked Eva Green for many reasons (including taking the role seriously, being beautiful and being a good actress). However, they make special mention that she does not have an entourage. She only travels with her dialect coach and her tiny dog.

29. The larger casino floor in Montenegro leading to the room where the poker tournament is held was shot in an old spa.

30. The tournament table was built on a raised platform. While this works to draw the eye to the action at the table, it was specifically done so the camera would be at eye level with the players as well as the onlookers in the background.

31. Bond orders the drink later to be known as the Vesper almost verbatim from Ian Fleming’s original novel (From the book: “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.”) However, the crew had trouble getting the actual drink made because Kina Lillet has been discontinued. However, it was simply re-branded as Lillet Blanc and can still be made today. I assure you from my own experience, it’s quite strong and tasty.

32. The fight scene in the hallway and stairs in which Bond kills the Ugandan general from the beginning of the film was meant to be reminiscent of the previous “ugly” killing that happened before the titles. Similarly, Bond has trouble dealing with it. As a side note, during the filming of the scene, Daniel Craig’s stunt double had a broken arm.

33. The first of only two mentions of GoldenEye takes place at 1:21:15. Campbell explains that when he shot GoldenEye, the censors would not allow any blood on screen. At the end of the stairway fight, Bond is covered in blood. “Times have changed,” Campbell says.

34. When Bond finds Vesper huddled in the shower, he sits next to her to comfort her. This was shot with a single take to capture the emotion of the scene. Bond kisses and gently sucks on her fingers, which was meant to be comforting and soothing. However, in the actual take, he sucks on all four of her fingers, which Campbell felt gave it a creepy “fetish quality.” The visual effects department was able to remove two of the finger sucks to make it less creepy.

35. The balcony scene between Bond and Vesper after he loses the poker game was used as the test scene for actresses auditioning for Vesper. Craig was present for all those auditions for the final selection of eight or nine actresses.

36. Bond is poisoned with digitalis, and lidocaine can actually be used to counteract the poison. Initially, Campbell didn’t want to show the poison going into the drink, but he decided to “play it safe” so the audience knew Bond was poisoned by Le Chiffre.

37. Bond tips the dealer half a million dollars after he wins.

38. When Vesper is kidnapped outside Casino Royale, Bond was supposed to engage in a car chase, but Campbell felt there were already enough chase scenes in the movie. He decided to cut it and refers to it as “a car chase that never was.”

39. The crash of the Aston-Martin was inspired by a rally car crash that Gary Powell showed Campbell. He wanted to shoot it all in one take as a practical effect. The resulting crash saw the car flip seven times, which put the stunt in the Guinness Book of World Records.

40. When Le Chiffre breaks the tracker that is cut from Bond’s arm, it’s actually a tiny piece of pasta painted silver.

41. Campbell and Wilson say there were a few things they felt absolutely needed to be in the film, regardless of what the studio said. “She has to die in the end, and there has to be a torture scene,” Wilson said. Also, the line near the end where Bond says, “The bitch is dead” was a must-have for them because it was the last line of the book.

42. The shot from under the chair showing Le Chiffre ready to hit Bond with the rope was cut from the British version of the film.

43. The beach where Bond and Vesper vacation at the end of the film was the same beach where Bond emerges from the water in the Bahamas.

44. Four hundred extras were used in the scene in St. Mark’s Square in Venice. They were interspersed among about a thousand tourists because it was open to the public. Several shots were ruined with members of the public trying to get into the shots.

45. The red dress Vesper wears in St. Mark’s Square is a nod to Don’t Look Now, which features a figure being followed wearing a red raincoat through a public place.

46. The exterior of the house that sinks was a 1/3 scale model. The interior set was 90 tons and built in a hydraulic tank that could rise and fall. Campbell claims the hydraulics worked perfectly every time, which never happens.

47. At the recording session, when the Bond theme is played for the end of the movie, Campbell and Wilson says they stood up and cheered because it hadn’t been used in the film previously.

48. At 2:22:00 during the ending credits, Campbell makes his only other reference to GoldenEye, talking about the studio marketing head changing from Gordon Arnell to Anne Bennett.

Best in Commentary

  • Campbell: “You’re not killing me off this time, are you?” (Recalling what Judi Dench said to him at the start of the production)
  • Campbell: “It’s a nice confrontation between these two. I mean, she’s getting to know him, he’s getting to know her. There’s a friction between them. But by the end of the movie, of course, it becomes, I was gonna say a marriage, but it certainly becomes a relationship.” (Regarding the interaction between Bond and M)
  • Wilson: “He’s just the right type of sadomasochist.” (Regarding Le Chiffre torturing Bond)
  • Campbell: “You do get the sense that Le Chiffre is slightly getting his rocks off, don’t you, at this whole, and with that girlfriend, of course, proffers up all kinds of possibilities.” (Regarding Le Chiffre torturing Bond)
  • Campbell: “He manages to keep the upper hand, tied nude to a chair.” (Regarding Bond’s reaction to the torture)
  • Campbell: “Clearly Bond had gotten a lot better” (Regarding Bond and Vesper rolling around and crashing on the floor of his hospital room)
  • Wilson: “A lot of people said to me, ‘She was a goner the moment Bond says I love you.’”

Final Thoughts

As far as commentaries go, Campbell and Wilson provided a nice amount of knowledge, but it’s clear that filmmaking is their forte. There’s a lot of back-patting going on, rightfully deserved. They are both very gracious and make a point to talk about the awards different people won for this film and elsewhere. Of course, that’s easy to do for a film that made tons of money and successfully restarted a franchise.

The downtime in this commentary come from constant discussion of where different scenes were shot, and how often the scenes moved back to Prague. This got tiresome throughout, but they didn’t dwell on it when it was mentioned.

It’s neat to watch this now that Skyfall has stepped up the game a bit. Campbell and Wilson recorded this before Quantum of Solace came out, so a lot has happened in the Bond world since. It’s a nice snapshot right after the new beginning.

Check out more commentary commentary in the Commentary Commentary archives

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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