“Casino Royale saved Bond.” — 007 historian and documentarian John Cork
The Digital Bits is pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 10th anniversary of the release of Casino Royale, the 21st (official) cinematic James Bond adventure and, most notably, the first to star Daniel Craig as Agent 007.
As with our previous 007 articles (see For Your Eyes Only, Thunderball, GoldenEye, A View to a Kill, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Goldfinger, and 007… Fifty Years Strong), The Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship continue the series with this retrospective featuring a Q&A with an esteemed group of James Bond scholars, documentarians and historians who discuss the virtues and shortcomings of Casino Royale. [Read on here...]
The participants (in alphabetical order)…
John Cork is the author (with Collin Stutz) of James Bond Encyclopedia (DK, 2007) and (with Bruce Scivally) James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002) and (with Maryam d’Abo) Bond Girls Are Forever: The Women of James Bond (Abrams, 2003). He is the president of Cloverland, a multi-media production company, producing documentaries and supplemental material for movies on DVD and Blu-ray, including material for Chariots of Fire, The Hustler, and many of the James Bond and Pink Panther titles. Cork also wrote the screenplay to The Long Walk Home (1990), starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek. He recently wrote and directed the feature documentary You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder on the Suwannee River for producers Jude Hagin and Hillary Saltzman (daughter of original Bond producer, Harry Saltzman); the film is available on iTunes, Google Play and other streaming platforms.
Bill Desowitz is the author of James Bond Unmasked (Spies, 2012). He is the owner of Immersed in Movies, a contributor to Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire and contributing editor of Animation Scoop at Indiewire. He has also contributed to the Los Angeles Times and USA Today.
Lisa Funnell is the author (with Klaus Dodds) of The Geographies, Genders, and Geopolitics of James Bond (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and editor of For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond (Wallflower, 2015). She is Assistant Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies Program and Affiliate Faculty, Film and Media Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma. Her other books include Warrior Women: Gender, Race, and the Transnational Chinese Action Star (State University of New York, 2014), (with Man-Fung Yip) American and Chinese-Language Cinemas: Examining Cultural Flows (Routledge, 2015) and (with Philippa Gates) Transnational Asian Identities in Pan-Pacific Cinemas: The Reel Asian Exchange (Routledge, 2012).
Lee Pfeiffer is the author (with Philip Lisa) of The Incredible World of 007: An Authorized Celebration of James Bond (Citadel, 1992) and The Films of Sean Connery (Citadel, 2001), and (with Dave Worrall) The Essential Bond: The Authorized Guide to the World of 007 (Boxtree, 1998/Harper Collins, 1999). He also wrote (with Michael Lewis) The Films of Harrison Ford (Citadel, 2002) and (with Dave Worrall) The Great Fox War Movies (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2006). Lee was a producer on the Goldfinger and Thunderball Special Edition LaserDisc sets and is the founder (with Dave Worrall) and Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Retro magazine, which celebrates films of the 1960s and 1970s and is “the Essential Guide to Cult and Classic Movies.”
Bruce Scivally is the author (with John Cork) of James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002). He has also written Superman on Film, Television, Radio & Broadway (McFarland, 2006), Billion Dollar Batman: A History of the Caped Crusader on Film, Radio and Television from 10¢ Comic Book to Global Icon (Henry Gray, 2011), and Dracula FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Count from Transylvania (Backbeat, 2015). As well, he has written and produced numerous documentaries and featurettes that have appeared as supplemental material on LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray Disc, including several of the Charlie Chan, James Bond, and Pink Panther releases. He is Vice President of New Dimension Media in Chicago, Illinois.
The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.
And now that the participants have been introduced, might I suggest preparing a martini (shaken, not stirred, of course) and cueing up the soundtrack album to Casino Royale, and then enjoy the conversation with these James Bond authorities.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is Casino Royale worthy of celebration on its 10th anniversary?
John Cork: Casino Royale saved Bond. The safe thing to do after Die Another Day would have been to make another Brosnan film, stick to that formula which pleased a lot of viewers, but like with the Roger Moore films in the 1980s, that was a path of diminishing returns. With all the studio chaos erupting between the 2002 and 2006, an unsuccessful Bond film could have permanently wounded the series. Casino Royale was filled with brave, risky choices that thankfully paid off. On a whole other level, the film returned Bond to Ian Fleming. This was not done with a small homage here or there, but with remarkable respect for the original novel in the second half of the film. That, for me, is a huge part of why it succeeds and why it should be celebrated.
Bill Desowitz: Casino Royale is pivotal not only because it was the franchise holy grail to finally adapt Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, but also because it introduced an origin story and a character arc. After 40-plus years, the focus was finally on Bond, and Daniel Craig humanized and demystified him, delving into his troubled psyche and providing a rare glimpse into the “taciturn mask.” Now we finally witnessed more fully the consequences of having a license to kill and living with death every day. Timothy Dalton’s Bond was actually a middle-aged precursor: burned out and emotionally raw and vengeful in his second outing. However, Craig’s newbie Bond explored the blunt instrument and diamond in the rough. He didn’t have all of the answers — he was reckless and impulsive and unsure of his place in the world. It was refreshing and vital in making Bond more relevant in the post 9/11 world.
Lisa Funnell: Much like GoldenEye in the 1990s, Casino Royale helped to reignite interest in the Bond franchise in the 2000s after a four-year hiatus. The film not only updates but also recalibrates many key elements of the Bond brand while introducing the iconic superspy to a new generation of filmgoers.
Lee Pfeiffer: Casino Royale is a vitally important film in the James Bond canon. Although the series was still very popular, the 2002 entry Die Another Day turned off purists and hardcore fans with its over-the-top plot devices, some surprisingly shoddy special effects and a return to the kind of silly humor we hadn’t seen for a couple of decades. Royale reinvented the formula in a very bold manner. The producers could have kept grinding out profitable but by-the-numbers fare. Instead they took a substantial gamble by bringing in an element of grittiness and realism that was much more in tune with modern audiences. They also took a major risk with the casting of Daniel Craig, who was widely lambasted during production as the actor who would bring about the demise of the series. The press was almost entirely against him and an anonymously-written website, www.craigisnotbond.com, was widely quoted, citing all the reasons why Craig would fail. You have to give a lot of credit to producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson for going against the tide and sticking with Craig. He has revitalized the series and has proven to be enormously popular not only with older fans of the series but with younger viewers as well.
Bruce Scivally: Casino Royale was a game-changer. Previous Bond films, despite changes of actors in leading roles, were all clearly meant to be separate installments of the same series. Casino Royale was a total reboot; the only obvious link to the past was Judi Dench’s reprisal of the role of M. But there was no Moneypenny, no Q, and the actor playing Bond was a dramatic departure from what had come before. After the over-the-top extravagances of Die Another Day, Casino Royale elevated James Bond from the realm of comic book fantasy to more adult, hard-boiled action-drama.
Coate: Can you describe what it was like watching Casino Royale for the first time?
Cork: I was fortunate enough to be invited to the world premiere in London at the Leicester Square Odeon. The excitement was electric. I had read the novel at the age of 12. To see the story unfold in a way that merged what we wanted from the cinematic Bond and what I loved from the literary Bond was a deeply satisfying experience. It was one of the four greatest experiences I’ve ever had watching a Bond film.
Desowitz: I attended the first press screening at the New York junket and it was thrilling. It was like looking forward and back at the same time, which best describes Craig’s tenure as Bond. And then the following day, I sat down with Craig for my first and only 1:1 interview and we had a great conversation about what he’d accomplished and what his aspirations were for continuing as Bond. We even speculated on the return of Blofeld, and he was intrigued about the possibility of updating him in a much more modern, realistic fashion.
Funnell: Casino Royale is the first Bond film I saw in the theater. I went with my dad and we sat in the center of the very top row. Although he really enjoyed it, I did not and left the theater confused and upset. It was not what I expected. As a professor, I teach my students to be highly aware of their emotional reaction to a film and to use this as a stepping stone for film analysis. As a Bond scholar, I have done the same by re-watching the film and analyzing it through a range of lenses. Over time, I have gained a strong appreciation for Casino Royale and especially how it reintroduced and rebranded the franchise. As my thoughts have evolved, so too have my feelings; I am surprised by how much I enjoy the film, so much so that it is now one of my favorites. It certainly was not “love at first sight” but I have grown very fond of Casino Royale over time.
Pfeiffer: I had been invited to attend the Royal Premiere in London at the Odeon Theatre in Leicester Square. Nobody does big, splashy premieres as well as the Brits and none of the Brits can do it better than the Bond team. They actually red-carpeted the Square just for one evening and built walkways and mini-bridges to accommodate the attendees and thousands of on-lookers. I hosted a party at a nightclub/restaurant called Ruby Blue right in the Square and I recall standing on the balcony in a tux smoking cigars while watching the crowds assemble. It was quite a night. Queen Elizabeth attended and the security was air-tight. Everyone had to be in their seats a full hour before the royals arrived. Their arrival was simulcast on the big screen so you could see Her Majesty being introduced to the producers, cast and crew. When the proceedings started, the royal trumpeters came on stage to announce the arrival of the Queen. Lord Richard Attenborough introduced the cast and crew on stage. It was that kind of magical night. I thought the film might be an afterthought but when Craig said “Bond. James Bond” at the movie’s climax, the normally reserved crowd cheered to high heaven. I thought “Well, I guess we won’t be hearing much from the ’Craig Is Not Bond’ website henceforth.”
Scivally: Casino Royale opened just after I moved from Los Angeles to the Chicago suburbs, so I first saw it in a theater in Evanston, Illinois, that I recall being pretty packed. Having been disappointed in the previous 007 film, I went into Casino Royale with low expectations, but from the first frame to the last I found it fresh and exciting. This was in no way a throwback, but a fresh, original, exciting take on a character that was in danger of becoming stale and passé.
Coate: Can you compare and contrast Daniel Craig’s inaugural performance as Agent 007 with that of the other actors who have portrayed the character?
Cork: I love all the Bond actors and what they bring to the screen, even David Niven! Here’s the thing: there is never a moment in Craig’s Bond films where I don’t believe he is James Bond. There are times in Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever where I very much enjoy watching Sean Connery playing James Bond, but you can tell he’s saying lines for the audience, that there is a wink to the absurdity of it. I love it, but I can tell it is artifice. That play to the artifice a huge part of the appeal of Roger Moore. With Brosnan, I always wished he played Bond more like he played Osnard in The Tailor of Panama, embracing the relaxed self-assurance that Le Carré saw in his denouncement of a Bond-type spy. With Craig, there is no artifice, but nor is there the inner rage that stokes Timothy Dalton’s 007. I’ll never let go of Sean being my “favorite” Bond, but I love watching Daniel Craig.
Desowitz: Craig is the only Bond actor working from an origin story and with a character arc, and he has since become the most creatively involved actor in franchise history (getting a producer’s credit on SPECTRE). For him, it always has to be personal, which obviously was taken to the utmost extreme in SPECTRE. He came under intense fire for not looking the part (but then Connery wasn’t exactly Fleming’s Hoagy Carmichael inspiration). He was blond, he was shorter than all of his predecessors and he wasn’t suave. He broke the mold as a rough and tumble 007, who has his heart broken, and he passed his rite of passage. Casino Royale was a significant commercial and critical success that launched the Craig era.
Funnell: Casino Royale introduces a new heroic model of masculinity that depends more on muscularity and physical endurance than libido and sexual conquest. It breaks from the lover literary tradition from which James Bond has his roots and presents a more Hollywood-inspired and body-focused spy. As a result, Craig’s Bond is more muscular and physically engaged than his predecessors, and this factors into his depiction as more of a “blunt instrument,” as Dench’s M would have it, who has much to learn about the value of patience, strategic calculation, and finesse. He is the most bloodied, battered, and bruised Bond in history, and his ability to endure excessive pain (such as Le Chiffre’s attack on his “crown jewels”) and recover from it (for instance, when he sleeps with Vesper Lynd after the attack) becomes emblematic across the Craig era of the resilience of M16 and Britain. Through his tough yet tender performance (as Klaus Dodds would describe it), Craig presents a compelling interpretation of Bond who is action-oriented, emotionally vulnerable, and morally inclined.
Pfeiffer: Every actor who has played Bond to date has had the good sense not to try to emulate any of his predecessors and this is especially true of Daniel Craig. I saw him on stage recently being interviewed in New York and he spoke of his reluctance to take on the mantel of Bond, knowing that he would carry the fate of the entire series on his back. He said he told the producers he would only do it if they threw out the rule book and completely reinvented the formula. He felt there would be no point in him trying to play Bond in the manner in which the character had been developed on screen since 1962. He felt the actors who preceded him all did a great job but that the character had to be in sync with his own personality. Each Bond actor was the right person for their time. Connery and Lazenby had a rugged but charming appeal. Roger Moore emphasized the humor. Timothy Dalton brought some gravitas to the role. And Pierce Brosnan’s charm helped reinvent the franchise. That Daniel Craig, too, has succeeded is evident not only by the critical acclaim the series now enjoys but by the overwhelming box office success of the Craig films. I believe Skyfall is the highest grossing British film in history.
Scivally: Although every actor who has played Bond infused the part with some of his own personality, the basics of the character remained the same for 40 years — tall, dark-haired, classically handsome, urbane and sophisticated. When Daniel Craig’s casting was announced, my first reaction was that he seemed more like a blue-collar thug than a high-society secret agent. But that was part of the conceit of Casino Royale — this was a new Bond, a rugged-faced, blond-haired, inexperienced “blunt instrument.” I would never have cast Craig as Bond, which just goes to show the genius of producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Casting Craig was a statement that this would be a bold break from the past, and it worked — from his first moments onscreen, Craig totally owned the role, redefining James Bond for a new generation. That said, I think it is a little unfair to compare his Bond to previous ones, since the conception of the role was so different; he wasn’t being asked to play the flippant sophisticated action man. Some fans noted that Craig’s Bond was a throwback to Timothy Dalton’s conception of the character, especially as seen in Licence to Kill, and I do agree that Craig’s 007 is closer to Dalton’s Bond than the Bond of Goldfinger or The Spy Who Loved Me... except Craig’s Bond doesn’t smoke like a chimney.