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CASINO ROYALE – David Arnold

November 17, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

When you think about it in terms of numbers, the James Bond franchise is pretty damn impressive. 007’s screen history reaches back 40 years, comprises 21 movies, and has a combined box-office gross of over $1.3 billion (or $3.3 billion if you adjust it for inflation). No wonder the franchise is considered to be amongst the most successful and important in all of cinema. We’ve had ten directors, nine composers, and now we’re on to our sixth leading actor: Daniel Craig, stepping into the sharp tuxedo vacated by Pierce Brosnan at the end of Die Another Day, and ordering the vodka martini with a broader, brusquer accent than heard in many years.

Casino Royale is, in many ways, a re-imagining of the Bond franchise, in much the same way as Superman Returns was earlier in the year. Finally consigning the original 1967 Casino Royale (a travesty of a comedy which starred David Niven, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles and Woody Allen) to the history books, director Martin Campbell and screenwriters Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have gone back to the beginning, to Ian Fleming’s original 1953 novel of the same name, and in a way attempted to kick-start the franchise in a new direction. Casino Royale is not a prequel to Dr. No in the strictest sense, but it does see follow the fortunes of Bond as a young, hungry secret agent about to embark on his first mission, recently having acquired his double-O status, before he turned into Roger Moore and started wearing white linen suits and wisecracking his way through comedy routines.

In this story, M is still played by Judi Dench, the locations are still glamorous and there are still plenty of seductive women to lead Bond from the straight-and-narrow, but almost everything else is different: there’s no Q, no gadgets, no megalomaniacal super-villain intent on world domination. Here, Bond’s task is simple: after stopping a gang of bomb-makers in Madagascar and thwarting a terrorist attack at Miami International Airport, he must go to the Casino Royale in Montenegro and compete in a high-pressure poker game. Using the game as his cover, Bond’s actual task is to find out as much information as he can about Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), an international banker and money-launderer with ties to terrorist organisations. However, things go quickly awry for the fledgling agent, and he finds his life beset by danger on all sides.

In much the same way as the film is a re-invention of the Bond franchise, so is David Arnold’s score a re-invention of Bond music. Despite it being his fourth score, Casino Royale feels like his freshest yet, but I’ll be willing to bet that many of the purists will be scandalised. The reason for this is the fact that Monty Norman and John Barry’s famous themes are largely missing from Casino Royale, but I personally think that they are missing for a reason. This is a new Bond, a young Bond, an inexperienced Bond, and in a way it feels like Arnold was trying to say that this Bond has not earned the Bond theme yet. They appear fleetingly, tantalisingly not-quite-there, and are often fragmented. This is a Bond finding his feet, learning his trade, not yet the complete 007 we know and love, and Arnold’s sparing use of the musical conventions of the franchise illustrate that point. “Blunt Instrument”, “Trip Aces”, “Dinner Jackets”, “Bond Wins It All” and “The Bitch is Dead” all feature snippets of the various themes, but it is not until the mightily impressive finale, “The Name’s Bond… James Bond”, that everything comes together, the familiar themes burst forth, and you know that the man who will go on to be the world’s most feared secret agent has come of age.

Also missing from Casino Royale, thankfully, are the horrifically out-of-place electronic samples which made Die Another Day such a god-awful album. Casino Royale is predominantly symphonic, with Nicholas Dodd wielding the baton once more, and although Arnold does not completely dispense with his synths, they are subtle, and used as enhancement rather than as a gimmick.

However, the third thing missing from the Casino Royale album is the main title song: the first time in franchise history that the Bond song has not been featured on the accompanying soundtrack. The song, called “You Know My Name”, was written by Arnold and singer/songwriter Chris Cornell, the former front man of Soundgarden and Audioslave, and is performed by Cornell himself. Quite why they left the song off the soundtrack is a mystery – unspecified “legal reasons” have been mentioned by the record label – but the song is actually a pretty good, and the main melody features a wonderfully bombastic brass element which Arnold weaves liberally throughout the fabric of the underscore. “Aston Montenegro”, with its sweeping string work, is an especially noteworthy representation.

The score is anchored by two monumentally good action tracks: the opening “African Rundown” and the gigantic 12-minute “Miami International”. The former, which incorporates a large percussion element into the orchestrations, is thoroughly superb, exciting, adventurous, and with several juicy bursts of the new main theme from the title song, performed on raspy, sexy brasses. The latter is pure musical adrenaline, a tense, propulsive piece which seems to actually pick up pace and intensity as it develops, introducing a bevy of electric guitars into the mix and featuring several more ostentatious brass outbursts of the You Know My Name theme to satisfying effect. Other action moments of note include “Stairwell Fight”, “Dirty Martini”, “The End of an Aston Martin”, “The Switch” and “Fall of a House in Venice”, which follow the stylistics of the other cues, albeit in a more truncated form.

The sadly brief “Solange” sees Arnold reaching back into the archives of John Barry and emerging with a longingly beautiful string-and-woodwind theme for the first Bond girl, played by Caterina Murino. Solange’s theme returns in a more sombre setting for solo woodwinds in “Trip Aces”, but then is dispensed with. Instead, the second (and more enduring) Bond girl, Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green) gets her own theme for swooning strings and romantic pianos, which first appears in “Vesper”, reaches its zenith in the gorgeous “City of Lovers”, a truly beautiful cue, and ends things on a rather downbeat note in “Death of Vesper”, which doesn’t give the film’s finale away at all.

Much of the rest of the score, however, is surprisingly low-key suspense music, made up of percussive pulses and quiet electronic beats, overlaid with moody orchestral textures and occasional moments of thematic coherence. Cues like “Nothing Sinister”, “The Tell” and “Bond Loses It All” do very little other than rumble ominously for a few minutes, and add very little to the effect of the album as a whole. But these are merely minor quibble with what is otherwise a very fine and enjoyable score.

Another interesting sidebar to Casino Royale is that, in addition to the regular soundtrack you can buy in stores, David Arnold has released thirteen additional cues, amounting to just over 12 minutes of music, as iTunes downloads, so that fans of the score can have a more complete version of they so desire. With the exception of the darkly dramatic “License: 2 Kills”, the funky percussion solo cue “Mongood vs. Snake”, the romantic Vesper variation “I’m Yours” and the exciting but brief “Running to the Elevator”, most of the cues themselves last no more than a minute and are all fairly standard, but it is nevertheless very gratifying to see this kind of fan-friendly development take place, and long may this trend continue.

In my review of Die Another Day in 2002 I suggested that David Arnold could be running out of Bond movie ideas, and that the score sounded like “the work of a composer trying hard to emulate the great successes of the past while making it relevant for 21st century audiences, but inadvertently alienating both sets of fans by finding some sort of muddy, intangible middle ground”. I have to say that, having heard Casino Royale, I may be forced to eat my words. This is probably the most satisfying of Arnold’s four Bond scores to date, and is probably the best overall Bond score since John Barry’s A View to a Kill way back in 1985. Could it be that the re-invigoration and re-invention of Bond has itself has re-invigorated David Arnold? I certainly hope so, and I hope even more than I’m not eating my words again when the next Bond movie comes around.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • African Rundown (6:52)
  • Nothing Sinister (1:27)
  • Unauthorised Access (1:08)
  • Blunt Instrument (2:22)
  • CCTV (1:30)
  • Solange (0:59)
  • Trip Aces (2:06)
  • Miami International (12:43)
  • I’m The Money (0:27)
  • Aston Montenegro (1:03)
  • Dinner Jackets (1:52)
  • The Tell (3:23)
  • Stairwell Fight (4:12)
  • Vesper (1:44)
  • Bond Loses It All (3:56)
  • Dirty Martini (3:49)
  • Bond Wins It All (4:32)
  • The End of an Aston Martin (1:30)
  • The Bad Die Young (1:18)
  • City of Lovers (3:30)
  • The Switch (5:07)
  • Fall of a House in Venice (1:53)
  • Death of Vesper (2:50)
  • The Bitch is Dead (1:05)
  • The Name’s Bond… James Bond (2:49)
  • License: 2 Kills (2:38) – iTunes exclusive additional cue
  • Reveal LeChiffre (1:25) – iTunes exclusive additional cue
  • Mongood vs. Snake (1:16) – iTunes exclusive additional cue
  • Bombers Away (0:27) – iTunes exclusive additional cue
  • Push Them Overboard (0:27) – iTunes exclusive additional cue
  • Bedside Computer (0:41) – iTunes exclusive additional cue
  • Beep Beep Beep Bang (0:37) – iTunes exclusive additional cue
  • Inhaler (0:27) – iTunes exclusive additional cue
  • Brother from Langley (0:34) – iTunes exclusive additional cue
  • Prelude to a Beating (1:17) – iTunes exclusive additional cue
  • Coming Round (1:11) – iTunes exclusive additional cue
  • I’m Yours (1:04) – iTunes exclusive additional cue
  • Running to the Elevator (0:28) – iTunes exclusive additional cue

Running Time: 74 minutes 20 seconds (complete score: 86 minutes 56 seconds)

Sony Classical 8869-702911-2 (2006)

Music composed by David Arnold. Conducted by and orchestrated Nicholas Dodd. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster. Edited by Dina Eaton. Album produced by David Arnold.

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