Monday, 3 September 2012

BlogalongaBond / Casino Royale:
A Tale Of Two Daniels

"THE NAME'S BLAND... JAMES BLAND", honked the Daily Mirror's side-splitting critique of Daniel Craig's casting as James Bond. They weren't alone in their baseless condemnation: others said said he was too short; too ugly; too young; too old; too blond. Some even said he was too blonde. One website, made entirely by idiots for idiots, offered a template letter we could sign and send to Sony informing them of a planned boycott of the new Bond film due to the decision "to replace Pierce Brosnan with such an unknown and unattractive actor". Before anyone had seen a single frame of footage from Casino Royale, Daniel Craig wasn't just derided: he was skewered. One sympathises.

Skeptics soon learned to choose their next criticisms carefully, because Craig treated them in much the same way that his Bond treated bathrooms, building sites, Aston Martins and Venetian palazzi: he demolished them. His 007 is an unstoppable force meeting a series of immovable objects and kicking the absolute living shit out of them. Within the first twenty, breathless minutes of Casino Royale, Craig virtually erased all memories of his predecessors, and as an encore spent the next two hours doing something only Timothy Dalton had previously achieved in the role: acting. Reviewing the film, the Daily Mirror seemed to quietly forget "James Bland", noting that Craig "oozed the kind of edgy menace that recalls Sean Connery at his best".

The combined brilliance of Daniel Craig and Casino Royale is in no small part due to the bold decision to reboot the franchise and wipe the slate clean of double-taking pigeons and CG kitesurfing. The crusty, cobweb-laden Bond formula of old was forcibly shoved out of the window in favour of a daring structure that front-loads the film with two massive set pieces in its first hour, makes a half-hour card game its centrepiece and has somebody else kill the villain while Bond is busy counting his remaining mangled knackers. Only in the final act does the script chicken out and throw in some extraneous architectural carnage, but by this point Craig could dress up as a clown and we wouldn't mind.
See?

Despite being a first class, bollock-busting blockbuster, Casino Royale's script isn't quite as clever as it thinks it is. It goes to enormous lengths to bring Bond's ego, naivety and emotions to the fore so that they can all be battered back into the depths of his psyche by a series of life lessons administered by ruthless sadists and duplicitous women; the problem is that we don't really get a sense that he's changed as a result. It's the first film to give Bond a character arc, but he doesn't quite reach the end of it despite having 144 minutes to play with. Evidently collapsing buildings are more important than fully-complete character development.

Nevertheless, Casino Royale is textbook money's-worth entertainment. Arguably the greatest action film of its decade (say what you like, it's more fun than the Bournes and less preposterous than the Mission: Impossibles), it restored the Bond series to its rightful place in action cinema, even if it was only for a short while. I can even forgive the irritatingly continuity-mauling appearance of Judi Dench, simply because it's her best in any Bond film.

But while one Daniel was losing his Bond virginity in style, another was ensuring that the foreplay would get our juices in full flow. Daniel Kleinman's astonishing title sequence for Casino Royale is, for my money, the best of any Bond film.


I've wittered about Kleinman's work before, but for this edition of BlogalongaBond I decided to drag him away from working on Skyfall's title sequence in order to talk about Casino Royale's. To his infinite credit, he was happy to do so.

Hello Daniel. Can you explain the evolution of a Bond title sequence from initial concept to finished article?

The process starts with me reading the script and jotting down ideas, then I do some visual research and lots of sketches. I then do rough visuals and storyboard some of the sequence. I pass the ideas by the producers and director and see if we're all in agreement.
Early rough electronic sketch for Casino Royale title sequence

Once my ideas get the go ahead I almost work as an autonomous unit, as everyone else is busy on the film. I have my own production team and shoot whatever material I need. In the case of Casino Royale, I wanted to have Daniel Craig in the titles as the film was introducing him as Bond, so I filmed some shots with him, some with his stunt double and some fight sequences. Then there's a rough edit to do and many weeks of special effects work.

Strangely, one of the last things I do is put the names on the titles. This is because, for many reasons, the list of credits can change up to the last moment.

How does the theme song fit into all this?

I may or may not have a copy of the song at the early stage. It's certainly easier if I do, but it's a long process to tie down the song, artist, mix and edit of the song and quite often I don't hear or get the final version of it until very late in the day. Then, in a nail biting moment, I put it against the visuals and hope they both sync up as I planned.

I did have the Casino Royale track earlier than usual which was a very good thing, and maybe why the two elements work well together. This was because I have great respect for - and a good relationship with - David Arnold, who co-wrote the song and scored the film. I kept bugging him to get me the lyrics, if not the music, so I had a head start, but I had most of the ideas drawn up before I heard the song. I just had time to make sure they fit with the lyrics.

How has the way you work changed since you designed the titles for GoldenEye in 1995?

Over the years, the process of creating the titles has changed immensely due to the progress of the technology. [The titles for] GoldenEye were created in an analogue edit suite and then copied and matched by eye on very slow high definition machines only designed to create shots a few seconds long, so syncing to the music or adjusting anything was a very difficult process. Even watching a shot back was difficult as it couldn't be done in real time, just in slow motion as the computers weren't powerful enough to process the frames quickly. Due to the time it took to create just one frame of the titles at high resolution, the first time I really saw the full resolution titles all joined together was right at the end of the process, when it's too late to change anything. So it was a bit of a hairy process, but exciting.
By Casino Royale the machines had more or less caught up with the way I like to work and I could preview and adjust things, which makes the process much more user friendly and not quite the edge of the seat worry it had been in previous years.

Did you get to see Casino Royale before designing the titles, or were you just asked to base your ideas on a casino theme?

I have to start the titles process long before the film is finished. I can read the script and discuss with the director of the film, but I can't wait to see the film finished before I'm committed to what I'm doing. Of course I had read the book and the script of Casino Royale.

The gunbarrel shot in Casino Royale is very striking: was it your idea to work it into the story in that way?
That clever idea was already in the script. The idea was to explain what the gunbarrel represented and how it came to be: it was Bond's first kill.

The lack of naked women and the animated style of the figures in Casino Royale's titles are a marked departure from previous title sequences. Why did you decide to change direction in this way?

For Casino Royale, [director] Martin Campbell didn't want any dancing women in the title sequence. This was a conceptual decision, as Bond in the film wasn't yet the Bond we know; at the start of the film he isn't even a 00, and his love of getting physical with women hadn't been introduced. Of course the film was really a sort of 'birth of Bond' story, and arguably his attitude to women is formed by Vesper Lynd's betrayal at the end of the film, so the sensual dancing girls weren't really appropriate despite them being historically an iconic part of Bond title sequences.
The graphic nature of the figures is really just an extension of the graphics on cards and casino chips. I chose the style to fit the idea, I don't really like doing things the other way around. I suppose there is a Saul Bass homage element as well. Tastes change, and I think that Bond is always one step ahead of the game. The films have always been cleverly innovative and different whilst not losing the key iconic elements that make Bond Bond. I don't want to create the same thing again and again so I'm always trying to bring something fresh to the titles, and also many people copy or plagiarise Bond, so that's a good reason to keep doing it differently.

Casino Royale's titles evoke the original novel's first cover. Was that a conscious decision?

I was intrigued that Ian Fleming had designed the original book cover himself, so I took that as a starting point. I love the graphic nature of cards and gambling paraphernalia, so also used that as a theme. For instance, I saw a connection between the club symbol and a puff of smoke, so used it as an image of smoke coming from a gun. Diamonds and spades are pretty aggressive looking, so I used them as knives and bullets. The heart is, of course, a symbol with many meanings, particularly appropriate in Casino Royale. Violence and gambling have always gone together and the added element of the graphic patterns used on money seemed to knit everything together for me.

Are there any hidden "easter eggs" in Casino Royale's titles that the viewer might have to carefully look for?

There is an image that you could easily miss: a gunsight moves over the face of the Queen of Hearts and is revealed as Vesper Lynd, but like all royal cards she has a mirrored image which is the Queen of Spades.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in creating the Casino Royale title sequence?

There were a few odd difficulties. We had to ensure that we designed all the card faces and elements ourselves, so that no existing card manufacturer could say we used their imagery or lifted anything from their designs. The lyric "I've seen diamond cut through harder men" worked particularly well with the images I wanted to create; I put a diamond skewering a man, then a bad guy with a spade sticking in him, and finally I wanted the third dead guy to have a club bullet hole in his temple but it was deemed possibly a bit too violent and might have compromised the rating of the film, so I just stuck it in his chest.
Also, I wanted the sequence to start with Bond putting a gun together while he's sitting on a sort of mad card pattern that has grown organically like a psychedelic set of veins. I've always thought screwing on a silencer rather a cool and brutal action, but amusingly Daniel Craig had great difficulty doing it without looking at it. We had to do quite a few takes, but I think now with three Bond films under his belt he could whip on a silencer with his eyes shut.

Which of your Bond titles is your favourite? And which of the others do you admire the most?

I was very honoured to be asked to do GoldenEye and so have fond memories of that particular sequence, but I suspect like most people who create things there are always elements I like and elements I think could have gone better in each piece of work. I tend not to look back if I can help it; I like looking forward to the next project and I'm pretty engrossed in and excited by the process of creating the titles for Skyfall at the moment. I hope they live up to what I think is going to be a great movie.

My favourite early Bond title sequence is You Only Live Twice. I love the Japanese imagery and it's a great, classic title song. Most of the Bond titles done by Maurice Binder and Robert Brownjohn are amazing; they created an instantly recognisable visual style all over the world that has been mimicked and copied ever since but never bettered.
It's my understanding that you weren't involved in the titles for Quantum Of Solace, yet IMDb has you credited as that film's title designer. Can you clear up any confusion?

Nothing to do with me. They were created by MK12, who I don't know, but I thought they did a fine job.

What can you tell us about your title sequence for Skyfall? Is it finished? Have you seen the film? Can you tell us who's doing the theme song? Is the gunbarrel back at the start of the film?

I could answer all those questions but I'd probably find a man clad in black in my bedroom with a silencer, and have only a very short time left to live while he tried to screw it on, if I did.

As I write [mid-August 2012], the title sequence for Skyfall is still in production, as is the film. I have seen an unfinished screening of the movie and in my opinion it's going to be a triumph.

Daniel Kleinman, thanks so much for your time.

My pleasure.

Have a look here at more of Daniel's early design work for the Casino Royale title sequence. I'd do it here but there's literally tons of it (not literally).


Bond's first kill
The first fight in which we see just how bastard-hard Daniel Craig's Bond is comes less than two minutes into the film, and it absolutely does not fuck about. Shot in grainy black and white and skilfully cut together - almost every edit takes place on a kick or punch - it's the most vicious scrap we've seen since from Russia With Love, and it nods to that film by taking place in a confined space (the bathroom of a cricket club in Pakistan, trivia fans). Weaving the new gunbarrel design into the story is a glorious stroke of genius too.

Le Chiffre
The Bond films have always had trouble pulling off realistic villains who are also the physical freaks that Ian Fleming so loved creating, so it was a joy to see Mads Mikkelsen make such a good job of the blood-blubbing bastard that is Le Chiffre. Joyously sadistic and permanently oily with nervous sweat, Mikkelsen's Le Chiffre is never a physical challenge for Bond, which is why the mental war that is a game of poker works so well.

That bit *winces*
Not including the novel's torture scene in the film of Casino Royale would have been like Bane not snapping Batman's back in The Dark Knight Rises, and it's leg-crossingly, groin-clenchingly, eye-wateringly effective. The knotted rope is a horribly perfect replacement for the book's carpet-beater, and both Craig and Mikkelsen play the scene perfectly. I don't normally enjoy watching a naked man having his balls shredded by a rope-wielding monster, but on this occasion I was deliriously excited. Not quite sure what that says about me.

And finally: Not all Bond traditions were jettisoned: there's still a hilariously-named minor character, and this one is infinitely better than Die Another Day's "Mr Kil":

BlogalongaBond will return with Quantum Of Solace

What the hell is BlogalongaBond? I'll tell you.
Further BlogalongaBondareading here

8 comments :

  1. Great review. I would just add a fourth amazing thing about Casino Royale : Vesper Lynd.

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    1. So true. She was the Best Bond girl ever

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  2. I was interested to see fractal elements to many of the expanding graphics on the title sequence. Fractal zooms on Mandelbrot sets were much in fashion in the early days of PCs. Your superb interview brought to light that an essential skill for anyone in the film industry is the ability to work fast under pressure. It is no good being able to draw like Turner if you can't get the project finished. It is similar in TV. A newsreader must be able to cope with a busted autocue, printer that jams and items that get lost in the server and read the news as cool as a cucumber while those in the gallery are doing the headless chicken act.

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  3. No surprise that the review for this went up so early ... you must've been chomping at the bit to talk about it! I will love this movie forever.

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  4. Nice touch with the Daniel Kleinman interview, thanks. IMHO he has not received enough attention despite creating work 97.65% as good as Maurice Binder. Hopefully someone in power noticed how colossally shit the sequence for Quantum was and won't let it slip again.

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  5. I'll just say thanks for the gratuitous spoiler.
    I've not seen that Batman film yet.

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  6. I knew Daniel would be amazing, he's a great actor and all those fanboys who slated him, can now eat shit!

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