00 Saturdays Week #42 – Casino Royale Music Review

“The coldest blood runs through my veins
You know my name”

It’s time for another 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure.  This week, it’s time to move onto the music of the first James Bond movie for Daniel Craig – Casino Royale!

Theme Song

If you read my review of the music of Die Another Day, you know I more or less despise Madonna’s song.  It’s a real shame too because you’d think Madonna and Bond would be perfect!  For this movie, you have an almost impossible situation.  I am NOT a huge fan of Chris Cornell or his various bands (Soundgarden and Audioslave).  I respected his music and he did have a fantastic voice for rock and roll, but I just didn’t love his music.  So when I learned he was doing the new Bond theme for Casino Royale, I was concerned.

But, holy shit, “You Know My Name” is an achievement in the series.

This is a fantastic theme song and perfect for the new Bond.  This is top five material.  It’s ballsy but not pretentious.  It’s just a rock and roll song that tells you this will be a brand new era and a brand new version of Bond and you’re gonna like it.

Some of these lyrics are the best of the entire library of themes.  Lines like “If you take a life, do you know what you’ll give?” or “You can’t deny the prize it may never full fill you/It longs to kill you” speak directly to Bond becoming a brand new 00 and the price he’ll pay for choosing who, how, and when to kill someone.  It speaks to the decision to ask Cornell to do a song rather than a British pop act or a female.  The thought that having a harder sound and a strong male vocal would help prepare the audience for what the film would represent in these early days of Bond being 007.

Cornell was a little surprised to be asked by Sony’s President of Music, Lia Vollack.  He liked the Bond films okay, preferring Connery films over any of the others, and even stated he was not a fan of the recent films in the Brosnan era.  However, after visiting the set, seeing the emotional beats the film would deploy, and seeing a very rough cut of the film, he agreed to do the song and spent a few weeks composing the song after getting into the head space of writing for a specific character.

The one thing that troubled him was coming up with a title and something to wrap the song’s chorus around.  He admitted that a song titled “Casino Royale” wasn’t very good.  He also said, though, he’d totally have written a song called “Octopussy” just for kicks.  Eventually, the title speaks to us about our character.  We know who he is.  This may be a different portrayal or version of him, but we do know his name.

This is easily the best song since “GoldenEye” and by far the best of this current era.

Score

David Arnold returns and does a masterful job with film’s score.  He does not use the “James Bond Theme” until the end of the film to show the completion of Bond’s arc as a character.  However, instead, he uses music from “You Know My Name” instead.  That’s Bond’s first theme.  That helps this score stand out because it has its own identity first.

Unlike his past three scores, he chooses to go full classical symphonic score.  If anyone ever questions whether or not Arnold was really an understudy of John Barry, I would direct him to this score.  This is definitely the best score he did.  His music in the scenes with Vesper and Bond that are more tender and sweet, like when he comforts her after she witnessed him killing a couple bad guys and when he’s convalescing together after they are freed from Le Chiffre, sound just like some of Barry’s best scores from the earlier days of the series.  It’s romantic and sweeping.

It’s not without some opportunity to sound modern too in the more tense action scenes, but it still stays with a largely orchestra sound.  As mentioned, it was a great idea to hold back the iconic theme song, and to stick with the “You Know My Name” call backs.  Where the “James Bond Theme” was once used heavily with a bombastic score to help remind people they are watching a Bond film, even though the actor had changed, this film does the exact opposite because we are seeing Bond before he became the guy we know.  It was a stroke of genius to do all of this because it helps us realize this guy may have some struggles in doing the things we know best from him, but also the music helps us think of those older films to help remind us that he will be the greatest spy the world will ever see.

Interestingly, the soundtrack, upon release, did not have the theme song included.  That was released specifically as a separate single.  The soundtrack album was only the David Arnold score.  I think that is great.  This score is so good it can stand on its own without the Cornell theme song anchoring the potential sales.

The Opening Title Sequence

Woo wee, these are some gorgeous titles for the brand new Bond.

This signals the beginning of a significant change to the “gun barrel” sequence that will continue for the rest the Craig run (and probably going forward).  The film sees Bond make his first two assassinations to make him a 00 agent.  Then we go into this wonderful playing card motif with bright colors and awesome animated fights and kills.

Daniel Kleinman does something very special here.  First, considering a huge chunk of this movie centers around a poker game in a high roller casino in Europe, Kleinman uses hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs as bullets, knives, etc.  The general background looks like the back of playing cards with spiralgraph designs, geometric lines, and bright colors.  However, the bright colors also evokes something else – books.  When Casino Royale would have been originally published, it’s likely it, or subsequent printings, would have had a very bright dust jackets for the books.  Plus, the use of animated characters of all one color is also something common in the design of book covers as to not take away readers’ ability to picture characters themselves.

Also, with those animated characters, you get to have something classic to the series like a Maurice Binder sequence, but you also get to have some additional fight scenes.  You are seeing Bond as the rough and tumble fighter, not the suave and capable agent that uses his wits and surroundings later in his career.  Here, he’s just beating the shit out of people and making them explode into card suits.

GoldenEye may still feature my favorite opening titles, but dammit if Casino Royale isn’t a close second.

Join us next week for the second Daniel Craig film in the series, Quantum of Solace.

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