Wednesday, February 21, 2007

HIGH NOTES: Casino Royale

Perhaps one of the most anticipated movie scores for me in recent months was the music for the James Bond film “Casino Royale.” This CD offered a lot of promise even before David Arnold scored it. The big question would be, “Did it live up to expectations?”

First, let’s discuss why this score was such a big deal. Perhaps the most obvious would be Arnold’s promise of a new sound for the Bond franchise. That’s risky given the Bond films offer an established sound fans have come to expect. Eric Serra (an excellent composer in his own right) made the horrendous mistake of banishing the “Bond” sound to the “nether realm” with the film “Goldeneye.” “Casino Royale” also marked Arnold’s fourth film within the superspy franchise. Then there was the entire premise behind the film, getting back to the franchise’s roots with a grittier Bond. To that measure, we were also given a new actor for Bond, and that upped the stakes for the entire film—score included.

So does Arnold deliver? Without a doubt. Not only do we get a great Bond score, but this is easily the best Bond score since Arnold’s first outing with “Tomorrow Never Dies.” There’s a maturity and passion to this score that I don’t think Arnold’s two previous efforts provided.

To be fair, the tone of the film does a lot to aid Arnold’s effort at something new. The grittier nature of the movie provides for a more suspenseful and grounded sound. We get something of a militaristic beat to accompany the action sequences. This shows up best in the opening track “African Rundown” and “Miami International.” The latter piece is easily my favorite on the CD and also clocks in as the longest track at more than twelve minutes long. Arnold really delivers a well-paced buildup to the excitement with “Miami International.”

What’s really interesting is to listen to the score and realize at the end, how Arnold does something similar to the film itself. Just as “Casino Royale” shows us how Bond became Bond… Arnold leads us on a musical journey as he takes all these themes and slowly builds up to the final track, “The Name’s Bond… James Bond…” which is the traditional Bond theme in all its glory. I think that might be the most fascinating thing about this score, and Arnold really deserves high praise for accomplishing this. In fact, it’s not until you reach the last track that you realize Arnold never actually gives us the “true” Bond theme prior to that point… not until Bond matures into the character we’ve all come to know. In a very real sense, the music of the film grows closer to the original James Bond theme even as the character draws closer to being “Bond.”

Other Scores by David Arnold:

The CD for this score isn’t without one major fault, though. For whatever reason, the CD was released without the opening titles song “You Know My Name.” That’s a pity, because David Arnold and Chris Cornell have created one of the best Bond songs in years. On top of that, they managed to make a great Bond song with a male vocalist. Most of the best Bond songs have relied on female vocalists. Some interesting trivia here: this is only the third Bond vocal “title track” not to share its name with the movie’s title. The other two songs and films are “All Time High” from “Octopussy” and “Nobody Does it Better” from “The Spy Who Loved Me.” “You Know My Name” is also rare in that the song is about Bond himself. Most of the theme songs have been devoted to the Bond girls or villains.

“Casino Royale” will remain a special score for me, because of the timing of its purchase. I bought this CD with money from my first sell as writer. The money I made from selling “I am Sam” to “Spinetingler Magazine” was used to purchase this CD—a small reward to myself.

No comments: