Tuesday, November 21, 2006

An Overlooked Reason for Casino Royale's Quality

Let's face it, Casino Royale is one of the best Bond films to come to theaters for quite some time. Martin Campbell, who directed both recent Zorro movies and had previously directed Goldeneye, has been rightly praised for his work on the film. But I thought Martin Campbell's last Bond film, Goldeneye, was one of the worst Bond films to date. The tank chase was fun, but I found most of the character development elements of the film weak and I didn't think the action of Goldeneye was anywhere near as sophisticated as the action in Casino Royale.

What is the difference, the key element, that most critics are missing?

Alexander Witt.

Goldeneye's Second Unit Director, the job most in charge of action sequences, was Ian Sharp. Sharp is a competent director, with limited Second Unit work, which is apparent in his work on the classic iTV Robin of Sherwood series. He directed one of my favorite episodes of that show, Robin Hood and the Sorcerer, but his overall "action street cred" is relatively low.

Alexander Witt, on the other hand, is the Second Unit Director's Second Unit Director. Witt is maybe the best director of action sequences in the industry today. This is not to say he is a great film director, Resident Evil: Apocalypse amply displays his limitations in character work, but a quick look at his action resume reveals the reason that the action in Casino Royale was so viceral. Witt was the Second Unit Director in all the below listed films:

  • The Bourne Identity
  • Blackhawk Down
  • Gladiator
  • Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse ofthe Black Pearl
  • xXx

The above list is obviously cherry picked, it doesn't include She's the Man, but it only scratches the surface of a career that also includes Always (DP on the aerial photography), Hunt for Red October (Second Unit DP), and the first Speed. These are all quality films, obviously I'm not including She's the Man in that statement, where the action sequences move quickly, stylishly, and convincingly. That is the trademark of a film where Witt is the Second Unit Director. Many have commented on the similarity of the action in Royale and that of Bourne, the common denominator is Alexander Witt who seems to be involved with films that reshape our action expectations.

Now if I can only figure out who decided to bring in action influences from last year's District 13, the foot chase after the title sequence is straight out of the Besson produced actioner.

In Casino Royale, like in the Ridley Scott films Witt worked on, we got to see the magic of the collaborative nature of film where the Director and Second Unit Director work together to create a gem. The focus many critics have on the auteur theory of film often neglects the importance of other staff working on a film while overly crediting the Director. Campbell did a great job as the director of the film, Royale had genuine pathos, but it wouldn't have been the same movie if it hadn't had Witt on the Second Unit.

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