Getting the Big Picture: Ian Fleming's 'Casino Royal' and Its Film Adaptation
It is a widely expressed opinion that the book is always better than the movie, though the criteria used for judging in this assessment are not always fair. While the main reason of disappointment is often that the movie wasn’t totally faithful to the book, such as in Casino Royale, this offers up questions as to whether this is how a movie’s quality should be decided. In the transition from book to movie, subtle changes are often required to both hold the audience’s attention and, elevate the plot so that the overall theme is better showcased. In this way, fidelity to a text is not always the best option.
There is, of course, the object of time that puts a sort of roadblock on full character development as shown in the novel. For example, in the text, the reader is able to see Bond’s feelings, as well as his thought process, making him that much more human and individual. In the movie, such things are not always able to be communicated visually or, for sake of flow, verbally, so the James Bond of the cinema gives off a much more robotic persona. Moreover, at the beginning of the novel there are multiple pages of telegrams from M, full of information about Le Chiffre and the mission in general. This part is, understandably, omitted from the movie, as the audience does not need to know Le Chiffre’s full biography to know his significance in the plot. Instead, there is a scene in a Uganda to give a little bit of background, but even this is mostly filled with action, to catch the audience’s attention right off.
Putting the M in Modern
Some other adaptations from literature to film help to modernize the concepts, or to make them more relatable to the audience. Casino Royale was written in the 1950’s, a time where women were not particularly on equal standing with men. This idea comes through in the book, where Bond consistently underestimates Vesper and considers her fool enough to be taken hostage by Le Chiffre when in reality, it was a part of a plot that she herself was involved in. A more modern Bond wouldn’t be quite so deprecating of the opposite sex, as he would otherwise quickly find opposition within the audience. The modern Bond is still, however, a womanizer, because sex will always sell, and it works nicely with the major turn-around of him falling in love. The gender roles are further changed by the fact that M is a woman, instead of a man like in the novel. This places a woman at the very top of the organization, which is more realistic in the modern world than it would have been at the time Ian Fleming was writing the book. In the book, however, M is a simply a faceless character that gives Bond the information he needs to carry out his mission, whereas in the movie, M is much more of a believable person. She is not only at the top, but she knows Bond well enough to predict his actions and thoughts. This gives her a maternal aspect and, in turn, gives her an edge over many other characters, as she knew why Vesper had left her phone with Bond. In this way, she uses her maternal nature, an inherently feminine characteristic, to her advantage, creating a strong female character that the novel itself lacked. This sort of character is incredibly modern and complex, and therefore appealing to an audience.
The Luck of the Draw
Another adaptation in the film served to build tension, and certainly succeeded. In the novel, Bond’s success weighed in a game of baccarat, a game where everything depends solely on chance. In the film, this game was changes to poker, a historically masculine card game in which the player’s success depends on his ability to read his opponent. The first, baccarat, places the fate of the game and the country in chance. This, admittedly, is thrilling and suspenseful, but it leaves Bond as simply the hand holding the cards. With poker, Bond is much more in control, and the fate is in his hands, not in the cards. This control and dependence on Bond’s skills put him in an even higher-stakes situation, successfully elevating the tension, as well as emphasizing Bond’s skill and the masculine strength of his nerves.
Ian Fleming’s novel, Casino Royale, was not listed among the most influential of British literature, but has created a character known by many. While there were many changes made in the transition from novel to movie screen, none of these were extraneous. Various additions, subtractions, and augmentations were made with the intent to modernize and convey better the plot and theme of the novel. Whether captured in text or by camera, he’s still Bond, James Bond.
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
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© 2018 Elyse Maupin-Thomas