Casino Royale Bahamas Set Visit!

The islands of the Bahamas are a tropical paradise unlike any other place in the world–cool green and blue ocean waters, sandy beaches, exotic trees and vast resorts full of casinos and every thinkable recreation for those who vacation there every year. So what better place to introduce a new James Bond to the world, since they’re returning the character to his roots with the first serious adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale?

Planned as a relaunch of the 007 franchise, Casino Royale may also be the most literal adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel since the early Connery films, except those who’ve read it probably won’t remember anything set in the Bahamas. That’s because the first third of the film is a newly-written introduction used to set-up the confrontation between Bond and Le Chiffre, banker for an international terrorist ring, at Le Casino Royale in Montenegro, France.

When the film begins, Bond has yet to acquire his 00 “license to kill”, but that will be introduced in a black and white sequence that opens the movie before he’s off to Madagascar on his mission to try to put a stop to a terrorist ring by finding and capturing Mollaka, played by Sebastian Foucan. (More on him later.) From there, Bond follows Le Chiffre’s trail to the Bahamas, where he first faces the banker in a game of poker, where he wins something that will be very familiar to long-time Bond fans. (I know what it is, but I’m not telling!) Bond is then sent to Montenegro to face off against Le Chiffre in a high stakes poker game, which is where the movie picks up from Fleming’s original novel.

The film introduces Daniel Craig as the sixth James Bond, likely to be very different from the Bonds we’ve become accustomed to, because he’s tougher and grittier, unlikely to be using the type of high-tech gadgets given to him later in his career by Q. This Bond is more prone to be using guns, knives and more physical forms of combat.

Most of the interior shots of the Casino Royale, and the majority of the film, was shot in Prague, but the entire crew packed up and moved down to the Bahamas for three weeks of filming before they would return to Prague for a few more weeks and then finally finishing it all up at the famed 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios in England, where most of the previous Bond films had filmed. (The film will culminate with a sequence that Casino Royale‘s effects supervisor Chris Corbould says was his biggest challenge to date.)

ComingSoon.net and the newly launched James Bond Hype! was part of a select group of lucky journalists from across the globe flown down to the appropriately named Paradise Island in the Bahamas to get a first-hand taste of the Bond experience. Atlantis, the main resort hotel on the island, is very proud of the country’s Bond resume dating back to Thunderball, with four other Bond movies having filmed there since. Besides the scenes in the movie that actually take place in Bahamas locations like Atlantis’ The One & Only Club, a neighboring island also doubles for Madagascar on the first leg of Bond’s mission.

Day 1

On our first day on set, we visited two locations on Coral Harbour, where Martin Campbell (GoldenEye) was filming, along with 2nd Unit Director Alexander Witt (“Resident Evil: Apocalypse”). Situated far away from the luxuries of the Atlantis Resort in a section of the island where few tourists ever venture, it’s not too far of a stretch for the section of the island to double as the remotest regions of Africa.

They had actually built an entire African shantytown in a section of the jungle, centered around the core of a decrepit run-down old hotel that had been gutted, and the set decorators had built dozens of make-shift shacks all around it. There, we witnessed 350 extras, mostly locals and many Haitians, crammed into what used to be the hotel’s former swimming pool, all watching and betting on a fight between a ferret and a snake, which would be added later. There were so many people crammed into that tiny set that it was hard to move around, but Campbell was using two cameras to capture the exciting scene, as well as a helicopter hovering above for aerial shots. The next day, we’d be able to wander around the shantytown while they weren’t shooting and fully appreciate the work of the production designer and set decorators at adding realism to the village by having fruit stands with real fruit, a fully stocked dive bar, and a burnt-out VW bug.

The principle behind the scene was that Bond is standing above the crowd looking down on the game while communicating with an accomplice in the crowd, but once Mollaka realizes he’s being watched, he makes a run for it with Bond in hot pursuit, running through the shantytown, into the jungle, through a construction site before Mollaka makes his way into an embassy looking for amnesty.

Mollaka is played by French athlete Sebastien Foucan, inventor of the running style known as Parkour or freerunning, which has been featured in commercials for Nike and Toyota. Essentially, it involves running at lightning speeds up walls and over objects in a way not unlike the stunt work of Jackie Chan, which makes it quite a challenge for Bond to keep up with him.

The construction site set was built around an unfinished hotel complex that had started to be built over twenty years ago, but was then suddenly abandoned when financing fell through. The neighboring Department of Defense had been using the place for training, but it was chosen as the location for the climax of this amazing chase sequence. The set designers and workers constructed a 14-story metal girder frame and erected full-size cranes on the site to give Bond and Mollaka plenty of obstacles and challenges to avoid during their chase sequence. (Of course, they must have been kicking themselves when they arrived at the Atlantis and saw that there was an equally impressive construction site right on the grounds, as the Atlantis was adding onto the complex with a new building scheduled to open in 2007.)

Although the 2nd Unit, helmed by Alexander Witt, had been shooting at the construction site earlier that day, they had finished their work before we got there. Instead, we were shown raw footage of an early scene in the chase where Bond goes after Mollaka driving a Caterpillar bulldozer, crashing straight through a workshed and some large pipes with Sebastian running mere feet in front of it. Because of Sebastian’s speedy talents, he didn’t necessarily need a stunt man to shoot those scenes, although Craig had a stuntman to shoot some of the more dangerous sequences that had them running across girders 14-stories up and leaping from one of the cranes to the next.

Day 2

The following day we returned to Coral Harbour, but both the shantytown and construction site sets had wrapped filming. Instead, both units were working in the surrounding jungle to shoot more scenes of Daniel Craig chasing after Sebastian Foucan’s Mallaka, this time through the jungle that separates the two sites, and we finally had a chance to see the two of them in action.

As we wandered through the area between shots, it was hard not to notice what a veritable melting pot of languages and cultures was present in the cast and crew, many of whom had been working on the Bond films for years. Oddly, Daniel Craig seemed nowhere to be found, although there seemed to be a number of guys who looked a lot like him between the various stand-ins and stunt doubles and even a few members of the crew. Most of them were wearing the same ugly patterned shirt that Bond was wearing to try to look more like a tourist. (The fact that they could find one shirt that ugly, let alone three, is pretty amazing. Apparently, Bond’s fashion sense wouldn’t be emerging until much later in his career either.)

At first, it looked like they were simply using the existing jungle for the scene, but in between shots, the illusion was shattered, as we realized that a lot of what we saw were potted trees and plants with make-shift palm fronds attached to metal boom stands. The first set-up was a scene where we watched Bond’s viewpoint as he chased after Malaka through the jungle, and then they switched to a side shot with the two runners being followed by a camera on a fast-moving jeep.

Finally, the real Craig casually arrived wearing the same patterned shirt as the others, and they shot a few takes of him running after Sebastian’s stunt double, and then chasing after the real Sebastian. The difference between the two was pretty evident because the real Sebastian is FAST! Seeing him run in person, it was easy to tell how he was able to stay ahead of the charging Caterpillar at the construction site; both Craig and his stunt double had trouble keeping up with him when he was running full-out. They continued to shoot the scene a few times, each time taking a slightly different shot or doing close-ups of Craig and Sebastian’s faces.

Later that day, we headed to the One & Only Club to see where other scenes had been filmed and to talk with the cast and crew about the production. As soon as we arrived, we were shown a bit of B-roll footage used to introduce the new Bond and gives us a feel for some of the other scenes that had already been shot for the movie. Those worried that there won’t be as much action in this movie can put those worries aside, as there seemed to be just as many physical stunts as the previous movies, although it’s a lot more physical and less gadget-based.

Craig looked quite intense in the footage, a bit scarred and banged up from his earlier chase through the jungle, so one would presume that the action sequences being shown were from the tail end of his chase after Mollaka. These scenes included a huge explosion and a moment where Craig seems to leap through a window at Sebastian, maybe a bit more realistic than what we’re used to seeing on a Bond movie.

As we saw while on set, director Martin Campbell would usually start each scene by screaming “3! 2! 1! Action!” very loudly to make sure that he gets the most energy out of his performers. In the video, Craig pondered whether or not Martin would be doing that same countdown during his love scenes, most of which would be happening with French actress Eva Green, who had just been cast as Vesper Lynd, the only female character in Ian Fleming’s original novel. She hadn’t shot any of her scenes yet, but they would be doing them once they returned to Prague.

The second reel showed more leisurely footage shot in the Bahamas, both at the One & Only Club, and at a villa elsewhere on the island. One scene showed off the newest Bond Girl, Bond’s Bahamas love interest Solange, played by Italian actress Catarina Murino, who was wearing a striking green bikini. Although that certainly was nice, it was even more surprising to see a scene being filmed of Craig in nothing but blue swim trunks coming out of the ocean ala Ursula Andress in Dr. No. Another scene showed Bond arriving in the Bahamas via helicopter, and then walking and talking with Dame Judi Dench, who reprises her role from the previous movies as M. In a taped interview with Dame Judi, she expressed interest in remaining in the Bahamas to shoot more scenes, including one where she had a chance to run down the beach, but presumably, that never happened.

For more on Casino Royale, check out our exclusive interview with Daniel Craig and producer Barbara Broccoli, and then check back later for more exclusive interviews from the set including director Martin Campbell and the newest Bond girls. Casino Royale opens everywhere on November 17.

Source: Edward Douglas