"Casino" Blu-ray Review
October 13, 2008 by Zach Demeter
Where to start with a classic like Casino? It’s not a film that gets a lot of chatter in today’s world of cinema, but the film really was one of Martin Scorsese’s finest (until he trumped it with The Departed, at least). There isn’t much about the film that hasn’t already been discussed, but the performances given by stars Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci and all of the myriad of supporting cast that have become household faces and names of their own, will go down as some of the best ever brought to the screen by Scorsese.
Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci star in director Martin Scoreses’s riveting look at how blind ambition, white-hot passion and 24-karat greed toppled an empire. Las Vegas, 1973, is the setting for this fact-based story about the Mob’s multimillion-dollar casino operation, where fortunes and lives were made and lost with a role of the dice. Co-starring Don Rickles, Alan King, Kevin Pollak and James Wood.
Casino was never a film that caught my interest, partially because I didn’t really know what it was about. I was never into mob-style movies until recently, so I never made an effort to see what kind of other films were out there and everytime I saw Casino I figured it was just a story about Vegas. Yes I was that stupid to literally judge the film by its cover and title, but hey—with a sea of movies that come out every year, staying current and catching up on films of the past isn’t the easiest thing to do. With Universal spreading their catalog all over the Blu-ray format, now was the time to check out this film.
I went into the film stone cold, not knowing anything about the film other than what my friends had said about it. It’s Scorsese, so I didn’t really feel the need to assure myself that what I’d be watching was quality and I just jumped in head first. There is one element of the story that I would have wished I knew about prior, however, and that is how the film itself unfolds. During the first half hour of the film I thought to myself “Wow, they’re taking their time setting this one up”, what with all the voiceovers and montage clips telling us who everyone is. Then I realized that no, they weren’t setting anything up, that was just the movie. The whole film plays out like some elaborate and detailed documentary. Not that this is a drawback, it’s just an element of the film that’s rather important to realize since it’s prevalent from the start.
The great thing about Scorsese films is that, while they’re lengthy in nature (this one being just one minute shy of a full three hours), they never feel like you’ve been sitting on your butt for three hours. The characters and stories are so compelling and constructed in such a way that the whole film just glides along and before you know it you’re at the end. Throughout the course of the film we’re introduced to our main characters and by the end we feel like we really know them and it’s not different with Casino. While it wasn’t my favorite of Scorsese’s films, simply due to the subject matter being not as “fresh” since I’ve seen a mixture of other Vegas-based films over the years that have taken a similar play with mob control over the casinos, I did definitely enjoy the film.
There are some especially brutal moments in this film that still managed to make me cringe a bit, even after all the shock horror and brutality that is in today’s films. Pesci putting someone’s head in a vice and tightening it slowly made for just about one of the most uncomfortable sequences I’ve ever seen. On top of that we later saw Pesci and his brother beat to death with metal bats, which, again, was rather difficult to watch. It’s surprising to me that something could still make me wince after all of these brutal gore fests…but, yeah. A vice pressing on the skull definitely does it.
The characters themselves in the film all fit the typical role in a gangster family De Niro shines as the leader of the casino, while Pesci constantly tries to make things better (for himself) and ends up screwing something up. Meanwhile Sharon Stone plays the wife who…well, doesn’t do much of anything except kick and scream a lot. I read that the woman who Stone was portraying in real life, since the film itself was based off of true events, was a lot more compassionate than she was portrayed in the film…and I certainly hope that’s the case, because Stone was insufferable in this film.
Overall Casino is as you’d expect from Scorsese: nothing less than brilliant. The film is engaging and keeps a brisk pace that results in the end before you know it. If you haven’t seen this film, for whatever reason (i.e., you’re like me and any great film that wasn’t released post-’99 you haven’t seen), then do so. It’s not Scorsese’s best, but that just means it didn’t win an Oscar…it was just nominated. Recommended.
Universal has brought the 1995 Scorsese classic to Blu-ray in a standard Elite case with an insert inside for other Universal Blu-ray titles (c’mon Serenity--hurry up and release on Blu-ray!). The jacket itself is of the reflective foil variety, while the menu system is the standard Universal “blade” layout. Oddly enough you have to select the disc language before it loads up (I’ve seen this on a few other Universal titles, but it’s been awhile since I’ve come across it). I also think the disc itself opens with a new Universal logo, as it’s just a bit more shiny and clear than I’m used to seeing. That or I just never paid attention before.
Casino arrives with a 1080p VC-1 encoded 2.35:1 video transfer that shines throughout. With plenty of detail and solid color levels that don’t waver, the entire film looks fantastic in HD. There is a little bit of grain visible at times, but it’s nothing that detracts from the picture and I didn’t notice a single shot that suffered from any “waxy” skin texture. Everything looked great, although the depth of the image wasn’t quite as strong as it could have been, particularly in the Casino sequences. The audio comes in the Universal preferred DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix which is clean and clear of distortion. Dialogue is mostly front channel focused, although the casino background noise tends to wander the room. There are a few nice big boom moments in the audio mix, but overall it’s a pretty quite film as far as subwoofer activity is concerned. French Canadian, German, Castilian Spanish, L.A. Spanish, Italian and Japanese DTS 5.1 tracks are also available, as are English SDH, French Canadian, Italian, German, Castilian Spanish, L.A. Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese and Traditional Mandarin subtitles.
The extras…well, here we go again. Universal once more stuffs most of the extras into the U-Control “picture-in-picture” area, which house interviews with cast and crew about the film. I’m not entirely sure if the four-part making-of documentary for the film is cut and dispersed into this U-control bit or not as I don’t own the previous editions of the film. I’m guessing they aren’t though, as all this U-control stuff seems to be are the “moments” with Scorsese, Stone and Nicholas Pileggi as mentioned on the back of the case.
Moving to the rest of the extras we have…not a whole lot. "Deleted Scenes" (2:59, 480p) a "Vegas and the Mob" (13:43, 480i) NBC extra and "History Alive: True Crime Authors: Casino with Nicholas Pileggi" (43:46, 480i) give us our only extras to check out under the “Extras” menu. While the NBC and History Channel extras are nice…they really don’t do much for me when it comes to talking about the film itself. It just feels like there is something missing from this release and it’s probably that four part documentary.
As nice as the video and audio is for this release, you may want to pass this on by if you already own the HD-DVD or DVD editions of this one since they both contain more content. If you’re new to the block, however, this release still does come Recommended, even if it is a bit neutered.
Casino arrives on Blu-ray on October 14th.