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Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 February 2007

Image “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”, stands as one of the most iconic heroes in the world after only a few short years as a video game heroine. Emerging on the videogame scene in 1996, Lara Croft was recognized as the “Most Successful Human Videogame Heroine” in Guinness Book of World Records. Core Design, the development company, initiated a style of gameplay that mixed shooters and problem-solving with a deeper characterization than had ever caught the public’s eye. Almost overnight, Lara Croft became a sensation. Five years later, Angelina Jolie brought her to life on the big screen.

In the video games, Lara always charges from one adventure to another, seeking and finding clues that lead her to the ultimate objective in that scenario. Game players get the opportunity to understand what’s at stake, take an active part, and a shot at solving the puzzles for themselves. In “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” the movie, though, viewers are basically stuck behind the action, watching what is in effect one long cut-scene that they have no control over.

Gamers who played the games had to sit in the theaters and second-guess Lara without having a control pad in their hands. Or get the puzzle fed to them bit by bit instead of having a real chance to solve it for themselves. The script, while it works to a degree for the audience that went to it just to see the choreographed fight scenes and some spectacular sets and special effects, fails to engage the true Lara Croft fan carried over from the video games. There was no feeling of “owning” the adventure, only of being dragged along through it. Granted, the writing would have required a lot of work to present it like that, and it might have been over the heads or beyond the patience of most of the action movie audience, but that would have made the finished product more in line with the “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” franchise. As it stands, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” is a well-financed B movie with a solid cast but not the international hit and franchise anchor everyone had hoped it would be. However, it has to be acknowledged that the film is the highest-grossing ever based on a video game.

When the sequel was made, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.” It was subject to a lot of in-fighting between Paramount Studios and Core Design. Paramount blamed Core for doing a sloppy job on the sixth installment of the video game franchise, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness” and releasing it with numerous problems that turned the audience against the movie.

In “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”, moviegoers got their first taste of the archeologist heroine’s life and found it was an awfully lot like that of Indiana Jones, only in the present day with all the cool technological toys that have developed. However, where Indiana Jones was a very human character (especially with Harrison Ford in the role), Lara is more of a finished piece, a force of nature that just will not be denied. She’s super-cool and seemingly infallible, which gets in the way of plot turns that might make viewers feel like she’s threatened or could be wrong.

Not only that, but the Indiana Jones adventures move along with enough questions to be answered that most of the audience gets to play along with Indiana. They can second-guess where Indiana is going and what trouble he’s going to have. It’s often said that the true measure of a hero is the stature of the villain, but Lara’s villains, in the movies at least, tend to be too one-dimensional to prove truly threatening. Case in point, Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) gets easily defeated twice in “Lara Croft: “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” in cut-and-paste scenes that offered no real menace to our heroine.

The movie centers on what could have been an interesting father/daughter relationship on two levels. Lara Croft is the daughter of Lord Richard Croft (Jon Voight), a famous archeologist who was tracking down the secrets of life and history. But he was killed (by Powell) while Lara was a little girl. In real life, Angelina Jolie is the daughter of Jon Voight. They’d been estranged since her parents’ divorce over Voight’s infidelity. Lately, however, they don’t speak at all because Angelina has cut Voight out of her life entirely, though no public statement has been issued regarding the reason.

Since she was a little girl, Lara had been told stories of the Illuminati (a shadowy secret society hell-bent on taking over the world). They are, after a fashion, her sworn enemies.

After an energetic beginning involving a killer robot in a tomb that could have been taken directly from a “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” video game, Lara quickly becomes restless. Bryce (Noah Taylor), her tech geek assistant, becomes irate over the treatment she’s given the robot.

It’s the anniversary of her father’s death/disappearance, and she visits his gravestone on the estate. That night, a ticking clock awakens her and sets her on the trail of the Illuminati and the prize those men seek that could give them control of the world. Unfortunately, Lara’s efforts to seek the history of the mysterious clock puts her in the sights of Manfred Powell, who has been tasked by the Illuminati to find the Triangle of Light, a mystical object that gives the possessor the power to control Time. Yep, with a capital T.

Lara also bumps into Alex West (Daniel Craig), who has a history as both lover and competitor. Craig looks anemic compared to his recent 007 outing in “Casino Royale”, and never comes to life on the screen, though it’s not clear if the fault is his or the script’s. There’s the problem that Lara overshadows him as well. But given the climax of the film, where West is basically there just to have his life saved, he really doesn’t impress. However, Craig is fantastic as the new Bond, proving that he’s quite a capable action hero.

The next section, dealing with the attack on Lara’s ancestral home, is a perfect display of how extreme the action in the movie can be. While bungie jumping in the middle of the house (only Lara Croft!), Lara has to repel armed intruders that have been sent after the clock. This sequence showcases all the work Jolie did to get ready for the physical demands of the movie. (All of that is revealed in the special feature, “Crafting Lara Croft”.)

The next morning, a mysterious letter arrives from the legal firm of her father. Way too melodramatic, all things considered. Plus the fact that her ignorance of the object she received from her father was what nearly got her killed. But it serves to get her up and moving through the rest of the story.

The remaining action is satisfying, but it doesn’t draw the audience to the edges of their seats or make them “ooh” and “awe” in amazement. The video presentation on the Blu-ray is magnificent, though. The scenes are clear and thoroughly beautiful. For a direct contrast to how the movie was originally shown before release in high definition, pause the main feature and flip over to the special features section to play any of the deleted scenes. The difference between the two is huge.

The lost temple in Cambodia is a huge, well-design set that looks authentic. The solution to the puzzle is pure “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”, but the audience never gets the chance to play along with the clues, so the answer is summarily trotted out and ends up being too pat.

The scenes in Venice are, ultimately, not necessary. There are a few establishing shots of the city, then a threatening moment between Lara and Powell as they each realize they have to proceed together. However, it’s a foregone thing that Powell will attempt to betray her and that she will win out no matter how many mercenaries he puts into the field.

The final puzzles, with the huge model of the solar system (and when exactly was this thing built? This orrery seems awfully advanced for a virtually prehistoric society, and it’s already dated because it clearly shows NINE planets in our solar system when everyone knows there are only EIGHT) and the clock itself, as just beyond belief. Are they technological? Or are they magic? As a hybrid of both, they seem anachronistic and unbelievable.

The sound is fine, but it’s not the uncompressed audio quality that’s possible on the Blu-ray disc, and that is one of the major attractants for upgrading the present “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” disc you might have in your movie library. The picture alone is probably enough to justify the purchase if you enjoyed the movie enough to watch it again in the future.

The Special Features include commentary by Director Simon West that details history and decisions made about the movie that’s worth listening to on a repeat performance. “Digging Into “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” is a 25-minute presentation of some choppy interviews and footage of the movie packaged for television spots. “Crafting Lara Croft” is interesting in that it shows the training Angelina Jolie had to be put through in order to pull off her on-screen persona.

Stunt choreography gets its moment in the sun in “The Stunts of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and special effects guys get their dues in “The Visual Effects of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”.

“Are You Game” gives a brief history of the video game and the various incarnations Lara Croft has gone through. There are only four deleted scenes, and none of them are really telling. The music video by U2 is interesting and kind of fun to watch the band members interact with Jolie.

“Lara Croft: “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” is a good movie for an evening’s entertainment as long as you’re not looking for anything mentally stimulating or emotionally charged. It’s a great B-movie that you can watch with the kids (as long as you allow a ton of violence that isn’t too graphic). Lots of bullets but no body parts. If you really like the movie and want to upgrade to a better video quality, this Blu-ray version will certainly fit the bill.

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