|Lara Croft Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 18 November 2003|
“Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” – sequel to “Lara Croft Tomb Raider,” which is in turn based on a hugely successful videogame – is a more enjoyable popcorn movie than its predecessor, albeit still not exactly an ideal representative of its species. “Tomb” has tons of stunts, special effects, gorgeous and charismatic cast members of both genders and fabulous locations, and Dean Georgaris’ script, from a story by Steven E. de Souza and James V. Hart, never gets bogged down in exposition. It even has some cool mythological resonance – but this is also where “Cradle” starts to fall, because its key reference to primal horror trips over itself before it has a chance to scare us.
The object of desire here is a glowing orb that is revealed to be a map that points the way to the legendary Pandora’s Box, which (as Greek myth tells) is a container responsible for releasing all human woe into the world. Our fearless and endlessly resourceful heroine, archaeologist Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie), winds up tracking the orb after she is attacked during a treasure-hunting dive. Sore about losing her intended loot and about having her associates murdered in the process, Croft is primed for retrieval and revenge. The British Secret Service provides assistance, even (reluctantly) securing the prison release of Croft’s old cohort/lover Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler). They race from mainland China to Africa, in dangerous rivalry with evil scientist Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds), who means to locate Pandora’s Box and unleash plague upon the world for profit.
There’s a good dose of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in the don’t-open-the-box-or-the-Powers-That-Be-will-get-annoyed plot, but for those who are paying attention, there’s a letdown, as somebody managed to shut the box once before without the world ending, a footnote that substantially detracts from the danger of apocalypse. This might not be quite so noticeable if the movie didn’t keep insisting that the issue of whether or not Croft can trust Sheridan is of vital emotional importance. The alternate ending shows that there was a version where the filmmakers weren’t hammering this point quite so hard, but everybody involved seems proud of their attempts to force the issue with material that isn’t deep enough to sustain their emphasis on it.
Jolie is smashing to look at and radiates confidence – so much confidence, in fact, that we have a hard time believing that any relationship, good or bad, could cause her to seriously break stride. Credit director Jan De Mont and casting directors John and Daniel Husband with at least employing a worthy contender for Croft’s attention in Butler, who is rugged, vtial and personable – when Sheridan asserts that he’s charming, we agree. However, even the considerable appeal of the two leads cannot prevail against the film’s determination to try to have it all ways – they want to have a heroine who’s emotionally invulnerable while attempting to create some sort of personal dramatic stakes. The intention seems to be to produce pathos, but the results just gum up the works.
The special effects and stunts are considerably more successful, and a number of these are nicely illustrated in the accompanying featurettes (the section dealing with creating the illusion of underwater action on a dry sound stage is especially intriguing). Jolie makes a striking initial entrance on a jet ski, and thereafter she punches, kicks, jumps and shoots in a manner that do Croft’s vigorous video origins proud. There’s even a foray into Ray Harryhausen-esque horror in the third act that’s fairly cool.
The 5.1 soundtrack has a lot of good discrete effects, beginning in Chapter 1, when an earthquake brings down a cliff and rubble hits the ocean in the rears. Chapter 3 has some persuasive underwater effects, nicely mixing bubbles from aqualungs with the score by Alan Silvestri, who also gives a nice interview in the scoring featurette in the supplemental materials. Having a Great White shark actually roar at Lara, however, is a little on the silly side. Chapter 6 has a slightly jarring juxtaposition of sound levels, going from an exterior target shooting sequence to a drawing room with a slightly muffled quality that requires a moment of aural adjustment. Chapter 9 creates a swell sense of distance in a light plane crash that bounds away from us through the speakers, while there’s a lovely, subtle water wheel effect in the rears. Chapter 14 has great directional bullet hits and whines in a shootout sequence, spiced up by whirring helicopter blades and shattering glass, all overlaid with the score. Chapter 21 has impressive discrete gunfire that has impact from speaker to speaker, though the nighttime visual effects are very blue. Chapter 22 has some cool CGI monsters, which are explored in the visual effects featurette.
The five featurettes are all agreeable, with the stunts section more illustrative than most on the subject. Unlike a lot of DVD supplemental material, these are all in full 5.1, with discrete effects – we hear the principal interview subject in the center, while crew members go on about their business in the mains and rears. Oddly, however the two music videos, Korn’s “Did My Time” and The Davey Brothers’ “Heart Go Faster,” are in 2.0. Director De Bont’s commentary track is moderately informative, with much understandable praise for the physical prowess of the cast, especially Jolie.
“Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” is fun in much the same way that a videogame is fun. You enjoy watching the nifty moves and the cool scenery and get a vicarious blast from all the activity. However, by the same token, “Cradle” is often no more viscerally engaging than a videogame, and on the occasions when it tries to be, it misses the mark enough to be mildly annoying.