DVD Review #24: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Special Collector’s Edition) (2001)

February 27, 2010 at 1:54 AM | Posted in Action, Based on a Game, DVD Reviews, Franchise Film | 1 Comment

Dude, I can see your crappy tattoo.

Supposedly, all video game movies suck. I’m not sure if Tomb Raider supposedly sucks or not. It’s certainly not great. The story isn’t engaging. The acting wasn’t included. But the action and effects are somewhat decent, and there are some interesting locations.


As to why they called it “Lara Croft • Tomb Raider,” I’ve never been clear on that. Everyone who knows the game also knows the main character. It’s irrelevant, since the title is more well known. My only guess is they thought someone might not have seen anything but the title, so they wanted to make sure there was a girl’s name (sort of) included to tell you the tomb raider has boobs. However, the logical course of action would have been to just call it Boob Raider. Hell, cut to the chase and call it Boobs.

Boob Raider starts off with Lara Croft’s boobs investigating some generic, not quite convincing tomb. Suddenly, a robot appears, and Lara’s boobs spring to action, shooting round after round from her twin handguns and eventually commanding the machine to stop. We find out that this has all been a training session in the fake tomb that Lara’s boobs have built into her luxury mansion. I’m not well versed in archeology, but is being attacked by a saw-wielding robot in an ancient temple really a danger typical enough that one has to train for it?

Lara (and her amazing boob extensions) then takes a shower, pouts a little, finds a clock, goes to an auction, and has her home raided, which must be really annoying. She then conveniently gets a letter from her dead father, reminding her of the two halves of a magic triangle which can control time, and which she must find and destroy before they are found by the Illuminati. If the Illuminati should get their hands on this magical item which could not even be controlled by its creators… well, then something bad will happen, presumably.

Lara heads to Cambodia to retrieve the first piece from a hidden temple, and finds Daniel Craig – the Belloq to her Indiana Jones – working with the Illuminati’s right-hand man, the Nazi to her Indiana Jones. They proceed to work together to solve the puzzles of the temple and lo and behold, magic-ass monkey statues and stone wing-dogs try to kill them. The monsters are easily disposed of with bullets and not looked at twice. But the many-armed living GIANT-ASS statue? Also fairly easily disposed of and not balked at.

Escaping the temple with one half of the triangle, Lara does a Fugitive off a waterfall and hangs out with some monks for a while. Then she goes to Siberia (but really Iceland) where there’s another temple or something hidden in a cave, host to some mechanical contraption which can make dogs turn inside-out and back again. This isn’t altogether unusual. When Lara disappears magically into a sphere and then is spat back out with the other half of the triangle, no surprise or awe is wasted on this. Nor at the clock-disassembling time field, nor the sudden appearance of a nonexistent pyramid. When Lara’s present crosses with her father’s past, he is not surprised to hear that he is dead in her time. Lara then stays to fight the villain in a distinguished, fair hand-to-hand combat match to get back her father’s watch while the cave is falling down.

Nothing in the plot bothers making much sense. Roger Ebert says he doesn’t want the plot to make sense, because it’s confusing enough as it is. That’s hardly the point. I don’t want this plot to be any more complicated either. I just want a plot that has some logic to it. Any plot. And any logic. There is only one realistic reaction to magic in the movie, and it is immediately followed by Lara casually explaining that the event is “a time storm,” as if this was an everyday phenomenon. The backstory itself is extremely quick and quite vague. I have no idea how the creators of the magic triangle were able to break it up into pieces after it destroyed their city. I have even less of a clue how or why they built a temple in Siberia that houses an ever-moving mechanical map of the solar system, surrounded by floating time storms. In point of fact, there is no reason the people who split up the triangle purely so that it could not be used, would not simply destroy it themselves.

The idea is an old device quite obviously borrowed from the first scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, where there is some logic to devising booby traps to guard a sacred relic in a temple, there is no logic in devising puzzles which can lead to an item which is never meant to be obtained. One would think the ancient race would simply put the object where it could never be retrieved, say in a volcano or in a deep hole with a temple built on top of it. Most of the premise falls apart when you realize these primitive people also designed the elaborate metal “clock” which works in conjunction with their temples. Of course the whole idea of a living metal entity which can possess statues lends no credibility to the film’s plot whatsoever, but one gets the sense that every idea was designed separately with no thought to continuity, even for the technological capabilities of the unnamed ancient race. One of their temples is all stone. Yet the clock and the device in the “Temple of Ten Thousand Shadows” are far more advanced.

Where characters are concerned, there isn’t much depth or sense either. The evil Powell is rich, is part of the Illuminati, and has some sort of business front, but can easily meet up with his secret group in Venice even though he is British (as are the rest of the members). Daniel Craig, bad American accent and all, is merely established as a rogueish rival of Lara’s. There is a sexual tension between the two, and yet the director says the sexual tension was supposed to be between Lara and the greasy, creepy villain. The past of Craig’s character is unstated. He’s American, but he has an apartment in Venice. Convenient, but not altogether logical. Lara’s tech guy Bryce, who lives on her lawn, does a couple of things for her but ultimately doesn’t seem that crucial, especially to this story. Her butler (due to last minute recasting) is far too young to have worked for her father. Powell’s strange, long-haired ginger assistant, serves the same purpose as the other supporting characters, which is to show that someone is rich because they have hired help. But he also seems to be there for comic relief, even though he fails at it. There’s a telling scene where “Mr. Pimms” says, “thank you,” and steps aside as Bryce instantly replaces his position next to Lara. It’s as if every character has to have a comic sidekick. But only one remotely succeeds.

The character of Lara has plenty of her own problems. Angelina Jolie doesn’t do much acting, just a lot of action. She pouts quite a bit, but I don’t think it’s on purpose. She looks sexy shooting guns, and jumps around frequently. But her Lara isn’t that smart. She only solves things with guns and knives and a note left by her father telling her about magical items that have no rhyme or reason to them. When she enters the first temple, it is only through the help of a mystical girl who is never explained. When she figures out one small part of the tomb’s puzzle, it is only as a result of looking around a little. Her cleverness at the end is down to magical convenience and her father’s pointless riddle. You won’t find Indiana Jones’ level of intelligence here. The fact that Lara keeps her father’s library covered with a dusty sheet speaks volumes.

As an adaptation, it looks to be based on a few stray cutscenes and trailers from the game series, without much of what’s in between. The puzzle solving is minimal, and shared between the three main characters. The platforming is there in a few instances, but Jolie doesn’t display the grace or gymnastics of the game’s Lara (she never does a flip or handstand). This is reserved for the ridiculous pajama “bungee ballet,” which only serves to add a twist to the following fight scene. There’s not much exploring or need for agility in the movie. Standing on top of a flat, swinging log is about as complicated as anything gets. Where the movements in the game were impressive for their time, the movie needs to adjust for inflation and exaggerate that feeling. This was accomplished better to some degree in Aeon Flux, but that didn’t have the budget or notoriety that this does.

The other major aspect of the games is that you die constantly when you play them. While no hero ever dies in a movie, you have to get the sense that they can. And Lara hardly breaks a sweat. The most she suffers is when she grabs a knife by its blade. She grunts while shooting for no apparent reason, but in the end, she comes across as immortal. There is no point at which she is in mortal danger. Even James Bond finds himself in great peril before escaping just at the last second, and he’s perfect. Lara is more perfect that perfect. She’s James Bond with breasts and an obscenely large bank account.

The depth of the film is established with the first scene, where we expect to see Lara raiding a tomb, but are instead presented with a display of her acrobatic skill at fighting absurd creatures. It doesn’t get much deeper than that. We’re not told why she’s rich. We’re just meant to assume all archaeologists have mansions. We don’t know how she was raised after her father died. We’re left to assume she went to The Academy of Kickassery. We assume she lives in England, but it never ventures much further than an establishing shot of her house. At no point do we meet any museum curators or bona fide collectors or government officials. Lara, her rival, and the Illuminati are all that make up the limited scope of the film world.

There’s simply not much here apart from action, which consists of mainly four sequences. The sets tend to look like sets, much in the way a room in a video game looks like a level. It’s Indiana Jones with fake boobs, big lips, guns, and techno music. Tomb Raider is a movie starring Lara Croft that ignores the slow pace of the actual gameplay that makes up most of the gaming experience. Any patient, cerebral aspect of the games is left by the wayside. That can be found in abundance in National Treasure, which lacks the extreme mammaries and other guns of this film, but strangely also features Jon Voight as the adventurer’s father.

Visually, the movie is above average, but not perfect. Many shots are too dark. Some aren’t dark enough. The garage sequence is technically supposed to be so dark that the invaders need night vision, and Lara needs Bryce to tell her which car the men are standing by so that she can attack them by memorization of the layout of her garage, but it’s graded so poorly that the audience can see everything as clearly as day. The visual effects are good, but use of light and shadow in the main photography lacks any real focus. Impressive shots like Lara and crew walking in slow motion across an icy tundra while helicopters take off in the background end up a wash of gray instead of popping like an exotic visual should.

Favorably, I can say that Lara has possibly the coolest record player in the world: a sleek perspex-and-polished-chrome ClearAudio Master Reference, which runs at least $30,000. The costumes are good except for the villain’s hat. The action and effects are, if nothing else, probably a milestone in video game movies. Jolie’s sideboob is quite nice, and her accent is decent. The movie isn’t too long and is nowhere near as bad as The Mummy Returns. But while the action and the effects mostly hold up, the movie as a whole doesn’t really stand the test of time.

Usually, a commentary starts right away with the director introducing himself. In this case, the director just starts talking about the robot fight a minute into the movie. His tidbits, quite in contrast to the film’s plot, are typically pretty interesting, although some of them are clearly being read from paper, suddenly making him sound like Michael Palin narrating a travelogue. This approach also leads to significant pauses throughout the track while the director waits for something interesting to happen.

“Crafting Lara Croft” (6:49) – Typical EPK type feature showing Angelina working out and training with guns.

“Digging into Tomb Raider” (25:26) – General all-purpose documentary about the making of the film. Also feels like an EPK, not a more personal view treated as being for someone who’s already familiar with the movie.

“Stunts” (9:26) – The aptly titled “Stunts” is a brief look at the three main action scenes, not including the robot fight. Not very in-depth, but slightly moreso than the main documentary.

“Are You Game?” (7:59) – Every movie based on a comic or video game has the requisite feature about the source material. This one stands out for is overuse of unnecessary split screens. Apart from that, it’s not remarkable. There have been better specials about the series aired on television.

“Alternate Main Title” (2:06) – Probably designed to have credits roll over it, this long title sequence doesn’t play very well on its own. The visuals show some planets, very very slowly zoom in to a temple, and then very slowly move around inside the temple before exiting to reveal it as the title logo. Without any credits, it’s just tedious.

Four deleted scenes are included. As with any workprint footage, the quality makes everything look like an Eighties b-movie. There’s not much of note here. The old clock expert gets his head cut off by Powell, and we get an extra Daniel Craig scene.

The eight visual effects features total 20 minutes and cover, one would assume, all of the CG work in the movie. This is probably the most immediately interesting feature on the disc. Strangely, one of the features is on the demise of the villain Powell, who gets fused to some rock, but this scene is nowhere in the film or the deleted material.

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  1. […] to be stuck in her flat, lifeless character. Even the grace of her nude scene reprised from Tomb Raider with a wider angle isn’t saving anyone in this […]

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