Lara Croft Tomb Raider Review

Andy Hall has reviewed the Region 1 release of Lara Croft Tomb Raider. Against the majority of popular opinion I quite liked this action set-piece movie, and the disc is pretty substantial.

The Movie
As hit and miss (and mostly miss) as video games to movie conversions have been, there has always been one game that was absolutely inevitable that it would be given the big screen treatment, and that was Tomb Raider. The advantage of Tomb Raider over many video games is that it is heavily based on the character as well as the game itself. Trying to make movies out of Streetfighter or Super Mario Bros were always destined to fail, as there was no substance in the characters to work with. They’re just games, and they don’t work outside that format (shudder to think what will be the result if the proposed Crazy Taxi movie gets made). Tomb Raider on the other hand, always stood a better chance of working as a movie as it is heavily based on its impossibly curvaceous heroine, Lara Croft. The first task for the producers of the movie was to cast Lara, and inevitably, like Bridget Jones many English actress names were bandied around, and also like Bridget Jones it ended up going to an American who did a rather good job of it. Angelina Jolie is Lara Croft, and the fact that she did her own stunts allowed herself to be completely immersed into the character.

So what about the movie itself? The plot involves the recovery of the “Triangle of Light” which, when the two broken halves are restored, allows the control of time itself. Lara is alerted to this by notes from her long lost father Richard Croft (played by Jolie’s real father John Voight), but also on the trail of it are the Illuminati, lead by Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) who obviously want it for sinister ends. This is all achieved through a series of action set-pieces, set in various places around the world including Venice, Cambodia and Siberia. The story therefore isn’t particularly substantial (and without giving away too much there is a glaring plot hole in that if she had done nothing at one point of the movie about fifty minutes in it would have ended the story), but the action sequences are generally well done (and laid out in the style of the game). The attack on Croft Manor is a particular stand out, as long as you are happy with Simon West’s quick cut editing style, and the fight sequences are refreshingly “street style” fighting without resorting to the now clichéd Matrix style wire work.

If you ask most people what they thought of Lara Croft Tomb Raider the majority consensus is that it wasn’t that great (the critics on its cinematic release certainly weren’t very complimentary). Yet it made a very large amount of money at the box office, so the inevitable sequels are probably already in pre-production. This first effort is certainly no great film, but Jolie’s spot-on performance as Lara, combined with some entertaining set-piece action sequences, meant that I ended up quite liking it. However, I’m already looking forward to the (probably better) second film.

This is a bit of a difficult one to mark as it appears to be somewhat variable. In many parts of the movie it’s extremely good indeed, being sharp, clear and colourful. In a few places it’s a little grainy. Whether this was from the cinematic print or not is difficult to tell.

No problems whatsoever with the sound, which in Dolby Digital 5.1 format, presents as big and powerful a soundstage as would be expected from such a movie. Lots of directional effects, loud effects and so nothing to complain about.

There are also English and French Dolby Surround tracks on the disc.

Firstly, a quick word about what is not here: the trailer. Normally not having the trailer is no big deal, but for this movie the trailer featured many scenes that didn’t make the final cut or even the deleted scenes (“now is when I start to have fun”, referencing the clock as the ‘clock of ages’). Bizarre. And whilst on the subject of disc shortcomings, the number of chapter stops counts in at a rather pathetic twelve.

So what is here:

The rather nice menu system takes you first to Digging into Tomb Raider which is the main promotional piece and clocks in around the 25 minute mark. It features the usual interviews with cast and crew, behind the scenes footage (a little of which is repeated elsewhere) and items on location shooting and set construction. Standard stuff, but nonetheless watchable.

Crafting Lara Croft shows the physical training Angelina Jolie had to go through to prepare for the role. As usual with most of these promos everyone is saying how wonderful her performance is, but in this case it’s probably justified. This segment runs for about seven minutes.

Following on from this is the nine minute Stunts section which looks at several sequences, whilst still reminding us strongly that Jolie did all her own stunt work.

The commentary by director Simon West is a little strange. That is, the movie starts and it appears like you haven’t selected the commentary properly because nothing happens. Then, a couple of minutes in, he suddenly starts the commentary with no personal introduction (it ends as abruptly as well). Nonetheless, when he does start talking he has some interesting information to relay, particularly regarding set design, budgets, locations, and the differences between testing a movie in front of an American and European audience. The only problem here is, like other commentaries West has done, is that sometimes it feels like he is reading from a script.

The Visual Effects section is divided into eight sequences of the movie – actually seven with one deleted scene – and features very technical explanations of the effects used. Those interested in the heavy technical side of things will find this section of most interest.

The Deleted Scenes section features four sequences that were either removed or are alternate to those seen here. They are all presented in anamorphic widescreen, but in a rougher cut than the main movie. One scene is rather gruesome and probably would have sat uneasily with the rest of the movie, so was best taken out. Some, though certainly not all, of the aforementioned missing trailer’s footage is seen here. There is no commentary available for these scenes.

The game itself is looked at in the Are You Game? piece which features interviews with Eidos people, and looks at the evolution of the game, and compares game scenes with scenes from the movie. It runs for about eight minutes.

There is an Alternate Main Title sequence which was probably dropped due to its similarities with the opening of the original Batman movie.

As a song featured on the soundtrack, U2’s Elevation music video is here, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. Just a music promo, but it’s a bit more imaginative than most.

Finally on the video side is a brief Interview with Angelina Jolie and John Voight featuring father and daughter talking about being in a movie together for the first time. It’s sort of a hidden feature, as you need to click on the wavy lines on the extra material screen.

The DVD ROM features are extensive and thankfully are actually on the disc rather than just a fancy link to the website. The website archive is excellent, featuring the entire site reproduced on the disc, and includes images, 3D panning shots, interviews and behind the scenes stuff in QuickTime video, wallpaper and screensavers. There is also a weblink to the official site, to get to any updates.

The Tomb Raider Timelines section takes you through the entire evolution of the game and character, from the first game through to the movie. There is plenty of information and images to get through here.

Finally there is a three level Tomb Raider: Chronicles game demo. Well, there just would be, wouldn’t there?

…still no sign of the trailer though!

Final Thoughts
It’s not great, but it’s not bad; the inevitable next instalment will probably be better. As for the disc, not long ago it would easily have got full marks for the extras, but since there have recently been some excellent double disc sets for other movies then whilst it’s very good it’s not quite up there. But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t get this disc if you enjoyed the movie, especially if you have access to the extensive ROM content.

Andy Hall

Updated: Nov 27, 2001

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