Our review of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Blu-ray), published August 4th, 2011, is also available.
The hit video game comes to (anatomical) life.
How many video games have successfully made the transition from microchip to movie screen? Anyone remember Super Mario Brothers? Or how about the bomb Double Dragon? Maybe we can all sit down and rehash old memories over a nice two hours of Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
Hot on the heels of Donkey Kong, Mario, and Sonic came mega-enhanced (if you know what I mean) Lara Croft. Heroine of the popular video game series "Tomb Raider," Paramount decided to bring Ms. Croft's adventures to the multiplex starring Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted, Pushing Tin) as the adventurous brazier-wearing female. Released in a special collector's edition, Tomb Raider makes its debut on DVD with swashbuckling results.
Facts of the Case
Tomb Raider is one of those simplistic films that throws in a few hokey stories just so the movie can move along with semi-plausible reasoning.
Lady Croft (Jolie) is a sexy beauty who lives in a big mansion with training robots, a faithful butler and an electronics/weapons expert. One night Croft hears a faint ticking under the stairs and checks it out; to her surprise she finds an antique clock thatcontains a key called the "All-Seeing Eye." Her deceased father (played in dream-like sequences by Jolie's real father Jon Voight) leaves a note in an old William Blake novel that basically says "I knew you'd figure this out." Apparently a secret society called the Illuminati are looking for this key as it's a pivotal piece in their plan to control time and space with some enormous machine, take over the world, or something to that effect (it's never explained very clearly).
After traveling all over the globe (or at least that's how it felt to me), Croft and some bad guys end up in some giant ruins that reminded me a lot of the Indiana Jones films. Here the mystery of the key will be explained, battles with living stone statues and other minions will be fought, and Lara's boobs will shine like beacons in the night.
The summer of 2001 was not a good time for movies. I think I'm being fairly accurate when I say that there were maybe two or three films in total that enjoyed (and I saw almost all of the blockbusters released during those three months). Tim Burton's re-imagined Planet Of The Apes, The Mummy Returns, and Pearl Harbor were all heavy disappointments, lacking a good story and too many CGI effects. On the top of this cinematic trash heap was director Simon West's Tomb Raider.
For this reviewer, Tomb Raider fails on many levels, the main one being the storyline. One of the charms of the Indiana Jones series is that while the plots are intelligent they are never hard to follow. Tomb Raider makes the mistake of having a plot that is so absurd that it makes about as much sense as a Salvador Dali painting. It's painfully obvious that the writers threw in a lot of hooky ideas so that the video game idea was padded with enough material to make a feature film. While some action movies don't have to make sense to be entertaining, Tomb Raider just ends up making too little sense for its own good.
Angelina Jolie fits the part of Lara Croft to the tee, a mix of sex, breasts, sarcasm, and adventurous instincts. From her shapely body to her fluffy lips, Jolie was born to play the role of Lady Croft. Unfortunately, the character doesn't have much inner workings to play off of. Lara is ultimately a one-dimensional character; flat, bland, and uninteresting. She moves with stealth precision and timing, but lacks the heroic flare of heroines like Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in Alien. In essence, Croft is a superficial character. The rest of the cast tumbling around Jolie fares only slightly better, though none of them are good enough to mention by name. The bad guys all carry guns and scowl a lot, and Croft's allies are the general lot of bumbling electronics experts and hired help.
However, the light at the end of the tunnel is the wonderful special effects sequences in Tomb Raider. While the end "machine" looks slightly like a reject prop from Hudson Hawk, Tomb Raider is filled with exciting visuals and effects. In one scene a huge stone statue and granite minions come to life (and crumble as our hero thwarts them with guns and swords). In another well-done sequence Lara is attacked by a hulking, deadly robot in a training room. While Tomb Raider isn't going to win any awards in the realm of story of dialogue, the effects are typical top-notch summer stuff.
I can't really say that I enjoyed Tomb Raider as a whole…as has happened many times before, too many special effects and too little script will often cause a film to collapse upon itself. If you're looking for dazzling special effects and special effects only, by all means see Tomb Raider. Otherwise, viewer beware.
Tomb Raider is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. To no one's surprise this is a fantastic looking print. I didn't spot any instances of imperfections or defects in the image at all. Every aspect of the colors, black levels and flesh tones were even and bright. This is easily a reference quality transfer and a great job by Paramount.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 English as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 in French and Spanish. Much like the transfer, the audio portions of this disc are also well done. Dialogue, effects and Graeme Revell's bombastic score are all clear of any distortion or hiss. As expected this is a very aggressive mix with a multitude of directional sounds utilized through all of the surrounding speakers. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Fans of Tomb Raider are going to be very happy with the efforts put forth by Paramount for the supplemental section of this disc. To start with there is a commentary track by director Simon West (who also directed The General's Daughter). West gets right down to business on the track discussing such aspects of the production as casting, Angelina Jolie's training, and how many of the special effects were accomplished. Since I wasn't a fan of the film I wasn't really thrilled with this commentary, though fans of the film will delight in Mr. West's anecdotes and stories.
Next up are five separate "featurettes" on different aspects of the film. "Crafting Lara Croft" focuses on Angelina Jolie's training and preparation for her role in the film. "The Stunts of Tomb Raider" takes a look at (duh) the stunts utilized in the film, including the bungee cord sequence and the pendulum column Lara rides in the film. "Digging Into Tomb Raider" is the longest of all the features (clocking in at around 25 minutes) and is a general overview of the film and its production. Also included are interviews with Jolie and some of the cast and crew. "Visual Effects" includes eight separate vignettes, each one taking a look at certain action sequences in the film (including the robot, the stone statues, et cetera). "Are You Game" focuses more on the aspect of the video game and the microchip version of Lara Croft. Included on this feature are some scenes from the video game series. Taken as a whole these featurettes are a great way to get some in-depth insight into the making of Tomb Raider.
Viewers can take a look at four deleted scenes that were cut from the final film. Each of these scenes are presented in anamorphic widescreen and are in decent though not perfect shape. There is an alternate opening title sequence which isn't all that exciting, and a funny music video for the song "Elevation" by U2 featuring The Edge humorously transplanted into some of the Tomb Raider scenes with Lara Croft.
Also included on this disc is a lot of DVD-ROM content, though I couldn't get them to work on my computer as it's been on the fritz for a while. However, the included list of materials features a Tomb Raider timeline, a game demo, a web site archive, an online experience, and much, much more.
Finally, Easter egg hunters will be happy to hear that there is a little egg on the special features menu. Push your down arrow key to highlight some wavy lines. Push enter and you'll be taken to some interviews with Jolie and her father.
The most disappointing thing about Tomb Raider was that Angelina Jolie takes a shower in multiple scenes yet we never see her from the shoulders down. When I saw this movie in theaters there were literally audible groans at the lack of T&A during these scenes. Come on Paramount…pander to the masses!
Otherwise, Tomb Raider is just one big effects show. If you're looking for characterization any deeper than a puddle you'll be apt to look elsewhere. If you're drooling for big-budget effects and lots of CGI then Tomb Raider is by all means your kinda movie. Paramount has done an excellent job on this transfer, audio mix, and supplement materials.
Tomb Raider's script is found guilty of bad writing and lousy characterization, but set free due to excellent special effects work. Paramount is out on bail for doing a nice job on this disc.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track with Director Simon West
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