Judge Clark Douglas prefers raiding the pantry.
Our review of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, published November 13th, 2001, is also available.
Born into wealth. Groomed by the elite. Trained for combat.
"So, time to save the universe again, is it?"
Facts of the Case
A planetary alignment has begun which will lead to a solar eclipse. This is a particularly significant eclipse; one which occurs only once every 5,000 years. The current members of the Illuminati are seeking the two halves of the ancient Triangle of Light, a device with the capability for great destruction. As such, it's up to wealthy adventurer Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie, Wanted) to find the Triangle of Light before the bad guys do. Meanwhile, Lara also attempts to figure out what happened to her long-lost father (Jon Voight, Midnight Cowboy).
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is a noteworthy film for a variety of reasons. First, it's the movie which officially launched Angelina Jolie to superstardom; transforming her from promising young actress into the definitive female action star of the early 21st Century. It's also the film which paired up the father/daughter team of Jon Voight and Ms. Jolie (during one of their fleeting periods of reconciliation), one of the rare cinematic video game adaptations which doesn't completely suck, and one of the significant stepping stones in the career of future James Bond—Daniel Craig. Despite all this, I'm obliged to report this popular action flick isn't holding up so well, ten years after its initial release.
Watching the film in 2011, it becomes immediately obvious how much Angelina Jolie grew as an action star in just a few years. Contrast her work in Philip Noyce's thrilling Salt to her much more simplistic turn in this film; the difference is remarkable. Jolie doesn't act in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider so much as pose, turning nearly every action scene into an opportunity for freeze-frame friendly, magazine ready kicks, punches, and pouts. The "strike a pose" acting style can work in certain circumstances (consider Clint Eastwood's performances in Sergio Leone's early westerns), but this picture isn't sturdy enough to support Jolie's work.
One of the most significant problems is this undeniably silly blockbuster gets too caught up in the mechanics of its ridiculous plot. I don't mind the silliness of the planetary alignment idea, but the screenplay should have found a way to get the idea across in less time. In a nutshell: more of Angelina Jolie punching things, less explanations about why she needs to do so. The villains (one of the most amusing examples of the Old White Man Cabal hard at work) are thin, led by Iain Glen (Game of Thrones) doing bland work in what can best be described as "the Sean Bean role."
At least the action scenes manage to entertain, particularly a thrilling sequence in which Croft attempts to penetrate a container of fluid with a giant, pointy pendulum (not sure whether I'm supposed to do some Freudian analysis there—probably best left alone). Jolie fares considerably better when she's in butt-kicking mode, rather than when she's required to deal with dialogue scenes. Director Simon West stages everything with the same flair he brought to the similarly "silly but entertaining film which has aged rather poorly" outing Con Air. Perhaps Tomb Raider's greatest attribute is its set design, which is actually quite inventive and provides a treat for the eyes even during weaker moments.
I'm reviewing Lara Croft: Tomb Raider on Blu-ray several years after its release, and this 1080p/2.35:1 transfer serves as evidence of just how far the format has come. I sincerely doubt we'd get a ten-year-old catalogue release of a major blockbuster that looked this underwhelming today. The image looks quite standard-def, offering poor background detail and generally flat visuals. The whole thing just looks drab, which is a shame considering that some of the big action sequences ought to pop off the screen. Colors are a little more muted than they ought to be, while black crush is an issue during darker scenes. Audio is better, but not by much—again, the action scenes aren't nearly as overwhelming as they should be. Graeme Revell's oddball score hasn't aged particularly well and doesn't suit the film nearly as well as Alan Silvestri's effort on the sequel. Dialogue is mostly clear throughout. Sound design tends to be frustratingly front-heavy. Supplements are ported over from the DVD release: an audio commentary, five making-of featurettes ("Digging into Tomb Raider," "The Visual Effects of Tomb Raider," "The Stunts of Tomb Raider," "Crafting Lara Croft" and "Are You Game?"), some deleted scenes, an alternate title sequence, a music video, and some trailers.
Fans of the games may have a greater appreciation for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider than I do (middling by action movie standards, but quite good by video game movie standards), but I found revisiting this blockbuster a disappointing experience. The Blu-ray release certainly isn't worth an upgrade.
Kind of guilty.
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