Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - Absolutely
Originally published in June 2001.
Historical note: While it may not be the best movie ever made, Angelina Jolie, to her credit, sells the role. By comparison, everything about the Wing Commander movie was awful.
The convergence of movie and video game production is progressing steadily toward its ultimate destiny - one giant entertainment industry. Movies are being made into computer and video games and computer and video games are being made into movies. The blending of these two entertainment forms combines the best and the worst of each and, unfortunately in the recent past, the worst has been the dominant result.
Memories of such disastrous to mediocre film offerings like those based on Wing Commander, Super Mario Brothers, Mortal Combat, and Tron, haunt me even now. While, going in the opposite direction, computer and video game conversions based on movies generally make me cringe. These past lackluster efforts reflected a cynical attempt on the part of witless executives in each industry to exploit what they perceived to be a cash cow. At some point, someone has to make one of these movies for the right reasons. When that happens, the result will be a blockbuster, of that I am sure.
So it was with these haunted memories of past failures that I decided to be brave and travel once more into the breach. I went to see Lara Croft: Tomb Raider on opening day. The movie stars the beloved icon of third-person action/adventure games, Lara Croft. For the movie, Lara is played by the mysterious Angelina Jolie. Is this the movie that cements the bond between these entertainment forms? I think it just might be.
First some background
In October 1996, when the first Tomb Raider computer game hit the shelves, the market was dominated by first-person-shooters like Doom, Quake, and a multitude of clones. Tomb Raider added two new aspects to computer games: a third-person perspective and Lara Croft. Soon after its release, Tomb Raider knock-offs engulfed the gaming market seeking to capitalize on a new trend. Notwithstanding the lackluster critical reviews, the game became a best-seller. I didn’t like the game myself – too much jumping, too many bugs, and too much emphasis on button manipulation. But critics don’t always predict success.
However, it was the establishment of Lara Croft as an iconic personality that changed the computer game industry forever. The character of Lara Croft transcended the medium in which she was first introduced to become part of the general culture. For the first time, a computer game character was recognizable enough to be used outside the medium to perform that one all-important capitalistic function – advertising. Visions of money danced in advertising executives’ heads.
And so it was inevitable that someone, somewhere would suggest that Lara Croft and Tomb Raider would be a good vehicle for a motion picture. Under similar circumstances, many very bad movies have been made, but that never deters movie-makers with deep pockets. I was braced for the worst and hopeful for the best.
Surprise! Finally, someone has made a good movie based on a computer game. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is a very slick action/adventure movie in the summer escapist movie tradition. Comparing this movie to series like Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, The Mummy, or any James Bond movie of the past, Tomb Raider more than holds its own. While it won’t win any additional Oscars for Angelina Jolie, it does hold your interest and it does entertain.
The plot is pretty standard action/adventure storytelling, the good guys must prevent the bad guys from doing bad-guy stuff. In this case, the bad guys are after an ancient extraterrestrial artifact that allows the user to time travel. The device is coveted by the Illuminati, a group often referenced by conspiracy-buffs as the people actually running the world. This super-secret power-hungry society wants to use the artifact to take full control and rule the world. Bad guys always want to rule the world, but no one ever explains why they want all that responsibility. Oh, well.
As you can see, the plot is merely a conduit for the action. And there is plenty of action. In fact the action sequences are fantastically staged and surprisingly fresh. The movie-makers took full advantage of Lara’s acknowledged prowess in survival skills and nimble antics to give viewers a wild ride marked by appropriate computer game style and attitude. The Lara Croft of the computer game is the Lara Croft of the movie.
Which leads me to the real gem of the movie: Angelina Jolie. This is first time I have seen Ms. Jolie in a movie and I was very impressed. I can see why she won an Oscar. She has tremendous screen presence. In Lara, she exudes confidence, power, danger, and sensuousness every second she is on the screen. And this tangible presence dominates every scene. Angelina Jolie is Lara Croft and I can’t see any other actress playing this part.
The computer-generated special effects and the stunt work are all top-notch. The innovative use of bungee cords in one of the action pieces was remarkable. Actually filming much of the scenes in the various exotic locales gives the movie a big-budget feel that belies its B-movie roots. However, I was disappointed in the soundtrack. The big-budget glitz so prominent in other production aspects was noticeably absent in the uninspired soundtrack. For the sequel, which I’m sure is being written at this very moment, I would like to see some prominent popular musicians participating.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is not Citizen Cane, but it is also not Wing Commander. This is a movie based on a computer game that was obviously made by people who understand what a computer game is and what appeal it holds for an audience. The movie captures the attitude and style of the computer game without reverting to the mistaken idea that computer games are only played by socially-inept little boys. The movie is clever and maintains a level of sophistication that places it head and shoulders above other movies with similar lineage. I was truly impressed by Angelina Jolie and here dead-on accurate depiction of Lara Croft as an attractive, self-sufficient, yet flawed heroine motivated by an inexplicably need for danger. While far from perfect, this was a fun movie. It is also a movie that marks the merger of film and video games into one form of entertainment, interchangeable in the eyes of the public. Entertainment is entertainment, the delivery method is now secondary.
I believe this summer marks a turning point in the evolution of entertainment in this country. Entertainment as an art form and a business is no longer constrained by the medium in which it is first presented to the public. Characters and stories can and will cross between the computer screen, the television screen and the big screen with increasing ease and increasing success. This summer will see another movie based on a video game, Final Fantasy, and a cross-platform video game version of the movie The Matrix should be ready by Christmas. And these are just two examples, more are on the way. If Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is any gauge, it should be a fun ride.