Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2000)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Noah Taylor, Iain Glen, Jon Voight, Christopher Barrie
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Main Title, Music Video, Trailers

"Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" was a bit of a disaster when it hit theaters in 2000. Unable to capture the essence of the video game and unable to create a satisfying movie watching experience, to most viewers Angelina Jolie was really the only reason to see this film. Subsequently, the DVD while filled with bonus materials, also didn't really improve things a lot despite Paramount's best efforts. Now, in their first wave of HD-DVD releases, Paramount once again tries to give "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" some exposure. While the film is still pretty bad, in high definition one would expect that at least all the special effects and explosions will make it a bit entertaining. Well, your mileage may vary.

Photojournalist and tomb-raiding archeologist Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) lives a life of opulence in her sprawling estate, accompanied by a droll butler (Christopher Barrie) and tech geek assistant, Bryce (Noah Taylor). Though she is obsessed with arduous physical training and weapons handling, she is likewise preoccupied with thoughts of her long-lost father (Jon Voight), missing for years now. As chance would have it, Lara is presented with an odd letter written by her father before his disappearance, telling of the Illuminati, a centuries old group that is seeking an elusive timepiece that will reveal the two hidden pieces of the Triangle of Light. This Triangle, when re-assembled at the once-every-five-thousand-years alignment of the planets (which is an astronomical impossibility, folks), will yield the possessor the power to control time; the power of God! After finding the necessary timepiece her father had previously hidden yet which is subsequently stolen from her, Lara must race to retrieve the timepiece and recover the Triangle before the villainous Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) can acquire it for the evil Illuminati – or for himself.

The story is flat of course, as are all the film's characters. Not even Lara herself is fleshed out with any dimension or depth and while aptly cast, Jolie's portrayal of Lara Croft never manages to capture the Lara from the video games and is simply too distant and quite a bit too cool in all situations for her own good. A script with a bit better lines and some intelligent acting possibilities would have gone a long way but as it is, Jolie is simply wasted in this film, condemned to strutting her mammaries in a movie that resembles more an MTV music video than a real movie.

Since "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" seems to be one of Paramount's guilty pleasure films for some reason, one would expect that the HD-DVD version will make sure to impress viewers with its visual qualities at the very least. Sadly that is not the case. The high definition transfer is mediocre at best. A bit grainy and noisy, the transfer's biggest flaw are the banding artifacts that can be found in countless shots. HD-DVD is so much more capable of rendering really fine color gradients and subtle hues given its larger color space compared to, say, DVD. Therefore, being able to clearly see banding artifacts during normal viewing of the film are unforgivable. Sadly they are too plentiful and obvious to be ignored, as is the transfer's overly soft and muddy look that never manages to capture or show off a lot of detail. If I saw this presentation in a store without any more indications, I would expect this to be a DVD transfer as there is very little "high definition" to be found here.

The audio on the release comes as 5.1 channel Doby Digital Plus tracks that are incredibly aggressive and active. This soundtrack bombards the viewer from all directions at all times. The bass extension is very good, giving the track a lot of bottom while keep the high ends absolutely clean, ear and undistorted. The increased bitrate of the track improves over the regular Dolby Digital version found on the DVD with added clarity and a slightly improved dynamic range. A dts track is included on the disc as well but it is virtually identical to the Dolby Digital Plus track.

The release carries over all the extras from the DVD release, presented in 480p standard definition for the most part. Again, one can't shake the sense that the goodies here come off as simply too slick, too promotional, and entirely too heavily pitched – it's delivered as if the filmmakers are still seeking some sort of distribution deal for the picture. You'll find a running commentary from director Simon West here – a generally interesting and detailed discussion that warrants a listen. Beyond that, you'll find five featurettes: "Digging Into Tomb Raider," "Crafting Lara Croft," "The Stunts of Tomb Raider," "Visual Effects of Tomb Raider," and "Are You Game?" discussing the origin and development of the video game. While I found these featurettes to be generally informative, the gushing out by those interviewed about how wonderful this film is became tiresome to me. And, I actually found it laughable as Eidos execs liken Lara Croft as their Mickey Mouse, determined to have veto control over any production that might misrepresent or otherwise taint their franchise character. Oops!

There's more, though, as you'll find four deleted scenes, an alternate main title sequence (which is very similar to the opening of Tim Burton's "Batman"), the U2 music video for "Elevation."

Improving over the DVD version, this HD-DVD version of "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" actually includes the movie's theatrical teaser and trailer, both encoded in 1080p high definition, making them look really cool.

"Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" is a bad movie, no doubt and it is too bad that this high definition version looks pretty bad on top of it. It is a film you can throw in when you feel like seeing a completely mindless action adventure spectacle, but don't expect too much from this HD-DVD version. The shortcomings of the video transfer are bit heavy-handed for my taste destroying much of the experience.