Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2000)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight, Noah Taylor
Extras: Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Music Video, DVD-ROM Features

Certain that a film derived from a smash video game and featuring the curvaceous Angelina Jolie would result a sure-fire hit with Summertime moviegoers, the execs at Eidos Interactive Ltd gave the green flag to Paramount Pictures to bring "Lara Croft – Tomb Raider" to breathtaking life on the big screen. Of course, the success of a video-game-turned-movie effort relies heavily on the translation – something that the bevy of screenwriters employed on this picture weren’t too deft at, earning this valiant effort a well-deserved panning from reviewers and game enthusiasts alike. And although it failed to meet box office expectations, Paramount Home Video has brought this nearly incomprehensible action and effects debacle to DVD in stellar fashion, perhaps hoping to cajole any uninformed viewers that this might be the action picture of the year. Sadly, it isn’t.

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.

And that’s about the depth of it because once this trite premise has been established, the film becomes mired in an overdone and poorly placed visual effects spectacle made more confusing thanks to a hyperactively impatient editing style. And while Summer film fare is expected to be somewhat mindless, here’s what’s unforgivably frustrating about this film: Lara Croft is an interesting character and Angelina Jolie is truly capable of making "Tomb Raider" a compelling and lucrative franchise. But, thanks to an adaptation that more closely resembles the frenetic pace of a music video, this film seemed to spill out in front of my eyes without ever attempting to involve me in any way. In fact, it speeds across my screen so quickly it’s as if the filmmakers intentionally attempted to exclude me from the experience altogether.

Director Simon West ("Con Air," "The General’s Daughter") at first balked at taking on the project. Unfortunately, the folks at Eidos didn’t balk at him after they read the shooting script. Clearly, this film is loaded with what would be terrific technical effects and stunning sets, however, the stingy editing provide us only scant seconds to take in what might have been interesting dialog, engaging character interaction, or gasp-evoking stunts. Instead, someone decided we viewers couldn’t possibly possess enough attention span to take in a more dimensional and meaningful story.

I’m most disappointed over Angelina Jolie. No, I have absolutely no qualms with her physical presence or her characterization of Croft – in fact, she was right on the money and is the only element that provides any redeeming value to this otherwise muddled mess. She is Lara Croft, or could be if given an reasonably intelligent and intelligible script with which to work. Sadly, all her effort is lost in this constantly out-of-control vehicle.

Artistic content notwithstanding, this is a well-produced DVD, if not a bit overdone (sound familiar?). Thankfully, the image here is clean and crisp without defects. The <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer is beautifully rendered, delivering the picture at its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The level of detail is impressive without any instances of image softness that I could detect. The coloring appeared quite accurate, with natural looking fleshtones and deep and rich black levels. The production design in itself presents a somewhat muted and monochromatic look that is perfectly restored on this DVD. The source print that was used for this transfer is clean and no compression artifacts are evident, making this a sparkling presentation.

The audio comes by way of a very aggressive <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 mix>. There’s no question that this soundtrack will be coming at you from all directions with a consistent level of engagement of the surround channels not to mention the ominous low-end booming that will rattle you in your seat. The film’s techno-score is treated well in this mix, adding to the high-intensity of the picture’s on-screen events. And through it all, the dialog remains clearly audible and understandable in spite of the aural melee.

Extra features? You bet – there’s a bunch of ‘em here, which is where I find the disc seems to try too hard. While I’m a definite fan of this sort of material, the goodies here come off as simply too slick, too promotional, and are entirely too heavily pitched – it’s delivered as if the filmmakers are still seeking some sort of distribution deal for the picture. Maneuvering through the menus, you’ll find a running commentary from director West – 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," and a very engaging DVD-ROM content that offers viewers the opportunity to play an Internet-augmented video game as the movie plays. A combination of trivia questions and clever on-screen graphics, this game is more of a challenge than that you may have encountered on other discs. Oh, and don’t forget to check the Easter Egg on the main menu that will lead you to a two-minute interview with actress Jolie and here real-life father, Jon Voight. Oddly enough, there are no teasers or trailers to be found here.

And though it might be difficult for me to convince I don’t actually hate this film, it’s true. I left the picture feeling disappointed as I saw a wonderful talent in Angelina Jolie upstaged by an uninspired plot line and an overabundance of visual effects that, though they would generally look cool, serve to get in our way of becoming more involved and better acquainted with the on-screen characters. And, yes, this is a heavily derivative film that liberally lifts from bona-fide hits like "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Matrix," "Batman," and, of course, James Bond. And while Lara Croft appears perfectly capable of outdoing 007, unfortunately she was unable to keep from perishing in this ill-conceived ambush of a motion picture. At least this turned out to be a great-looking and sounding DVD!