It Belongs in a Museum – Revisiting Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Rod revisits the cinematic debut of Ms. Croft fifteen years later and asks the question: Should this be left by the sands of time or celebrated in your collection?

This month marks the fifteenth anniversary of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), and while it may not be the greatest video game to film adaptation, I actually consider it to be one of my favourites in the genre, as well as being one of the better ones.

Angelina Jolie portrays Lara Croft in the best way possible, and I think she was a great casting choice. The biggest selling point of Croft to many was her appearance, and while some may see that as the only noteworthy aspect – as well as her sizeable assets – there’s much more to her than mere good looks. Lara is definitely beautiful, but she’s also an intelligent and resourceful woman who never gives up no matter what the odds. The character is a survivalist and I think these traits help make Lara Croft a strong female character. What Jolie also conveys really well is Lara’s sense of humour, and the fact that she enjoys what she does. I can’t help but still crush on Angelina as Lara!

These days, video games can tell more detailed stories and, when you look at the narrative of a game, you see that they have a full plot powering them just like a movie. In a film, the plot is dictated by the actions of the main protagonist or other characters, as well as events which occur that are out of the character’s control due to external factors. In a video game, the plot is not only dictated by what other characters and external factors are programmed and scripted to do, it is also moved forward by the player controlling the main character. For example, a level cannot be completed if the player doesn’t move their avatar through the stage and perform the required actions in order to progress. Films are more passive whereas games are more interactive and passive at the same time. However, this difference doesn’t mean translating games to film is a pointless endeavour for both filmmakers and viewers, because storytelling methods in both mediums are ultimately very similar.

When it comes to adapting video games, not only does the story need to be adapted properly, but you must also translate gameplay elements into live-action well. Not everything in a game can be translated, of course, but as long as the main elements that define the source itself are carried over, then a video game movie is more successful in my eyes. In the case of Tomb Raider, the main components are exploration, climbing, using flares to light your way, running, jumping, and performing somersaults and flips. Lara is not only acrobatic and very athletic in the film as well, but she also uses her trademark twin pistols, rides a motorbike, drives a jeep, and naturally explores tombs. There is even a scene where statues come to life, including a very large one, and this is exactly the kind of thing that has happened in the games before. The opening scene is not only an homage to tombs and collecting artifacts, but it is also a great way to immediately show off Lara’s skills, not only appeasing longtime fans but to let casual audiences know what kind of character Lara is. Jolie really put hard work and effort into this and it definitely shows, which is another reason why I enjoy this film.

Tomb Raider sees Lara going after artifacts which will form the Triangle of Light, which was split into two halves centuries ago, and each part was taken to a different section of the world for safe keeping. Lara has a dream about the upcoming alignment of planets which was foretold to occur, and in this dream, she remembers what her father once told her about both the alignment and the Triangle. One night, Lara is awoken by the sound of a clock she can hear ticking, and upon investigating the source, discovers the clock which has a hidden device inside of it. When connected as a whole again, the Triangle of Light is said to give the one who possesses it the ability to alter time as they see fit. Due to the emotional nature of Lara’s father going missing years prior, she wants to seize this opportunity in order to go back in time to be with her dad. But it is also something the Illuminati have had their eyes on for some time now, and they will do anything to harness the Triangle’s power. The disappearance of Lara’s father naturally forms the emotional core of the film. This was further cemented by the fact that Jolie’s real-life pops, actor Jon Voight, portrays Lara’s dad. It was an emotional scene not only for the characters but also for Jolie and Voight, who have had an estranged relationship for many years. It is one of the reasons why this adaptation is a little higher in my esteem than other gaming tie-ins, because it conveys that emotion very well.

Iain Glen plays the film’s main antagonist Mr. Powell, a member of the Illuminati, and you can tell he’s having a great time playing the character. Even though he’s a villain, he exudes a certain kind of charisma and charm which he tries to use on Lara as a way to get under her skin, which he isn’t able to do, but still, it’s a trait which makes him a baddie you love to hate. This was actually the first of several films based on games that Glen has acted in, also starring in two of the Resident Evil movies, Apocalypse (2004) and Extinction (2007), in which he also played a villain.

Lara’s butler Hillary is played by Chris Barrie (Red Dwarf‘s Rimmer) and he does much more than Lara’s aid did in the games. He actually uses a shotgun in this film in the scene where mercenaries break into Lara’s manor to steal the clock she has found. So, if you were expecting a scene where Lara locks her servant in the freezer, then you will be disappointed. Lara is also helped by her techie friend and assistant, Bryce (Noah Taylor), who helps with her training, which we see in the opening scene when his robot, Simon, fights Lara.

An actor you would definitely recognise now also starred in the first Tomb Raider film: Daniel Craig, still our official James Bond. He puts on an American accent for the role, and while there are those who think he does a terrible job, it personally doesn’t bother me. I liked him in this movie. He has a certain rapport with Jolie which he shares with his character Alex West and Lara Croft. They have an antagonistic relationship but they also have an attraction towards each other. While you could classify Alex as Lara’s love interest, they don’t make a big deal out of it, and I like that because, too often in films, the romance angle can get in the way of the story being told.

There was a sequel called Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) directed by the helmsman of Speed (1994), Twister (1996) and The Haunting remake, Jan de Bont, who was also a cinematographer on Die Hard (1988). In my eyes, while Jolie puts in another great performance as Lara Croft, the sequel just doesn’t match the first because it is where they tried to make Lara out to be a female James Bond. But that’s not all; Lara is even given a mission by MI6, and it just feels like they weren’t too concerned about the high adventure side of things. The first – directed by Con Air‘s Simon West – is much more of an archetypal adventure film along the lines of Indiana Jones, and that to me is the essence of the earlier games.

Overall, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider may not be the best adaptation of a video game classic in the eyes of many people, and it may be a terrible movie to some. But if you enjoy adventure flicks with action thrown in, or if you like seeing a movie with a female hero, then definitely give Tomb Raider a shot. Even if you’ve seen it before, give it another watch, because you may end up liking it upon repeat viewing and reflection. For me, this is a fun and action-packed thrill ride, and being a huge fan of the games and the character of Lara Croft is an added bonus. I love this character, and in this film, Angelina Jolie’s performance is so infectious that, whenever she is onscreen, I can’t help but sit there grinning widely like an idiot.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • When Lara starts smashing the clock with a hammer, Hillary uses a silver tray to protect his face. This is a reference to the games in which -while exploring Croft Manor – the player can shoot at the butler who then also uses the tray he’s carrying around to protect himself.
  • Towards the end of the film when Lara finds a bunch of wolves, she says “A-ha.” This was a link to the original games where Lara would uses this phrase whenever she picked up an item.
  • This film marks the first time in more than three decades that a Hollywood production has been filmed in Cambodia, the previous film being Lord Jim (1965).
  • Highest grossing action film with a woman in lead role. Second is Aliens (1986).

Rod Petrie

Gamer since 1988 at the age of five. First system was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Favourite retro systems - NES, SNES, N64, MegaDrive, PS1, and PS2.

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