Neither great nor the worst feature film I've seen this Summer, "Tomb Raider" is sufficently loud and busy enough to distract the eyes for 97 minutes (the presence of Angelina Jolie helps), but the film lacks in about every other catagory. Much like the rest of the Summer pictures, several screenwriters took a try at the script and it doesn't seem like any of them could come up with much of an engaging story - or, to go into greater detail - dialogue that isn't occasionally unintentionally funny.
Jolie plays Lara Croft, one of the most popular video game characters ever brought to the small screen. On the big screen, Croft is a heiress/photojournalist/tomb raider/crime fighter/you get the point. She lives in a giant mansion with an assistant named Bryce (Noah Taylor), a butler (Christopher Barrie) and thoughts about missing her father (Jon Voight), who dissapeared years ago. After an opening sequence where Lara takes on a robot opponent who she trains with, she stumbles onto a plot about a centuries old group who are planning for an event that hasn't happened in 5,000 years. The planets will align in a certain way, revealing two puzzle pieces that, when put together, will give the user the power of God.
And, from the begining onwards, we're never unsure of how it's all going to end. Jolie is sassy and vibrant and makes for a good action hero, but she's almost too good. Croft beats up every bad guy, including a small army that invade her house looking for a clock that's a piece of the puzzle. Her competition in the race is Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) and Glen's character (as well as the rest) are so one-dimensional that there's no real question about where this is going. Not only are the supporting characters one-dimensional, some of the performances are less than passable, with little energy. It's loud and chaotic, but we're never really that tense or that invested, since Lara not only seems to be having no trouble taking on her attackers, but laughs most of it off.
Speaking of Lara, that brings us to Angelina Jolie. Easily the best thing about "Tomb Raider", the actress adds at least some depth to her character that wouldn't have otherwise existed. She's buff, she's good with action sequences, but she doesn't quite have the humor that the film needs - it takes itself a little too seriously at times for a Summer picture. Jolie has a nice smirk, but she doesn't have the comedic timing (nor does the picture have the energy or humor) of Brendan Fraser's "The Mummy". Technical credits are generally very good. There's very good cinematography from Peter Menzies, Jr (who also worked on director West's "General's Daughter"), good production design from Kirk M. Petruccelli and a few scenes with respectable digital effects, although I won't give away the details of those sequences.
Look, I'm not asking for deep acting or fully-realized characters from a Summer movie and "Tomb Raider", although not great, is certainly not the worst thing I've seen this Summer. It's one of those films that just entertained me enough so that I wasn't tempted to go play the video games in the lobby. At the same time, there's nothing too memorable about it. Is a good villian too much to ask? Dialogue that doesn't inspire unintentional giggles? A plot that is a little bit more than something to string several action scenes on? Jolie succeeds quite pleasantly as Lara - I just wish the rest of the film could have risen to the challenge.
VIDEO: "Tomb Raider" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Paramount has gotten better and better in regards to video quality, but "Tomb Raider" still has some minor flaws here and there that keep this transfer from being reference quality. Sharpness and detail are certainly not wanting in any regard, as the picture looked consistently crisp and well-defined, with no issues with softness in the slightest.
As for the concerns, they were minor, but enough to keep the film from looking its best. Some slight edge enhancement appeared on a couple of occasions, as did a few minor traces of pixelation. Some scenes also had some visible light grain. The usual offenders in terms of print flaws - irritating small specks, the occasional mark - are absent.
Colors are presented quite well throughout the picture, as although "Tomb Raider" offered a rather subdued palette during most of the picture, occasional scenes (such as when Croft visits the monks) presented richer, brighter colors. Whether or not the film looked more vibrant, colors looked accurate across the board. Black level seemed strong and flesh tones came through looking accurate and natural. Not without a few small concerns, but overall, a very nice transfer from Paramount.
SOUND: "Tomb Raider" presents almost exactly the kind of soundtrack that one might expect from it. The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is highly agressive, presenting a legion of surround effects throughout the most intense action sequences, especially the raid on Croft's mansion that occurs a little ways into the picture, which is a demo-worthy sequence. The surrounds agressively reinforced the music and came through with crisp sound effects. If I had to be picky, I felt the pounding techno-score had a bit too much presence at times, but this was a minor complaint, as the overall audio experience was a terrific and highly entertaining one.
Audio quality remained stellar throughout, as the sound effects came through crisply and with solid power behind them. The action sequences really delivered strong low bass, as well. The previously mentioned mix of techno and classical music also sounded warm and rich. Even dialogue comes through the chaos in one piece, as it was not overshadowed by any other elements and came through sounding clear and natural - even dialogue in spaces like a hall or in a cave had a realistic-sounding slight echo. Although "Tomb Raider" doesn't present a wall-to-wall agressive sound experience, the film's main action sequences were very impressive. The film's sound designer and supervising sound editor was Steve Boeddeker, who was also the sound designer for "X-Men".
MENUS:: Paramount has recently started to offer impressively animated main and sub-menus on a more frequent basis for their larger titles. Although they've done a nice job again for the "Tomb Raider" menus (complete with 5.1 audio, no less), the sub-menus are a tiny bit less clear and easy to navigate than they should be.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Simon West, who has previously offered a commentary track for Paramount's DVD edition of his "The General's Daughter". As with that discussion, he sometimes sounds like he's reading from prepared notes, but here he seems more relaxed and talks in not only greater detail, but greater quantity. Although there are some minor spots throughout where the director doesn't speak or talks about how wonderful his cast or crew is, I did enjoy his discussion of what steps needed to be taken to produce some of the film's biggest sequences and tidbits on the more subtle moments (locations, moments that were deleted, working with the actors, etc.). While not a terrific commentary, West seems to be getting better at discussing his films.
Crafting Lara Croft: As with the girls from "Charlie's Angels", Angelina Jolie had to go through some very serious physical training to be able to pull off as many of the film's stunt pieces that she could. The entertaining element of this featurette is really Jolie, who is witty and funny about her previous physical status before she went into training. Jolie's father, Jon Voight, also has a funny moment when he discusses what it was like to see his daughter transformed into Croft. The featurette is nicely detailed about the exact training that the actress had to go through, going from doing yoga in the morning to weapons training in the afternoon.
Digging Into Tomb Raider: This is the main "making of" documentary about the feature and, aside from a few promotional moments, it's a suprisingly well-made documentary that goes into sufficent, if not exceptional detail about many elements. We learn a bit about the previous history of Croft's previous history in the video games and then go further into how the video game was translated into a feature film. The documentary shows and discusses how ideas and concepts about the story went into the final feature, as well as how effects and stunts were done. Some of this documentary does go over the same ground that the other documentaries do, but I still found it better than the usual promotional fare that these documentaries turn into.
Stunts: This is another of the smaller, more specific documentaries that prove to be quite enjoyable. This part focuses on the fact that Jolie performed many of her own stunts during the film, which is quite unusual for a leading actress to do. This 9 1/2 minute documentary also provides additional behind-the-scenes footage of these stunts and interviews with Jolie and crew.
Deleted Scenes: 4 deleted scenes are presented in somewhat rough looking anamorphic widescreen, with no optional commentary from director West. The scene, which seem to slightly explain things further, were likely cut simply for pacing reasons.
U2: Elevation: The group's music video is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen; it's a very funny and creative video that's a lot more fun than the usual "music video promoting movie" efforts.
Are You Game?: A short featurette on the "Tomb Raider" video game history and how the character became famous even before the feature film.
Alternate Title: An alternate opening title sequence.
Visual Effects: This section is broken into eight sections, each one a short featurette where the film's visual effects supervisors discuss the specific sequence, then go into further detail in both discussion and visuals to show us how the sequence was completed, step-by-step. These sequences include: "Time Storm - Husky", "Time Storm - Powell", "Stone Monkeys", "Griffins", "The Brahman" (in my opinion, the film's most impressive effect), "Droid", "Clock" and "Knife". The film's effects were done by Cinesite and Mill Film, both of whom are also working on the effects for the upcoming "Harry Potter" movie.
Notes: Look for an easter egg hidden under the "main menu" option on the special features menu. DVD-ROM features are also offered, including a "Tomb Raider timeline", game demo and web-link. Also, there's no trailer included on the DVD - this could be due to a music rights issue or some other problem.
***UPDATE: Since the DVD has now reached "street date", a further level of interactivity is available through the DVD-ROM portion of the DVD. Computer users need to have their internet connection running for this area, though. Once opened, the main feature of this online section is an interactive video game that runs during the feature. Given the general instability of my computer that I was running this feature off of, I was suprised that everything stayed normal and nothing crashed during gameplay.
Although the addition of a DVD-ROM game isn't entirely new (I believe Buena Vista's "Scary Movie" also offered this), Paramount's efforts here are impressive and the game is quite creative. A mixture of trivia questions (thankfully, they're a mixture of easy and difficult instead of just plain easy) and interactive games, I found this feature to be fun and challenging. The graphics are also quite slick and enjoyable, as well. The questions and games take place in the lower portion of the screen, while the film itself plays in a box on the top portion.
As I mentioned before, the game isn't easy - viewers are given the choice of different health items to start off the game and they can be used to "refuel" after health is lost during one of the games, for example. Although I didn't get very far during my few inital attempts to play the game (if you don't make it through the entire feature, a message similar to something out of TV's "Weakest Link" appears: "The movie continues...but you do not!". You are then given the option to restart the challenge. It'd be nice to be able to restart where you left off, but like I mentioned before - it's not easy, but it is a fun game. This new online portion also includes more pictures from the movie and a game preview.
Final Thoughts: "Tomb Raider" is flashy, loud and occasionally entertaining, thanks to a sassy and enjoyable performance from Jolie. More often than not though, it comes across as rather standard action fare. Paramount's DVD edition presents the film with excellent audio quality and video quality that's good, but a few steps away from greatness. Supplements are enjoyable, as well. For those action fans who didn't check out the film in theaters, it's probably worthy of a rental. Those who are already fans should certainly seek a purchase.