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Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Paramount // PG-13 // September 26, 2006
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Joshua Zyber | posted November 17, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
Considering how shamelessly most video games steal all of their ideas from Hollywood movies, why is it that Hollywood still can't make a decent movie adaptation out of a game? Some of the best games have really juicy concepts and characters that should lend themselves well to a big screen reworking. Talented people have tried and great sums of money have been expended in the attempt, yet time after time we wind up with garbage like Wing Commander, Doom, or Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

Angelina Jolie stars in the latter as Lady Lara Croft, a wealthy adventuress who's well-endowed in multiple senses of the term. The appeal of the game is obvious; our heroine is a cross between Indiana Jones and James Bond, with enormous breasts and a waist the diameter of a nickel. With guns, gadgets, and a Wonderbra-enhanced tight T-shirt at her disposal, Lara runs, jumps, and jiggles her way through all manner of exciting scenarios in a globe-hopping adventure in search of exotic treasures. So follows the movie, only much louder.

The plot, as if anyone cares, has Lady Croft seeking out the two halves of a magical triangle (seriously!) that's the key element of an ancient conspiracy involving planetary alignments, secret societies, time portals, and other ridiculous nonsense. To find them she'll have to travel first to Cambodia (don't forget to pick up a baby while you're there, Angie) then to Siberia, in both places navigating through underground labyrinths, avoiding elaborate booby traps (no pun intended), and solving puzzles. Oh yes, she also has to shoot and blow up stuff. A lot.

The movie is loud, stupid, and boring. Directed by Simon West (Con Air, The General's Daughter), the picture is jumpy and never establishes a consistent tone from one scene to the next. The idiotic plot is so low on anyone's list of priorities that almost no attempt is made to explain what's happening, why the characters need their mystical thingamajig, or what it does. The uneasy mix of sci-fi and supernatural elements is also never properly established; we seem to be in a typical shoot-'em-up action movie, until from out of nowhere statues come to life and people start jumping backwards and forwards in time. Each scene simply provides a new excuse to blow up something new, but even to that end the action sequences are shot and edited incoherently. There's always a lot of random activity going on, illustrated with generally lousy CGI, and you can never quite tell what any of it is or means.

Tomb Raider is an unpleasant mess that just gets dumber and more obnoxious as it goes. Angelina Jolie would later prove herself a compelling action star in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but all this movie (and its equally dumb sequel) offer her are the opportunity to strut around in a push-up bra and spandex bike shorts with guns strapped to her thighs. Yeah, she looks hot, but that's not enough to justify 100 minutes of tedium.

The Blu-ray Disc:
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider debuts on the Blu-ray format courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The studio previously released the title on HD DVD in July of this year.

Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.

The Tomb Raider Blu-ray is encoded in High Definition 1080p format using MPEG2 compression on a single-layer 25 gb disc. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.

For an $80 million production, the movie has really blasé photography that's for the most part grainy, dull, and flat. I'm sure this was deliberate, but like so much else about the film it serves little artistic purpose. The High Definition image has only moderate sharpness and detail. I'm sure it's better than the comparable DVD edition, but it's nothing special by HD standards. Wide shots are frequently soft, there's little sense of depth, and colors are merely adequate without much pop to them. Aside from some specks on the source elements, I don't have anything specific I can pinpoint as being wrong with the disc mastering. The transfer is probably as faithful as it can be. This just isn't a very dynamic-looking movie.

The Tomb Raider Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.

The movie's soundtrack is provided in standard Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 formats. I compared the two and found the DTS track fuller and more involving. That said, this is a by-the-numbers summer action movie mix heavy on the bass and light on anything resembling subtlety or nuance. The only appropriate way to describe the soundtrack is loud no matter what volume you set it for. Bass is boomy and seriously overcooked, to the point where your walls will still be shaking even after you've reduced the dialogue and sound effects to a whisper. Naturally, the surround channels are also constantly buzzing with bullet ricochets and stuff blowing up behind you. This is certainly an aggressive, immersive mix, but one more grating than impressive. Audio fidelity is pretty blah overall. There's a ringing bell in the Siberia portion of the movie that resounds nicely through the soundstage, but otherwise gunshots and sound effects are much duller than expected.

Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles – English, English captions for the hearing impaired, French, or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - French or Spanish DD 5.1.

The disc automatically opens with a lengthy HD DVD promo that can fortunately be skipped but is a nuisance. All of the supplements from the DVD edition have been carried over, plus a couple of trailers. All features are presented in Standard Definition video with MPEG2 compression, except the trailers which are encoded in High Definition using VC-1.

  • Audio Commentary - Director Simon West focuses on the technical and logistical aspects of the production, such as the hassle of digitally painting out Jolie's many tattoos in any scene where she shows skin.
  • Digging Into Tomb Raider (25 min.) – A decent making-of piece covering development and production of the movie from game to screen. Stunts and visual effects are discussed, along with a bunch of promotional nonsense about the "spiritual heart of the film". Whatever.
  • Crafting Lara Croft (7 min.) – A look at Angelina's workout and training regimen to prepare for the role. She learns fighting and weapons techniques, and we get to laugh at the "Billy Bob Forever" tattoo on her arm.
  • The Visual Effects of Tomb Raider (20 min.) – A breakdown of 8 major VFX pieces from the movie. Hey look, it's all done in a computer! Wowzers! Never would've guessed that.
  • The Stunts of Tomb Raider (9 min.) – So Angie did all of her own stunts, huh? Yeah, sure, I believe that.
  • Are You Game? (8 min.) – Background history of the video game franchise. The primitive Playstation graphics are hilarious, but even funnier are the game developers trying very hard to divert attention from the real source of Lara Croft's popularity, her gigantic boobs.
  • Deleted Scenes (7 min.) – Four scenes that might have actually explained or advanced the plot of the movie, so clearly they had to go.
  • Alternate Main Title - This opening title sequence was much too cool for the movie, so it had to go too.
  • U2 Elevation (4 min.) – A movie tie-in music video that at least tries half-heartedly to play around with the standard format for such things. The band members are digitally inserted into clips from the movie, though without any rhyme or reason. Then there's a about $4 million worth of cheesy, overdone "Bullet Time" visual effects and explosions going on for no particular reason while the band plays.
Missing from the DVD edition are an easter egg interview with Jolie and her father (if it's on the disc I didn't spot it, though admittedly I didn't put much effort into looking) and some DVD-Rom games and crap. None are significant losses. New to the Blu-ray are:
  • Teaser Trailer (2 min.) – Presented in High Definition.
  • Theatrical Trailer (2 min.) – Also presented in HD.
Final Thoughts:
As a movie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider just plain stinks. As High Definition eye candy it's nothing special either. This is strictly rental material.

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