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Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
It was PR gibberish, of course, as Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life wasn't as solid as, say, 1999's The Mummy. Instead of passing the buck, they should have planted their feet in the ground to defend this film. I know it's got an abysmal rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but critics typically miss the point with these kinds of films, right? Right.
This time around, Lara Croft is on the trail of Pandora's Box, a relic which helped to create life, but also has the power to destroy it. She finds a medallion and mysterious orb which can lead her to it, but when assassins hired by crime lord Chen Lo show up to pillage the goods, she has no choice but to leave the orb behind. Back home, Lara is visited by MI-6. They inform her that Chen Lo plans to sell the orb to Jonathan Reiss, a scientist turned bioterrorist, so they want her help in retrieving it. She agrees, but only if an old flame who knows Chen Lo's organization inside and out is released from prison.
From there, things are rather predictable. The script delivers minimal plot and character beats as an excuse to bounce us from one country to the next, with each location serving as an excuse for more ridiculous action set pieces against a gorgeous backdrop. I don't use the word ‘ridiculous' lightly, either. You can tell what to expect during the film's opening sequence, when Lara punches a shark in the face and grabs on to its fin and rides it to the surface for air. Your eyes are going to roll either way, but you'll either go with it, or you won't. Things only get more ridiculous from there, and much of the content on display is clearly about style over substance. When Lara is doing target practice from the back of a galloping horse, she twists and contorts her body in a variety of ways while rock music is playing. When she and her adventuring partner are meant to remain invisible, she hops onto a motorcycle and rides atop the Great Wall of China. When she meets her contact in Africa, she does so by parachuting directly into his jeep as it's moving through tough terrain. Every time you think the film has reached its peak of silliness, director Jan de Bont ups the ante.
And that's Cradle of Life in a nutshell: It's loud and ridiculously dumb. It embraces that quality, too, which makes the decision to interject a bit of heart all the more confusing. There's supposed to be romance between the characters Angelina Jolie and Gerard Butler play, but there's not a lick of chemistry between them. That makes it hard to not only root for them as a couple, but to even care in the first place.
That aside, I don't think any of the film's over-the-top antics or fatal script flaws hurt it, at least not too much. Most filmgoers aren't heading into a Lara Croft film and expecting Raiders of the Lost Ark. They're expecting something that's thrilling, but goofy. Again, as long as you're able to suspend disbelief for a couple of hours, that's an area where Cradle of Life excels. Sure, other films have done it better. You'll roll your eyes at some of the action and you'll wince at how bad some of the dialogue is, but its fast paced fun is well worth sticking around for.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life hits 4K UHD via the HEVC codec at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and I have mixed feelings about it. From a technical perspective, the encode on this disc is great. The bitrate is consistently high, and I didn't notice any compression issues or banding. Edge enhancement was nowhere to be seen, although I did see some haloing around an outdoor location in one particular shot, but that's likely a result of the source (which was a 2K DI) and not of digital tampering. Film grain has also been preserved to a highly respectable degree. There is some dirt on display (white specks), but not enough to be distracting.
That said, some artistic filtering choices hinder the picture quality overall.
The film has a warm and golden/orangish hue much of the time, and simply put, it can wreak havoc. Skin tones can often look too warm or orange themselves. In other films, this aesthetic choice has been known to, and actually does in this case, obliterate fine detail (skin textures, especially). A number of outdoor shots beg for vibrancy, but end up looking muted and flat. This isn't persistant throughout the entire runtime, though, as there are plenty of shots which do boast more natural colors, skin tones, and detail which is much more appreciable.
HDR is also handled well. The golden orb, bright lights, and most of the film's finale pop. Black levels are also strong more often than not, and shadow detail has improved as a result. But again, because that golden filter is applied as often as it is, there were numerous times I felt as if I were watching an SDR presentation.
Don't get me wrong, because this is the best the film has ever looked. There's no fault with how this encode handled the 2K DI. But that orange tint generally makes this an unattractive film, and I'm sure that will make some regret spending money on a 4K upgrade. If you're a fan of this flick and don't already own the Blu-ray, though, then this is a no-brainer.
This release comes with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, and it's quite good. It's not going to blow you away as much as a recent film will - this movie is about 15 years old, after all - but directional audio is on point. There's a lot of action in this film so your rears will get a nice workout, and the LFE, while not the best I've ever heard, really adds to gunplay and other roaring effects (Lara's jet ski, motorcycle, etc). Dialogue is prioritized extremely well, so you'll never have a hard time hearing people over all the action. The only thing I'll note is that I had to turn the sound up on my receiver a couple/few notches more than usual, but that's not out of the norm for certain discs.
-Deleted/Alternate Scenes with Option Commentary by Jan de Bont
-Vehicles and Weapons
-Gerard Butler's Screen Test
-Korn "Did My Time" Music Video
-The Davey Brothers "Heart Go Faster" Music Video
The Tomb Raider game from 2013 introduced the world to a more relatable Lara Croft. She's not an action star as much as she's a person who's learning, growing, and adapting to the world around her. But that's not how the franchise had always been. In the 1996 original, she was a versatile explorer with no limit to her bad-assery, and for better or worse, that's how she's portrayed in this cinematic franchise. That means the Tomb Raider films are entertainingly absurd, and as with any sequel, The Cradle of Life goes for broke. If you're the kind of person who can sit back and suspend your disbelief for a bit, you may find this film to be quite entertaining. If, however, you require a bit more in the way of intelligible plot or character development, then this flick isn't for you. For those onboard, the 4K disc is about as good as this movie can get. It's a nice transfer from Paramount where the encode is technically sound, although some artistic filter choices often rob the film of any meaningful ‘pop'. All in all, I had enough fun and enjoyed the quality of this release enough to recommend it.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!