FOR LARA CROFT
Copyright 2000 www.aintitcoolnews.com
[ October 24th 2000 ]
great adventure must, by definition, contain some
element of risk. If that's true, then Simon West,
Angelina Jolie, Paramount, Mutual Films, and Larry
Gordon and Lloyd Levin are all having one hell
of an adventure right now, because they're attempting
what has been seemingly impossible up until now:
they are trying to make a great film based on
a video game. And the crazy thing is, they just
might pull it off.
honest, I had no expectations when I picked up
the TOMB RAIDER script. This thing's been through
a lot of hands on its way to the screen, and there
are whole takes that got chucked out along the
way. I remember when '80s action guy Steven E.
DeSouza was taking a crack at it. I remember a
couple of other permutations over the years. But
when I finally got my hands on the shooting draft
of the script, I didn't recognize any of the names
on the title page. P. Massett & J. Zinman, with
revisions by Laeta Kalogridis and more revisions
by Simon West. Ah. Simon West. Okay.
and THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER. Got it. Not exactly
a resume that fills me with confidence. Still,
anyone can flounder without the right material.
He's certainly not a terrible filmmaker. I cracked
the first page of the script totally open to whatever
I might find. Right away, it's apparent this is
the director's draft. It's an incredibly visual
script, every angle laid out, all the camera moves
in Venice, where we're introduced to the forces
of darkness in the film. One of the tricks in
crafting a large-scale adventure movie is making
sure your villains are worthy opponents for our
hero. In this case, MANFRED POWELL is addressing
a secret council of the ILLUMINATI, and a ticking
clock is set in place that sets a sense of urgency
from that moment on.
the secret society that runs the world is a suitably
daunting foe for Lara Croft, and they're etched
in quickly, efficiently, just before we smash
cut to Lara in the middle of a life and death
battle with a dangerous droid. It's a wicked,
rough first fight scene, and when it's revealed
that we're in Croft Manor, that she's actually
training, it's surprising because of just how
ferocious the training was. Lara doesn't play
nice. She doesn't even know how to play nice.
BRYCE (set to be played by the gifted Noah Taylor
from FLIRTING, SHINE, and ALMOST FAMOUS) is the
guy who handles the tech end of things for Lara,
and he comes in to check out how badly she's beaten
his machines up.
interact, HILLARY comes into the room, her butler,
and the three of them bounce off each other verbally.
Lara's closed off, sarcastic to a fault, and at
first I thought it was just going to be all hollow
attitude, a throwback to the '80s style of writing
these characters. I was wrong. By page 10, we've
introduced the memory of Lord Croft, Lara's father.
of Jon Voight isn't just smart; it's freakin'
inspired. Lara Croft's father is famous, a standout
in her field. There's a close bond between the
two of them, but there's also a remove. He's not
around. It sounds like it should be fairly easy
for Jolie to get in touch with her inner Lara.
This script is first and foremost about Lara coming
to some sense of peace with the loss of her father.
This entire adventure serves only to take Lara
to the next step, to get her over this particular
informs her every choice in the movie, and it's
one of the things that elevates the material,
that gives it some heft and resonance. We see
that Lara's slightly unhinged in time. She lives
in her memories of her father, keeping him alive
in that way, mulling over each moment they had
together. It's almost as if she's looking for
clues, trying to figure out some way to reverse
his death, as if the answer to all her pain is
waiting for her to stumble over it.
also the sort of nimble wit that informs everything.
When Lara's considering options for her next assignment,
she opens a file and sees pictures of Egypt, sand,
a pyramid. Right away, she tosses it aside, a
welcome sight for anyone who's seen the Indy films
and the new MUMMY and, well, pretty much any film
with an archaeologist in it since Dr. Jones was
introduced in '81. No Egypt. No sand. Thank god.
Lara's next adventure ends up finding her when
she is enjoying the first stage of a rare astronomical
inside Croft Manor begins to tick, some forgotten
hidden artifact. It's almost as if the alignment
has set off an alarm. What Lara finds when she
follows that simple ticking just might be that
answer she craves, that key to making her whole
life better. There's a rich supporting cast of
characters here, and one of the things I have
to respect about the way West is building this
film is casting. Noah Taylor, Angelina, Voight...
that's it for recognizable names.
Craig. Leslie Phillips, Iain Glen... these aren't
names I know. But I hope they were cast because
they managed to flesh out the characters here.
Don't try to dazzle me with big stars. Instead,
fill out this world. Sell me on the fantasy and
the epic nature of things, and let me just get
to know these characters. I like Taylor, but I
guarantee audiences are going to think of him
as Bryce from this point on if the film works.
He's like Q, but a little more markedly eccentric,
and young enough to be an interesting foil for
Croft. When she's in the field, he's always there,
in her ear, by radio uplink.
result, theirs is the relationship that really
stands out after the action scenes. ALEX MARRS
is a great supporting character, a guy who wishes
he was 1/10th as resourceful and skilled as Lara
is, who frequently finds himself five steps behind
her in the field. There's an electric sort of
sexual energy between he and Lara when they meet
at an auction in the film, and again when their
paths cross in Cambodia. There's Manfred Powell,
the main Illuminati bad guy in the film, who has
a great sort of antagonistic sparring energy with
Lara. There's WILSON, an old friend of her father's
who helps Lara figure out part of the mystery
that her father has left behind.
Lara's artifact brings her into the path of the
Illuminati, who only have a certain amount of
time to bring two pieces of an ancient puzzle
together to create an item of immeasurable power.
Sounds sort of RAIDERS, doesn't it? And in a way,
it is. But this doesn't strike me as a direct
riff, the way THE MUMMY was. As much as I enjoyed
the spirit of that film, it's a cartoon. It's
RAIDER plays a little harder, and it plays a little
deeper. I was surprised by how much I invested
in Lara and her father by the end of the film.
There's difficult choices that she makes that
mark her as a hero of real conscience and strength,
rather than just a babe in shorts who's good at
killing thugs. Don't get me wrong... this isn't
some talky chick flick by any stretch of the imagination.
several great action set pieces, including a clever
one at Croft Manor in the middle of the night
when Powell's goons come looking for something
and another that will take place in, on, and around
the location described here. Each of them defines
Lara or her relationships with Bryce, Powell,
Marrs, and even her father. None of them are just
action for the sake of it, and that's what intrigues
me most about this film. It's like a warm-up of
sorts for West's next announced picture, an update
of THE PRISONER. He says he's a major fan of the
show, and its influence shows in the way this
film's major action beats are structured.
set pieces are all built on clever ideas, smart
in both text and subtext. Lara's got a touch of
angst in the film, as befits a story driven by
the memory of her dead father, but she also loves
what she does. She's not Batman. There's joy in
travelling the world. She's doing what her father
raised her to do. More importantly, she's good
at it. The world is completely open to Lara, and
she knows it. She seems to attack situations with
two hands, digging in, drunk on raw experience.
got the exact right edge to play the role as written.
There's something in Lara that seems almost out
of control, and that makes her dangerous, and
that makes her even more interesting. I've written
before about how much I adore RAIDERS OF THE LOST
ARK, and in particular how much I respect Belloq
as played by Paul Freeman. Bear with me for a
moment as I digress.
a scene in the film where Indy and Belloq sit
across from each other at a table in a Cairo cafe.
It's just after Marion's "death," and it's my
favorite quiet moment in the movie. They're both
drinking, and Belloq says, "You and I are very
much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we
have both fallen from the pure faith.
methods have not differed as much as you pretend.
I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would
take only a nudge to make you like me. To push
you out of the light." Indiana gives that grin
that only young Harrison Ford could manage, full
of menace and challenge, and says, "Now you're
getting nasty." It's a great exchange, and it
sets them firmly on opposite sides of the table.
would never become Belloq because he's Indy. He's
the good guy. Period. Well, Lara Croft never told
anyone she's the good guy, so when this movie
brings us to a moment that's much the same, she
doesn't just crack wise and walk away. She makes
a deal. And when the climax of the film comes,
it's somewhere between the surreal mindgames of
the last few episodes of THE PRISONER and a Sergio
Leone film, with everyone looking out for themselves.
comes down to a standoff in The Tomb of Ten Thousand
Shadows, isolated in Siberia, with everyone vying
for The Power of God. The choices faced in this
scene make the whole film pay off, and without
giving it away, let's just say that I was unexpectedly
moved by the big finish. There's a reason they
didn't just pour a pair of tits into the lead
role of this film. Jolie's got to go through some
pretty harrowing beats to get to her final destination.
She gets worked over in a serious way, and that's
all right. The Lara Croft that comes out the other
side is both tougher than she's ever been, and
finally able to embrace some sort of life away
from danger and death.
a great joke in the opening credit sequence involving
a light floral print summer dress that is paid
off beautifully by film's end, a perfect example
of the kind of small detail that is layered onto
every major sequence of the script. I hope West
has left behind the sweaty slick chic of his Bruckheimer
debut. He tried to tone it down for THE GENERAL'S
DAUGHTER, but it was like he couldn't help himself.
Neither of those earlier films was anywhere near
as inventive as what he's got to work with this
time. I am rooting for him to pull it off. If
he does, then Paramount's got a viable franchise,
Jolie's an action hero, and there will finally
be concrete proof that any source material, if
treated with respect, wit, and a genuine desire
to entertain, can be turned into a great film.
birdie told me that there's going to be a major
announcement in the very near future about TOMB
RAIDER's official site, and there just might be
some cool glimpses at the world of Lara Croft.
It's worth keeping one eye... one single eye in
the middle of a triangle... wide open for news
about what could be next summer's coolest action
kick. Until then...