Copyright 2001 www.tombraiderchronicles.com Source: Time Canada

[ March 19th 2001 ]

Chris Taylor from Time Canada scores this report on Paramount Pictures latest action adventure movie Tomb Raider starring Oscar winning actress Angelina Jolie as Eidos Interactives Lara Croft:

The presence of james bond is everywhere in the enormous stage built for 007 films in London's Pinewood studios. You can even find Sean Connery dropping in to snack in the cafeteria. But recently a different action hero has set up residence. Major space on the lot was given to Croft Manor, a Victorian mansion decorated with grand staircases, stained-glass windows and prehistoric pottery. In one corner, there's a glass-walled computer room filled with a dozen flat, plasma screens that monitor the solar system. Beside them sits an evil-looking robotic biped that serves alternately as sophisticated jukebox and lethal assassin. As anyone who has played the smash-hit video game Tomb Raider can tell you, Croft Manor is the home of Lara Croft, the aristocratic female archaeologist with an eye-popping physique and an Indiana Jones-size taste for travel and adventure.

Croft aficionados, though, have never known the place to look this high-tech, or this highly detailed. They have also never met its other inhabitants: the butler, the sardonic tech geek who lives in a trailer out back, or Lara's late father, Lord Croft, who will appear in his manor's observatory packed in the dry ice of a dream sequence. Come June, would-be tomb raiders will see all of this and more when the nearly $100 million Hollywood version of the game hits the big screen, carrying Paramount's bid to cash in on moviegoers' newfound fascination with female action heroes. A hit could generate a succession of sequels, just the way Bond has. But the history of video-game transfers from the computer screen to the big screen is dismal. Remember Wing Commander, starring Freddie Prinze Jr.? How about Super Mario Bros. with Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper? Probably not, or at least not fondly.

Hard-core game fans, more familiar with controlling action than with merely observing it, are liable to sit in their local cineplex with itchy trigger thumbs. So Paramount is pulling out all the stops to make its flick an eye-catching thrill ride for gamers, filming in locations ranging from the lavish set at Pinewood to the legendary temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, bringing in Con Air's Simon West to direct and, most important, hiring Angelina Jolie to star. From the release of the first Tomb Raider in 1996, the game's star, Lara, was designed to be different. In a videogame scene filled at the time with Uzi-toting brain-dead lugs, here was a nimble and refined British heroine who oozed sex. Her style was a wonderful collision of opposites: preppy pigtail and glasses with pistol-packing twin thigh holsters. Male video gamers were hooked. And for the first time, so were their wives and girlfriends. "I think [Croft] is a new definition of celebrity," says Tomb Raider producer Lloyd Levin. "Christina and Britney have massive popularity, but they are vacuous, so absolutely vacuous.

"A lot of females love Lara. She's contradictory, very human and obsessed with death. She'd rather be in tombs than in the daylight. She's not contrived, she speaks her mind, she's honest. That's why Angelina's so perfect." Probably no human could live up to the sexy-tough-girl fantasies that Croft has inspired, but Jolie--with her uplifting Triumph bra and cool intensity--may well satisfy the most hard-core Tomb Raider fans. "I didn't want a bimbo movie all about tight costumes," says Simon. "With Angie, I can get an Oscar-winning performance in every scene, but she'll still satisfy the lust in Lara that everyone sees ... She's sexy, and I think a very slight tomboy. People are also now comfortable with female action leads. People can have their cake and eat it."

The Oscar-winning actress admits she had her own doubts about slipping into Croft's boots. She had never played Tomb Raider and knew the character only from watching her first husband, Jonny Lee Miller, play the game. Says Jolie: "Like every woman, I'd go, 'Ugh, her! Oh, boy, there's a woman who makes me look average and feel inferior.' I hated her. I'm praying now I can live up to her." To prepare for the role, Jolie stuck to an aggressive regimen of kickboxing, canoeing, yoga and bed by 11 p.m. She affects a proper British accent for the film, something that may be a bit surprising to American theatergoers but that producers considered a necessity. "We're not trying to be Merchant-Ivory here," says Levin, "[but] Lara is as British as Bond, and the heritage is really important."

In the film Jolie does nearly all her own stunts, which include bungee jumping, sword fighting, spear throwing, and even dogsledding in Iceland (which stood in for Siberia). "People say to me, You're a serious actress playing an action movie," she says. "But this is the hardest thing I've ever done." Both the stunts and sets attempt to stick close to what game players would expect. Consultants from Eidos, the software company that makes the game, hung around to be sure West didn't stray too far from the Croft mythology. Adrian Smith, the man who first typed the code that brought Lara into being nine years ago, traveled to the London set to give his blessing. Smith was impressed that Croft Manor's Old Library was stuffed with genuine, dusty old books on archaeology that visitors to the set could actually pick off the shelf and read.

As in the game, the movie plot has Croft setting out in search of an ancient and mystical artifact: in this case, the two components of the Clock of Ages, a dusty device that tracks the alignment of the planets and may help solve the mystery of her father's death. But there are changes in the way Croft goes about her business. Far from being a full-time tomb raider, she now has a day job as a Pulitzer prizewinning photojournalist (why or when she has time to do this is unclear, but cameras and prints are scattered around Croft Manor). And rather than spending the whole movie in the game's traditional green tank top and khaki shorts, Jolie goes through 13 costume changes, including an Eskimo parka and a monk's robe. While sweating it out on the steamy, mosquito-ridden Angkor Wat temple set in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Jolie kept her irreverent sense of fun. "In some ways, it's a good job Billy's not here and I'm in a monk's costume," she said, referring to her husband, actor Billy Bob Thornton. "Otherwise we'd be out in those fields getting it on."

If there's any development that will rub Tomb Raider fans the wrong way, it's Croft's newfound pals. In the game, she operates alone. Now, perhaps, Croft has too many sidekicks. The spectral presence of her father (played by Jolie's real-life dad, Jon Voight) is a cute addition, but we could probably do without the cockney comic relief called Bryce (played by Noah Taylor, the teenage David Helfgott in Shine). At any rate, Jolie feels right at home in her strange new world. "All the reasons I'm right for this movie are all the reasons I've been told I wasn't right for things," says Jolie. "I was always told I was too dark, strange looking ... In this character I can finally be more myself. And it's shocking that this is who I am. I'm like, 'My God--why does this feel so normal?'"

With reporting by Stephen Short/ Angkor Wat for Time Magazine, Canada

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