Copyright 2001 Source:

[ May 16th 2001 ]

Simon West, the man charged by Paramount Pictures to helm it's 100m action adventure movie Tomb Raider from the computer game of the same name, talks about directing one of this summers most anticipated motion pictures:

Simon West was skeptical when first approached to direct the big-screen adaptation of the popular video game "Tomb Raider," starring Angelina Jolie as butt-kicking, pistol-packing, yet well-mannered Lara Croft. Having most recently helmed blockbuster "The General's Daughter" for Paramount, the studio was keen on attaching him to its latest acquisition. But, he says, "like most people, I was a real snob about films made out of video games. I thought, 'That's a ridiculous idea,' and I hadn't seen any good ones in the past, so I supposed I was as prejudiced as anybody against it." It didn't help that the scripts in circulation for the project perpetuated the posh cliches about his home country of Great Britain. "[They were] all about red buses and tea with the Queen and bobbies with funny police hats on," West says. "[That England] doesn't exist, really, and I wanted to show that you could have an English character that was very cool and hip and exciting.

"So no one in the film drinks tea," he continues. "Everyone drinks coffee because the English all drink Starbucks as much as the Americans now." West finally agreed to take on the project if he could start the story over from scratch. "I basically said, 'I'll do it if you let me change everything in the script except her name and the title of the film,'" he says. That he wasn't much of a gamer didn't deter West from bringing to life one of the most beloved characters in geek culture. "Funny enough, the only [video] game I had played was 'Tomb Raider,'" he says, "because so many people were addicted to it that you go over to a friend's house and they say, 'You've got to play this game.' It was one of the few ones I actually had had a go on. "And of course I knew the Lara Croft character because even if you've never played the game, she seems to be omnipresent," he continues. "Newsweek or one of those magazines did a survey on the most recognized women in the world -- or even if it was just people in the world -- and she was in the top 10 with Madonna, Mother Teresa and the Pope, and she's not even a real person. I couldn't escape knowing who Lara Croft was."

Even so, while Lara Croft is a universally recognized figure (pun intended), in reality, not much is actually known about her. "I figured that when you bring a character to life like that, everyone wants to know everything about her because they've frustratedly been staring at her back or whatever it is they stare at when she's running around in these tombs," West says. "They want to know what the inside of her house looks like and what her bedroom looks like and what her bathroom looks like and what car she has in the garage and what she does for fun when she's not tombraiding, how does she relax, who works with her, what are her friends like. Inventing all those things is fun." West was likewise creative with the pic's settings, attempting to remove the project as much as possible from the Indiana Jones-type action-adventures that had preceded it and have inspired video games like "Tomb Raider." "I definitely wanted to go somewhere that didn't have any sand or pyramids or anything like that because that's what I always think of when I think of these films, that you touch the magic stone in the wall and the big, Styrofoam block moves out of the way and all the spiders and cockroaches run out and everyone runs away," West says.

Instead, the silver screen adaptation of "Tomb Raider" is set in diverse locales such as Iceland and the remote jungles of Cambodia, "where these 900-year-old temples, which were deserted about 400 years ago, have these fantastic trees of a prehistoric scale growing up through their roofs," he says. "You get this great mixture of nature and ancient architecture mixed together, which fitted in with my vibe for the film. I wanted to make it sort of New Age mysticism rather than campy mummies coming out of walls and things like that." The locations weren't without their hazards, however. "Iceland was probably the most hazardous place we were at," West estimates. "We were 1,000 feet up on this glacier with [these amphibious landing craft from the 1940s], which are barely designed to go on roads. Of course, I insisted that these things were taken up to the top of the glacier because they looked so cool driving across the tundra. "When we scouted the location, it was all beautiful, pristine, soft snow and easy to cross. Three months later when we shot it, all the snow had melted, and it was down to permafrost, the ice, which had these huge cracks every 20 feet in it that went down [so far] you couldn't even see the bottom of it. I think it was two kilometers thick, this glacier, and so these [cracks] went right down to the heart of it.

"Driving these vehicles, we got one stuck in one of them, and it started slipping down one of the crevasses. Of course, the first thing everyone does is jump off, which is the worst thing you can do because the locals say that they reckon that the vehicles were so big that they would never fall very far -- they would get wedged. But a person would fall down two kilometers, and you would never be able to get them out again. That was the scariest part, when we got stuck in a crevasse. It was like a classic movie moment where the thing's just sinking slowly." West ignored his filmmaking instincts during the ordeal, however, and didn't capture it on film. "At that point, we go, 'You know what? It's only a film. Forget the cameras. We just want to get out of here alive.' We're not real action heroes." "Tomb Raider." Starring Angelina Jolie. Directed by Simon West. Written by Patrick Massett, John Zinman and Simon West. Produced by Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin and Colin Wilson. A Paramount release. Not yet rated. Opens June 15th.

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