Copyright 2001

[ May 23rd 2001 ]

Aint It Cool News scores an exclusive report from Moriarty who recently witnessed cutting room footage from Paramount Pictures upcoming Tomb Raider movie:

One of the big question marks for many film fans is TOMB RAIDER, and when I was first asked if I wanted to take a look at some of the film, albeit in very rough form, I readily agreed. I was a big fan of the shooting script for the movie, surprised at how strong the character material between Lara and her father was, impressed by the casting of Noah Taylor and Chris Barrie as Lara's support team, positively thrilled with the idea of Jon Voight actually playing Lord Croft. As the trailers started being released, I remember liking much of the footage, but not really caring for the way the trailer was cut. To me, it was that same kind of slam-bang post-Bruckheimer hummingbird on crack rubbish that makes so much of what passes as "action" right now seem... well... dull.

I thought Angelina looked great, and there's been artwork like the billboard we first put up last weekend that I think captures the spirit of Lara Croft perfectly. I didn't really have any reason to trust Simon West, not being the biggest fan of his first few major films, but I knew he'd been a big part of the last draft of the script, that he really believed in this film. Bottom line... I was nervous as I greeted Lloyd, who I've had the pleasure of meeting several times in the past. He's a compact, remarkably calm presence, even when under the intense pressure of a production like TOMB RAIDER, still working to coordinate the finishing dates on material from six different FX houses, even when working to finish the recording of a new score by Graeme Revell to replace an old score by Michael Kamen, a process that's taken more than the ten days that was recently rumored on a number of sites. Lloyd seems unfazed by it all, as friendly as ever, and as we headed upstairs to one of the Avid bays where the film is being cut, we chatted back and forth about a number of films, both in release and coming soon. It's fun to see someone actually excited about other summer movies even as he preps one of his own.

Lloyd's got such a simple enthusiasm when you talk to him about the projects he's working on that you want to believe the best. You want to believe that this is going to be a monster hit, a great ride. That's what made me nervous. I knew I'd be honest with Lloyd, and no one ever likes to be the bearer of bad news. In that upstairs office, I saw a rough version of reel one of the film, the first fifteen or twenty minutes. The title sequence I saw, a CG fly-through similar to the opening to 1989's BATMAN, has been scrapped, and Lloyd tells me something totally different will be in place for the final film. I hope so. There's so many great images and designs and details in this film that the opening titles could be rich with texture, setting the stage. If I'm not mistaken, Richard Greenberg is working on the titles, and that's good news.

Like Maurice Binder or Saul Bass, Greenberg has made a career of creating vivid graphic sequences that encapsulate a film or that have an effect on an audience, like ALTERED STATES or THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, also creating memorable visual effects for films like PREDATOR, where he created the creature's distinctive POV. Most famously, he was the man who created those great opening credits for SUPERMAN - THE MOVIE. At any rate, it was "R/Greenberg Associates" that was watermarked on the footage at the tail end of the credit sequence, starting in tight on that shot of Angelina hanging upside down. She's waiting for something. When she's ready, she drops from her spot, twisting and flipping on the way down, landing perfectly, poised, ready for trouble. Right away, I noticed that it wasn't cut the same as it was in the trailer. Little things, but there was a refinement to it that made a difference. Lara's got her eye on a prize, and as she moves through this seemingly-ancient room, she stays focused. So focused, in fact, that she almost lets SIMON sneak up on her.

You've seen SIMON in the ads. He's the robot, one half of Lara's Kato in this film. Remember in the PINK PANTHER films when Inspector Clouseau would be randomly attacked by his henchman Kato? Well, SIMON is the physical half of the team that keeps Lara trained and ready, and in this fun opening sequence, SIMON does his stone-cold best to kill Lara, and she has to do about eight types of damage just to slow SIMON down. And watching the way the film was cut, I started to smile. Because it wasn't cut the way I expected at all. In fact, there's not a hint of that fast-cutting, ADD-friendly spastic style I was so worried about. Instead, TOMB RAIDER has an almost classic action-movie rhythm to it, and by the end of that first scene, we know quite a bit about this hard-bodied, hard-boiled beauty with the twin automatics. We know she does this because she wants to, not because she has to. We know that she is inventive in a tight spot and doesn't just rely on firepower to solve something. On the other hand, we learn that she's comfortable letting firepower solve as much as necessary.

We learn that Bryce (Taylor) is the other half of Lara's Kato, her tech guy, the brain behind the various high-tech gadgetry she employs. We also meet Hillary (Barrie), her butler and conscience, the only one who pushes Lara in any way. All of this is done quickly, with wit and flair, and her near-nudity during some of the sequence made me flash on BARBARELLA's memorable opening. It's done with a wink, and then we're off and running. This film doesn't waste any time. Wilson presents Lara with a number of options for her next job, but she's in a funk. It's almost May 15th, the anniversary of the day her father died. Even worse, it's a week before a major astronomical event that's directly related to the work Lord Croft was doing, meaning Lara's missing him more than ever. This is one of the most important sequences in the film, because if we're going to give a shit about Lara Croft on any level, it's going to have to be through her relationship with her father.

One of the things I like about the script is that there are no Indiana Joneses in this film. Everyone's a Belloq, even Lara. This is a film populated by people living in shades of grey. Because she's not a traditional hero, our sympathy has to be engaged by Lara on some other level. Rachel Appleton plays Young Lara in the flashbacks we see to her childhood, to that moment when Lord Croft was still alive. That moment is so important to Lara because it was after the loss of her mother, but there was still order to the world. She still had a father explaining the mysteries of things to her, and Voight's just right in the footage I saw, part teacher, part father, warm but not cloying. Lara's even erected the tent from that moment on her estate, over a plaque in memory of her father. Then, finally, we meet the film's primary antagonists. Even here, though, we're not given someone who is overtly evil. Instead, the Illuminati are faceless old white men, anonymous and ashen as they address Powell (Ian Glenn) and his assistant Pimms (Julian Rhind-Tutt), asking if they will be ready for a special event that we quickly learn is that same astronomical event Lord Croft was working on.

In the script, this scene has to cover a lot of ground expositionally, but it's been shot and cut in such a way that it does it all deftly, quickly, far more visual than verbal. Then we're back to Lara and the one sequence out of what I saw that just didn't work. Lara's dreaming of her father, dreaming of the upcoming event, and suddenly wakes up and goes prowling in her house, somehow drawn to the ticking of a clock hidden in a secret room several floors away. Right now, this moment is awkward, a leap of faith on the part of any viewer, and it comes at what is a pretty crucial moment. This is Lara's call to adventure, if we're following the Joseph Campbell model. This is where she's set off on her quest to find an ancient artifact that has the power, if used at the right place and the right time, to give her control over time and possibly even life and death itself. Little does she know, this is the same artifact that Powell has promised to deliver within the week. And the reason it's started ticking is because it wants someone... anyone... to use it. Just as I was really getting into it, just as the film was really getting started, reel one ended, and Lloyd and I headed back down, back to the Henry Mancini stages, to watch the work being done on reel 4.

By now, you may have seen the Pepsi commercials featuring the Stone Monkeys trying to stop Lara on her motorcycle. If you are looking at that ad and trying to gauge the quality of the FX in the film, let me save you a little trouble: can't be done. The commercial is clever in terms of the way it's staged, but it isn't anywhere near what you'll actually see in the theater. The Mill, the English FX house started by Ridley and Tony Scott, already a major player thanks to GLADIATOR, has done some remarkable character work here. There were several shots that I was sure had to be actual practical FX, but in each case I was wrong. The Stone Monkeys are a credible threat, and they're just the first level of menace in the scene. More impressive are the huge stone gryphons, lions with massive eagle wings, who rip into the entire group of adventurers unlucky enough to be there as the temple comes to life. Here again, there was a noticeable charm to the FX that gave the sequence a great sense of build. It wasn't just gag, gag, gag, gag, gag, gag.

Instead, the geography of the action was clear, sharp, and the gags seemed to build with some actual subtlety, even in the midst of chaos and noise. I got my first glimpse of Daniel Craig as Alex, a sometimes-associate of Lara's who is even more morally slippery than she is, and as Lloyd spoke of Craig, his genuine admiration for Craig's work was evident, calling him "an amazing actor." And there in the center of it all is Angelina Jolie. Lara Croft herself. And how is she? She's totally believable. She is the video game heroine come to life. In the opening SIMON sequence and again here, she's never just portrayed as a dumb action hero or a girl with a gun. Instead, she's genuinely tough, and you can see her giving it everything she's got. Every move, every run, every flip, every volley of gunfire, Angelina believes in this stuff. When the gryphons charge, you can't help but flash back to her training with SIMON thanks to the size and shape of the things, and we see those early training sequences pay off.

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