Tomb Raider
directed by Simon West
(Paramount, 2001)

Tomb Raider -- a lavish, big-budget, big-screen adaptation of a hugely popular computer/video game of the same name -- disappoints. I really wanted to like this movie. The concept of a young, smart, sexy, female version of an Indiana Jones-type adventurer -- a real kick-ass heroine -- has tremendous feminist role model appeal. Alas, Lara Croft's portrayal by the Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie, whose widely touted acting ability and intensive physical training for the role seemed to offer great potential for bringing humanity and depth to cinematic versions of games, did not live up to expectations. And Tomb Raider, an example of a sub-genre typified by the shallowness of offerings such as Super Mario Brothers and Street Fighter, ends up being overwhelmed by the action and the special effects that embody the nature of the beast.

Tomb Raider's plot concerns a secret society of international conspirators with dreams of world domination, but the group selected by scriptwriters for the villainous role couldn't be further off-base. They chose the Illuminati who, based on historical people and events and depicted in a wonderful series of novels authored by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, were anything but evil. Rather, the Illuminati fought for centuries against the oppression and the suppression of knowledge by the Christian (specifically, Catholic) Church. For the purposes of Tomb Raider, we must believe that the Illuminati harbor nefarious plans involving the talisman called the Triangle of Light, which can give the possessor the power of God, according to Manfred Powell (Iain Glen), the head antagonist who seeks this object. It grants the power to turn back the hands of time if employed during a rare conjunction of all the planets in the solar system simultaneous with a total solar eclipse. This celestial event only occurs once every 5,000 years and the critical moment fast approaches.

Aided by clues that her dear departed (and very wealthy) father Lord Croft (Jon Voigt) left for her, instructing his capable daughter to keep the Triangle of Light out of the clutches of the Illuminati, Lara Croft, with the assistance of her best friend and helper, computer whiz Bryce (Noah Taylor), finds herself traveling around the world to keep up with the villains. There ensues one fight and chase scene, each involving much stuntwork and very loud shootings (mostly of CGI creatures) and explosions, after another.

Events take place in the spectacular locations of Cambodia and Iceland. Visually stunning interiors simulating the heroine's stately mansion home, the sanctuary of an abandoned Southeast Asian temple and the chambers of a "lost city" in far northern climes provide colorful backdrops for the elaborately staged confrontations between Lara and her opposition. A climactic battle in the icy ruin sends her clambering over a huge, working orrery (a model of the solar system). Also at this crucial moment, the uncannily powered amulet enables Lara to travel in time to meet her father, a much-anticipated chance to see real-life father and daughter act together in a scene that could have had far more emotional resonance and poignancy than it does.

Angelina Jolie's beauty and agility in her eponymous role impresses, for it is clear that her athletic training did not go to waste on the part of the action coordinators. I wish I could say the same for her acting, but neither her character nor the others ever paused long enough between slam-bang scenes to establish an emotional rapport. Thus Tomb Raider's dazzling visuals and skillful cinematography seem wasted amidst overwhelming and seemingly endless chases and explosions. The score, consisting mostly of pounding heavy metal-type rock, added to its irritating effect. Diehard fans of the game may actually enjoy this movie and make it a box-office success, but for the rest of us, the essential shallowness of its origins prevents much enjoyment.

[ by Amy Harlib ]
Rambles: 30 June 2001

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