Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life review by Mike Long

The summer of 2003 may well go down in history as one of the oddest eras for movie sequel releases. We had a sequel which surpassed its predecessor in X2 and one of the most unnecessary sequels ever with Legally Blonde 2, which was simply a shameless re-tread of the first film. But, this period also produce two, judging by their box-office tallies, unwanted sequels, implying that the fact that the first film was financial successful doesn't necessarily mean that the public is crying out for more. These two films were Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (hereafter known simply as Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life), which is now coming to DVD.

Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life once again stars Angelina Jolie as the fearless archaeologist and explorer, Lara Croft. As the film opens, an earthquake rocks a sea-side village in Greece. Lara arrives on the scene, looking for Caesar's lost Luna Temple, which may have been unearthed (underwater) by the quake. She finds the Temple, and inside, discovers a glowing orb. However, a group of thieves, led by Chen Lo (Simon Yam), invade the underwater temple, stealing the orb and killing Lara's assistants. Left for dead, Lara swears vengeance upon these marauders.

Her opportunity for revenge comes much quicker than Lara had anticipated though, as she's approached by British intelligence to aid in retrieving the orb and halting its sale to Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds), a ruthless arms dealer. It appears that the orb is the key to finding and unlocking the mythical Pandora's Box, which, according to legend, holds enough power to level an army. Lara agrees to get the orb, under the condition that a man named Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler) be released from prison to help her. Croft fetches Sheridan from a snowbound lockdown and the two are off to the Far East to re-claim the orb. But, snatching the artifact won't be easy, as Reiss is determined to obtain the power of Pandora's Box.

The original Tomb Raider is one of those movies that I don't remember very well, save for the fact that I know I didn't like it and found the entire thing to be rather pointless. Given that vague recollection, I can definitely say that Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is a better film. Veteran action director and cinematographer Jan De Bont was brought in to direct the sequel and he's done a good job of making a solid, and semi-coherent action film. The plot is clearly influenced by Raiders of the Lost Ark, as Lara travels the globe tracking down this ancient box which is filled with deadly power. (And with the recent release of Paramount's own Indiana Jones boxed-set, one has to wonder why they didn't put off the release of Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life by another month.) This Indiana Jones homage is also peppered with a generous dose of "James Bond" as well, as Lara Croft is the ultimate in British sophistication and she has an arsenal of keen gadgets at her disposal. The film is basically made up of a series of action set-pieces, many of which are quite impressive. There's a scene near the beginning of the film when Lara encounters a shark which made me proclaim, "This is the greatest movie ever made!" There's also a scene where Lara and Sheridan are fleeing their pursuers by sliding down ropes head-first which is quite well-done. The movie contains some great stunts and it's nice to see that De Bont hasn't lost his visual touch.

But, as with the first film, the story really suffers in Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. The nods to "Indiana Jones" and "James Bond" lend a familiarity to the movie, but it also points out just how unoriginal the film is. What we basically have is a fairly standard action film with a female lead. And the way that Jolie plays Croft, she may as well be a man. Sure, Jolie looks great in Croft's many outfits (at its base, the movie is really about clothing), but she plays the character way too cool Yes, it's neat that Lara can face danger and come away unshaken, but she also shows little emotion when she discovers Caesar's temple, something which should have excited her. The first 2/3 of the movie is pretty good, but the final reel introduces a supernatural element, and things really fall apart. For me, the oddest part of the movie was the Terry Sheridan character. Lara Croft talks about him as if the audience should recognize the name. This must be a reference to the video game, because as far as I can tell, he wasn't mentioned in the first film. Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life isn't a totally awful film, but it's still a brain-dead action film which could have been much, much better.

Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life swoops onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film is being released in two separate versions -- widescreen and full-frame. For this review, only the widescreen version was screened. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp, but there is a surprising amount of noticeable grain throughout the film. Paramount's DVDs are typically near-perfect, so this grain took me by surprise. Also, there is a mild amount of evident edge-enhancement in some shots. Otherwise, the transfer looks good. The colors look fine and in the scenes with the lush foreign locales, the image has quite a bit of depth. The disc features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which is very impressive. The track offers clear and audible dialogue, with no overt defects. The surround sound effects are nearly constant and the bass action is very good. The track has a wide soundfield and the dynamic range is right on target.

The Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life contains many extra features. We start with an audio commentary from director Jan De Bont. He speaks continuously throughout the film, and his Dutch accent is never a problem. De Bont talks about the locations, the actors, and the shooting style, and despite his background as a director of photography, the talk never becomes too technical. Next up are five deleted or alternate scenes, most of which are quite dull. One is interesting as it shows a softer side of Lara Croft and would've actually worked in the film. An alternate ending is also included here, and personally, I prefer it to the conclusion of the finished film. There are five featurettes on the DVD. "Training" (9 minutes) reveals that the actors did many of their own stunts, and contains behind-the-scenes footage of Jolie practicing her kick-boxing, Kendo, and horse-back riding. "Vehicles and Weapons" (5 minutes) introduces us to Graham Kelly and Richard Hooper, who were in charge of helping Lara Croft travel, and keeping her well-armed. Stunt coordinator Simon Crane is profiled in "Stunts" (11 minutes), as he describes the work that went into producing the film's convincing action scenes. Steven Begg, visual effects supervisor, walks us through "Visual Effects" (11 minutes), which is probably the most interesting segment here. We learn that the underwater sequences were filmed on a dry soundstage, and there are several side-by-side comparison between the film and the pre-production animatics. The last featurette, "Scoring" (5 minutes), allows composer Alan Silvestri to talk about the music in the film. Next up is Gerard Butler's screen-test, a four-minute segment which shows his original take on the scene in which Terry Sheridan is introduced. And finally, the extras are rounded out by a pair of music videos. Angelina Jolie herself is featured in Korn's "Did My Time" clip, while The Davey Brothers' "Heart Go Faster" is a catchy little ditty.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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