Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider


Christmas has been duly celebrated at Chateau Maine. As Norman is not here this year for the usual rituals, I invited several members of the studio kids over for presents and general feasting and frivolity. It was a successful party, even if poor Gloria Stuart did tend to wander off to the bathroom and drop her jewelry in the commode, muttering 'Oops!' over and over again. Then there was a little trouble with Margaret O'Brien after one eggnog too many. She insisted on attacking my ornamental Snowman decorations with a stick and had to be forcibly restrained.

Despite these minor inconveniences, the party was declared a success and I am taking a few days of relaxation and rejuvenation before heading back into rehearsal on the new musical spectacular. I hate to admit it, but I have been feeling a creeping exhaustion over the last few weeks and it's only been Corey Feldman's gift of that Special K cereal additive that I put in my morning coffee that's kept me going. I'm nearly out, but fortunately he gave me the phone number for Thugga, his supplier so I'll give him a call in a day or two and order some more.

In the meantime, I collapsed on an ottoman with the DVD of last summer's action adventure, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie, an Academy Award winning actress, as a computer game figure. I have never played the Tomb Raider series of games but I understand they're a little bit like Indiana Jones, only she wields a set of bodacious tatas rather than a bullwhip. The film comes from director Simon West, a sort of Michael Bay manqué, who believes in films full of noise and fury like Con Air.

Lara Croft, brought to life, turns out to be a supermodel with attitude and judo skills. She lives in a fabulous stately home of England where she spends her time bungee jumping in the living room. When we first meet her, she's battling a training robot that seems to be some sort of armed giant Flowbee. Miss Croft is the daughter of the late Lord Croft (Jon Voight, in flashbacks) who was some sort of stiff upper lip British explorer. She has an enormous Electra complex and spends a great deal of time in pouting sorrow at his tomb worrying about his early death. Don't fear that Lara lacks from human companionship, she shares her home with two comic relief caricatures, a butler straight out of bad P.G. Wodehouse adaptations (Chris Barrie) and a techie wonk named Bryce (Noah Taylor) who lives in a trailer in the courtyard and plays with computers.

One day, Lara is awakened by ticking in the middle of the night and finds a mysterious hidden clock in a secret room in the house (don't ask). Inside the clock, is a mysterious artifact that is the key to unlocking cosmic mysteries and the ludicrous plot. Once every five thousand years, the planets align and the two halves of a mystery triangle which allow the bearer to control time become available. Of course, Lara has to find these before the bad guys, led by Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) can do so. Powell is a member of a mysterious order called the Illuminati, stolen from an unreadable Umberto Eco novel, who want the mystic triangle for some nefarious purpose of their own which is never really explained.

Powell, who is supposed to be a lawyer, lives in what seems to be an Ottoman Turk harem somewhere in London where he is attended by a fey assistant (Julian Rhino-Tutt) and his own tomb raider, Alex West (Daniel Craig). Alex seemed to be some sort of boyfriend to Lara but, once again, that wasn't ever explained either. After a big shoot-em up at Lara's house and some chasing through London on a motorcycle, the whole cast is off to Angkor Wat, where the first piece of the triangle is hidden. Here, there's an exciting scene where Lara, in black leather hot pants, rides a giant phallic symbol and they all battle giant stone Teletubbies with an attitude.

Having exhausted the possibilities here, everyone heads to a ruined ancient city in Siberia to get the second piece which is hidden in an ice cave occupied by a 19th century carnival "Octopus" ride, which eventually explodes in the usual finale. For this sequence, Miss Jolie models a lavender lycra snowsuit with a fur hood more suitable to the Milan runway than actual outdoor adventure. Lara resolves her Electra complex somewhat, the villains perish, the good guys survive, and the credits roll with the possibility of a, heaven forbid, sequel wide open.

According to the credits, it took six writers to bring this piece of drivel to the screen. (3 for story, 1 for adaptation and 2 for screenplay). Unfortunately, none of them seemed to give any thought for basic human psychology, emotion, or even the need for dramatic storytelling. The paper thin characters, which may have had more depth in the original video games, are simply an excuse to create special effects extravaganza action scenes. Unfortunately, the big action set pieces don't work as we simply don't care in the least what happens to any of these people. We don't know them. I have no objection to comic book type action films. I'm a big fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Batman for instance; the difference with those films is that they created characters and story first, using their action sequences as punctuation, rather than raison d'être.

To me, this film was symbolic of the current creative bankruptcy of the big American film studios. Millions were spent on effects and publicity in an attempt to 'wow' an increasingly jaded teen/young adult audience. If just a small percentage of the budget had been spent on a talented writer or director of imagination, there might have been some hope, but those kinds of expenditures don't make the market researchers drool.

Having seen Miss Jolie in other fare, I know she's a competent actress. In this film, she's pretty much a prop and she knows it. They might as well have used the computer generated avatar from the video game. None of the supporting cast makes much of an impression. It's nice to see Jon Voight without too much evil make-up but the true life relationship between him and Jolie make the Electra underpinnings even a bit more grotesque.

The DVD is a nice transfer, sound and picture wise. All of the explosions are clear. There is a making of documentary and a commentary but, I was so appalled by the film that I did not have the heart to explore any of the supplementary material.

Motorcycle stunts. Bungee cord stunts. Huge mechanical clockwork solar system stunts. Falling through tree root stunts. Gratuitous shower scene - female. Gratuitous shower scene - male. Buddhist monks with satellite phones. Upper crust auction house. Venetian palazzo meeting room. Dagger throwing.

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