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When it comes to crossovers, comic book characters have faired infinitely better than video game characters. If you think about it for a second this really doesn’t come as a great surprise; most video game characters are disposable, with only a handful making the transition into popular culture. Lara Croft is one such character. Her first movie was, in this reviewer’s opinion, a mess, but never let it be said that I’m unwilling to give second chances. With this in mind, join me as I take a look at Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life
Film
In this, Lara’s second big screen adventure, our intrepid adventurer is in search of the mythological artefact known as Pandora’s Box, believed by many to contain the very essence of evil. Her search begins in Greece with the discovery of the underwater ruins of Alexander the Great’s Luna Temple, where she uncovers a strange, glowing orb. Unfortunately, before Lara can claim the object, her team is ambushed by a group of Chinese mercenaries. With the orb lost and her companions murdered, Lara is left for dead in the middle of the ocean.

After a timely, if somewhat implausible, rescue by her friends Hillary and Bryce, Lara returns to Croft Manor to recuperate. It is here that she is contacted by MI6, who fear that the stolen orb will allow biological weapons manufacturer and all-round sociopath, Jonathan Reiss, to locate Pandora’s Box and unleash a plague the likes of which the world has never seen. Not being one to take defeat lying down, Lara agrees to travel to China with the help of her ex-lover, Terry Sheridan, in a race against time and the forces of darkness.

As with the first film there are a number of incredibly dumb moments, such as criminals that have spent the entire film trying to gun Lara down simply taking her prisoner when they finally do capture her. There are also a number of, for want of a better word, appalling CGI moments, the worst of which comes when Lara escapes the underwater temple. Our plucky heroine encounters a CGI shark that not only growls inexplicably, but also swims backwards and shakes its head after a punch in the nose!

For all the negative elements there are some things of worth in this sequel. The action scenes have been beefed up somewhat from the first film, and everything is certainly bigger, if not always better. Some of the better moments include Lara and Terry racing motorcycles along the Great Wall of China, abseiling down a cliff upside-down (while shooting bad guys), pole vaulting onto a moving helicopter and jumping from the top of a Hong Kong skyscraper wearing ‘flying squirrel’ suits!

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life
Video
My job as a reviewer is becoming increasingly difficult due to the number of top-notch transfers out there, and it’s hard to criticise visuals as appealing as those found in this excellent 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. Detail levels remain consistently good throughout, and thankfully we’re spared the horrors of compression artefacts and edge halos (although I did spot the odd instance of aliasing). Film artefacts are also notable by their absence, while instances of excessive grain are kept to a bare minimum. Colour reproduction is excellent -- be it the gloomy depths of the ocean, the bright neon of Shanghai, or the earthen tones of Kenya – and black levels and shadow detail are also handled particularly well, although the final scenes in the petrified forest do occasionally look a little washed out. Still, this is definitely one of the best I’ve seen this year, and Paramount are to be commended.

Audio
The excellent video transfer is ably backed by an impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is streets ahead of the one found on the original Tomb Raider DVD (although dialogue is still a little low in the mix for my liking). The track is extremely aggressive from the outset, and the discrete surrounds are used to great effect to reinforce the action during the livelier scenes. One such example is the exciting set piece in Shanghai, in which Lara pole volts onto a moving helicopter. The scene starts innocently enough as the chopper’s rotors whirl around the soundstage, but before you know it gunfire is exploding from literally every angle! Thankfully the mix also has its share of subtleties, with some nice use of the score and environmental effects to establish mood. There are also some neat panning effects during key dialogue sequences that really give you the feeling of ‘being there’. While not ‘reference quality’, this is an excellent mix that is sure to give any home system a thorough workout.

Extras
First and foremost we have a commentary track from director Jan de Bont (Speed, Twister, Speed 2). Aside from a few lengthy pauses, the director goes into a great deal of detail about the film and the filmmaking process in general. The commentary is both anecdotal and technical, encompassing everything from Jolie’s attitude towards the role to de Bont’s preference for shooting anamorphic rather than Super 35. The only real problems with the commentary stem from de Bont’s accent and the cadence of his speech, which often combine to make the track difficult to understand.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life
Seven Deleted Scenes follow, all of which come with optional director’s commentary and can be viewed either individually or collectively. The scenes, which run for a little over eleven minutes in total, are presented in non-anamorphic rough-cut form. It’s easy to see why most of the scenes were omitted, as even the alternate ending is out of character with the rest of the film.

The Featurettes menu is divided into five sub-categories: Training, Vehicles and Weapons, Stunts, Visual Effects and Scoring. The Training featurette runs for a little under nine minutes and examines the rigorous preparations that the cast, or more specifically Joile, underwent to get ready for the shoot. The featurette covers everything from combat training to horse riding, and really shows Jolie’s dedication to the role. Vehicles and Weapons runs shorter at just over four minutes, but it packs a good deal of information into that relatively short space of time. We get a little info on Lara’s dual pistols, one of which has been modified to allow easier left handed firing, as well as some of her jet ski antics.

Stunts runs for just over ten minutes and covers some of the outrageous action scenes, including the upside-down abseiling and the amazing ‘flying squirrel’ suits used to jump from the top of the skyscraper in Shanghai. This sequence, filmed without the use of special visual effects, is easily one of the most impressive and visually stunning stunts I’ve ever seen. The fact that the sequence was filmed without the aid of safety devices (other than the jumper’s parachutes) makes it all the more amazing.

The longest featurette, Visual Effects, examines some of the computer-generated effects found throughout the movie. Among other things, I was interested to learn the opening ‘underwater’ shots are nothing of the sort. They were in fact accomplished by shooting on a dry soundstage with the aid of smoke and a little bit of CGI post-processing! We get to see the rough footage from the set side by side with the completed footage from the movie, and I have to admit to being none the wiser before watching this featurette. The final featurette is entitled Scoring, and deals, fairly obviously, with the film’s music. Running for a little under five minutes, composer Alan Silvestri takes us through the process of creating music for the film. While adequate for a film of this nature, the score isn’t particularly outstanding. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact it was written in under five weeks?

Gerald Buttler’s Screen Test runs for exactly four minutes, and includes some very rough footage of Butler acting opposite Jolie as he runs through his prison scene. Music Videos for Korn’s ‘Did My Time’ and The Davey Brothers’ ‘Heart Go Faster’ are also included, along with the entire Cradle of Life website as a DVD-Rom extra.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life
Overall
Well there you have it. Cradle of Life isn’t as bad as you might think, but neither is it going to set the world alight. It’s definitely a better film than the original (which isn’t saying much), but it still suffers from bad characterisation, a weak plot and some poor computer-generated effects. The film also runs around thirty minutes too long, and although adolescent boys will probably get a kick out of Angelina in a bikini, I can’t see anyone other than die hard Tomb Raider fans taking much away from this film.

Forgetting the movie for a second, the quality of DVD itself is really rather good. The video transfer -- while not quite reference quality -- is pretty damn close to perfection, and the Dolby 5.1 track is very aggressive and engaging. Throw in a fair smattering of bonus material and the package starts to look reasonably attractive. I won’t go as far as to recommend the set, purely because the film isn’t my cup of tea, but if you’re a Tomb Raider fan that happens to think differently to me this package will make an excellent addition to your collection.


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