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LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Noah Taylor, Ciaran Hinds, Djimon Jounsou, Til Schweiger, Christopher Barrie
Director:  Jan De Bont
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  117 Minutes
Release Date:  November 18, 2003

“You can break my wrist…but I’m still gonna kiss you.”

Film ***

It’s finny, but with my second stint as watching Lara Croft on screen, I realize I was thinking less and less about my favorite video game series (on which these movies are based) and more of Lady Croft as just a sheer, dynamic, no-nonsense woman of strength.  These may be the ultimate women’s lib movies…if you overlook the fact that Lara is unabashedly attractive, you have stories that treat her as an equal to cinema’s male adventurers.  I love the scene, for example, where she parachutes into a speeding Land Rover driven by Kosa (Hounsou)…not only does she make a perfect precision landing, but once she discards her chute, she quietly assumes his place in the driver’s seat.  No commentary is necessary…that’s simply where Lara Croft belongs.

I enjoyed the first film more than many of my brethren in criticism, and history seems to have repeated itself.  Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is not only an awfully long title to type, but it’s also a more confident and spirited yarn than its predecessor.  Jan De Bont assumed the director’s chair for this sequel, and as one of the movies’ most formidable action auteurs, he knew exactly what the series needed.  Mainly, it was just to focus on Angelina Jolie in the title role and leave her large and in charge.

The Cradle of Life is pretty much the primordial muck to which all living beings can trace their origin.  But hidden there is a secret:  Pandora’s box.  Not the one you remember from mythology class, but a chest containing something so powerfully deadly that it could wipe out most of humanity in no time.

It’s no wonder in our age of biological warfare that villains like Dr. Jonathan Reiss (Hinds) want to get their hands on it.  The ancient mystery first comes to light when our Lady Croft uncovers a long hidden treasure room of Alexander the Great…in it is an orb which is the key to locating the Cradle of Life.

Oh, I almost blew right past that opening sequence, didn’t I?  Shame on me.  It’s a terrific set up piece that brings Lara under the beautiful waters of Greece and into a great room of riches that had been hidden from human sight for thousands of years.  When bad guys show up to wreck the expedition, the crafty Croft has to make a getaway via an accommodating shark…you’ll have to see it for yourself.

Now, to save the world, she’ll have to take on a shady partner in Terry Sheridan (Butler), who may or may not be trustworthy, but is the only one that can lead her to the Chinese criminal organization that captured the orb for Dr. Reiss.  These plot points may only be excuses to bring our heroine into exotic locales and to show off how much Ms. Jolie learned in her action training, but darn it all…they work.

The Shanghai sequences alone offer plenty, from an escape on a swinging neon sign, to a pole vault in midair towards a departing helicopter, to the most amazing bit of all…a leap from a skyscraper in suits that turn Lara and Terry into human hang gliders. 

All of this leads, of course, to the Cradle of Life, where it’s a race for the future of humanity.  Dr. Reiss is rich, powerful and corrupt, and will stop at nothing to get what he wants.  Sounds like the perfect opponent for our Lara.

This is not weighty filmmaking, to be sure…in fact, much of it should be taken with a grin and a grain of salt, or at least the appreciation of having so formidable a female character firmly in place of what might be considered a ‘man’s’ role by the less enlightened.  Give credit to the star…not only is Angelina Jolie a beauty to behold, but she’s physically capable of embodying Lara Croft in every way imaginable.  When she takes on bigger and badder men and wins, you believe it.

I hope there’s more life left in this series.  The surface has barely been scratched in two films.  There’s plenty of treasure to mine for with this character and these scopes of adventures. 

Video ****

Paramount did an impressive job with this anamorphic offering (pan & scan version is available, too, but avoid it).  All the colors of Lara’s adventures have come to vivid life with this transfer.  It handles all the detail and action with clarity and integrity.  From low lit scenes to bright outdoor shots, everything represents as it should…in fact, this DVD looks better to me than the theatrical presentation did.  High marks.

Audio ****

The 5.1 soundtrack pulls no punches…hey, this is an adventure movie, so you expect plenty of crossovers, lots of rear stage sound, subwoofer rumblings and more, right?  You got ‘em.  Dialogue is clear throughout, but the action is the real star, whether it’s Lara motorcycling on the Great Wall, or the strange creatures that come to life in the Cradle, there’s plenty to keep your head turning here.

Features ****

This is a loaded special edition disc, and the goodies don’t disappoint.  Director Jan De Bont offers a commentary track, and given the nature of some of the sequences in the film, you’ll definitely want to tune in and hear what he has to say.

There are five production featurettes on the training, vehicles and weapons, stunts, effects and scoring.  The training one is a real eye-opener, as you’ll get to see how much work Ms. Jolie put in so she could pull off the illusion!  There are also several deleted scenes and an alternate ending, all with De Bont’s optional commentary, two music videos, and Gerard Butler’s screen test.

Summary:

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is a solid, easy sequel that gives you more of what you expect from Lara Croft in bigger and better ways.  It’s no exercise in brain power, but if you’re looking for a couple of hours of adrenaline pumping adventure, you’ll have a good time with this disc.