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Help Support Features Articles Tomb Raiders: Idea of the Adventurer
Tomb Raiders: The Idea of the Adventurer
by Michael French - posted on February 11, 2001

I have been desperately attempting to write something for the past few weeks and the creative well has dried up temporarily. Ok, actually the past few years have seen a dramatic decrease in my hard copy output. Anyway, I have to keep my mind writing somehow. The inspiration for this small work was my favorite computer desktop graphic that I made myself in the winter of 2000. The graphic is a montage of images of actor Harrison Ford as the intrepid Indiana Jones and model Lara Weller as the famous female tomb raider, Lara Croft. At the top of the picture is a very large logo combination that reads Tomb Raiders. The first word is written in the familiar Tomb Raider title font, the second obviously being comprised of the famous fiery orange letters of the title logo from the first film in the unforgettable Indiana Jones series.

Mike French his Tomb

I had never really looked at the two characters in such a side by side comparison before. They seem to fit within the same universe, and at a glance they are reflections of each other. Both search for the treasures of lost civilizations and sometimes stumble upon the legendary talismans of Earth’s mythical past. They are fearless in their adventures, relentless in their searches, and their ability to survive through extremely deadly situations is unmatched and practically legendary in itself. They both run from massive boulders, dodge the many ancient traps that await them in the temples of ages long vanished, and engage their wayward “competitors” in amazing chases and escapes.

With all these similarities, one would think that one is merely the gender foil of the other, Lara Croft being the female answer to Indiana Jones. Or, it could be interpreted that Lara Croft is the daughter of Indiana Jones, the archaeological adventurer of the 1990s. My experience with these two characters inadvertently forces me to dig underneath the surface. What I find underneath is intriguing and thought provoking to fans of pop-culture and fans of these characters alike.

As many know, the adventurer is not a new character in the human conscience. Even if we limit ourselves to the media and literature of the 20th century, forgetting Perseus and Robin Hood, there are still hundreds of examples of the adventurer chasing through the popular culture. Tarzan, Zorro, and James Bond come to mind immediately. Even with all of these twentieth century examples, Indy and Lara fall into an even more exclusive category of character. While the aforementioned characters are heroes, swashbucklers, and secret agents, each with their fair share of fantastic action and adventure, they are markedly removed from the club of which Indy and Lara have membership.

Lara Croft exploring
a tomb.

With the discovery of King Tut’s tomb by Howard Carter in the 1920s, a new type of adventurer would soon be born in the minds of writers. As the exploits of the Tut dig were exaggerated and embellished, these new adventurers, the archaeologist and the explorer, took root. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, the explorer and the archaeologist were immortalized in the media, especially the cinema. As early as the 1930s, films like Gunga Din and Treasure of the Sierra Madre were chronicling the fictional exploits of brave explorers and treasure seekers. This continued into the 1950s with films like King Solomon’s Mines and Secret of the Incas with Charlton Heston.

Their stories were very similar. Rough and ready fighting men, usually in broad brim hats and khakis, traveled across the globe in search of ancient treasures and lost civilizations while running from ambitious bad men that followed them and the savage natives that usually populated the ruins of the lost cities and temples. All of these characters braved into the ancient unknown searching for fortune and glory. At the pinnacle of these heroes are Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, easily the most popular of all fortune seeking adventurers.

Indiana Jones first hit popular culture in 1981 in the hit film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. While there have been many attempts to saddle him alongside James Bond as a character, it is painfully obvious that these claims are misguided. Indiana Jones is a direct descendant of Alan Quartermain and others who sported the leather jackets and revolvers while crawling through Aztec temples and Egyptian tombs. Indy is the definition of the early 20th century explorer, living in an age where global discovery had given way to historical discovery.

Indiana Jones is the quintessential adventurer, with his leather jacket, felt hat, army satchel, three- day beard, and bullwhip, he is the ever-ready adventurer. A professor of archaeology by day, and a global grave-robber on his off-time, Indy scours the third world for the lost treasures of legend while being pursued by all types of unsavory people who would benefit from stealing the fruits of his labor. Indy’s exploits skirt the borders of political conflict, with the Nazis and the Communists alike sometimes in pursuit of him.

Indiana Jones it seemed could never be equaled in the mind of the popular culture. To this day, he never has. The three Indiana Jones films are the definition of cinematic adventure. However, one character has been able to equal his popularity in another corner of the media. As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, the legacy of Nintendo and Sega had successfully established video games as a mainstay of everyday life in America and the bulk of “Western Civilization.” As the technology expanded in leaps and bounds, the visuals started to take on some semblance of realism within the graphics and the games evolved into more expansive, realistic situations. In 1995, a company named Eidos released a revolutionary video game called Tomb Raider, and it starred a virtual character named Lara Croft who would quickly surpass both Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog as the industry’s most popular video game character.

A mere glance at the box cover makes it clear that Lara Croft was the gaming industry’s answer to Indiana Jones. In the title, the word “Raider” is prominent and the main character graces the box cover with her back to an ancient wall, pistols drawn. The game was a virtual Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now the viewer controlled the intrepid adventurer through a series of epic, realistic tombs, temples, ruins, and caves. The plot was a quintessential Indy film. Lara Croft, our hero, finds a scion that hints at the existence of Atlantis and a powerful talisman. In a race against time with the corrupt Natla Corporation on her heels, Lara Croft dodges traps, makes daring leaps over bottomless caverns, solves ancient mechanical puzzles, engages her pursuers in chases and shootouts, faces an ancient evil that emanates from the legendary talisman, and escapes the lost Atlantean pyramid as it collapses down around her.

Clearly, Lara Croft was the Indiana Jones of the video game world. Even Indiana himself could not compete with her in the video game realm. The Indiana Jones game, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, which was modeled after Tomb Raider in look and feel, could not compete with the immense popularity of Lara Croft. To date, she is the only video game character to have graced the cover of fashion magazines and to have appeared in car commercials.

Lara Croft is a female Indiana Jones. But that statement must be augmented to say that she is the Indiana Jones figure of the 1990s culture. It must be remembered that Indiana Jones is a character born in the 1980s, when America was looking backward to an idealized, romanticized time period. He is the fearless male adventurer. As the 1990s went into full swing, popular culture started redefining the female character with countless heroines in comics and games. Wonder Woman was given a facelift by DC Comics, Catwoman was given her own magazine, and new characters like Witchblade and Lady Death dominated the comics scene, while characters like Chun-Li, Mai Shiranui, and Sonya Blade dominated the gaming world. These new heroines followed a certain pattern. They were all intelligent, extremely aggressive, liberated physically and sexually, and all of them were shown as unnaturally beautiful.

When Eidos introduced Lara Croft, she was much the same as the rest of these characters. However, there were marked exceptions that led to her continued longevity. Not the least of these exceptions was the idea that she was inheriting the torch of adventure from Indiana Jones. Unlike the comic heroines, Lara was not a character that was passively stared at by readers. Unlike the other gaming characters, she did not exist within one limited scenario while making silly poses of victory. In fact, the entire game is shown from her back. Rather than watch Lara, the gamer is forced to be Lara.

Where Lara fell in line with these other 90s heroine was obvious. She is an extremely beautiful, independently wealthy, liberated and aggressive fortune seeker. Unlike the other heroines, she does not run all over creation in her underwear. Granted, Lara’s outfit is not necessarily practical for her exploits, but it comes nowhere close to comparing with the obscenities that so many of the other heroines of the time sported. Lara Croft’s look is truly a sign of the times that she was created in. However, it must be noted to Eidos’ credit that her outfit certainly retains a measure of functionality within her environment.

The true adventure hero always has a trademark outfit. This is part of the genre. Indiana Jones has his fedora, jacket, boots, and khakis. Lara Croft’s trademark outfit is a 90s evolution of the idea. While the overall look of her outfit is partially the result of 1990s media standards, the items that comprise the outfit itself are identical to what a modern day camper would use on a trek. If Indiana Jones’ khaki and leather outfit is in line with the outdoors wear of the 1930s, which it is, then Lara’s khaki shorts, boots, and spandex are the very definition of 1990s adventure wear. In fact, I’ve passed many a “Lara Croft” on hikes in the Adirondacks and the Appalachian Trail in recent years. Look at Laura Dern’s character in Steven Spielberg’s film, Jurassic Park, and you will see an evident example of this 90s clothing trend.

Lara’s weaponry and adventure gear also illustrate the new idea of adventure and the new times in which Lara adventures. Unlike Indiana Jones, who sports the revolver, bullwhip, and military satchel, Lara arms herself with a pair of nickel-plated automatic pistols and a sport backpack. Her style is also markedly different from Dr. Jones. In the age of America’s fascination with martial arts and Asian fighting styles, Lara performs a number of unbelievable acrobatics in contrast with Indiana’s baser fisticuffs and raw motor skills.

Lara Croft and Indiana Jones are, at heart, the same characters. Their specifics are very different however. While it is understandable that the mediums of film and video gaming operate at very narrative levels, which allow film to probe much more deeply into the intricacies of characters and games to delve deeper into the specifics of action, these have contrasting effects on Indy and Lara. (It should be noted at this time that any information concerning these characters will be pulled only from their “canon” sources, these being the three Indiana Jones films staring Harrison Ford and the four Eidos games with Lara Croft. Any licensed spin-offs outside these mediums for either character usually has contradictory information that was created by a person other than the original creators.)

The largest contrast between them is their relations with other people. We know that Indiana Jones has a large romantic history with a number of women that appear throughout his adventures. Lara Croft’s adventures are completely devoid of a male love interest. Certainly, there are male figures within the series that make their passes at her, but she always declines. In light of this, Lara is by default a colder character than Indy. This may be the result of the 1990s attempt to keep Lara politically correct in attitude if not necessarily in appearance.

Indiana Jones is a professor of archaeology at Barnett College. Lara Croft is independently wealthy and ultimately unemployed. Her occupation is her hobby and she has no apparent reservations about it. It is very convenient for the people at Eidos to set her up this way because it gives them the freedom to explain away things like her motorcycles, boats, mansion, and the like. Lara has numerous amounts of gadgetry at her disposal. Indy has what is on his person, or what he can steal from the enemy.

Aside from all of these differing character traits, the most important aspect of their personas is the same. Their method of fortune hunting is identical. Make no mistake. Indiana Jones and Lara Croft are hardly archaeologists in the field. They are fortune seekers, which is a nicer way of saying grave robbers. While it was more common in the 1920s and 1930s to pilfer a temple of its precious riches and thereby gut it at the heart, the rest of the 20th century was spent developing intricate methods of cataloging and preserving history through very involved and delicate archaeology. There is no reason for Lara Croft to employ the same bulldozing methods used by Indiana Jones. The only reason she does so is because that idea of exploration is part of the mythos surrounding these types of characters and why we are so indelibly drawn to them. Their ability to break through ancient walls, force entire temples to collapse around them, get away with the gemstone or idol, and still remain blameless and virtuous is quite a feat in itself.

Which brings us to the legendary, canonized adventures themselves. If you look at the three Indy films and the four Lara Croft games, you will find striking parallels between each one of them. The technical and nit-picky details are obvious. Both the first Indy film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the first Lara Croft game, Tomb Raider, share a common word. Whether or not Eidos is paying homage to Indiana Jones’ first adventure is debatable, though they certainly show their love for it in the first level when we see the Ark of the Covenant in Lara’s home.

Tomb Raider: The Last

As the Indiana Jones movies progressed, the title was always superceded by the phrase, “Indiana Jones and the…”. The character was now established and his name used to sell the subsequent films. The same is true for Lara Croft. After the first game, each subsequent installment carried the phrase, “The Adventures of Lara Croft” with Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation being the only exception. Ironically, The Last Revelation paralleled the final Indy film, The Last Crusade, not only in title, but also in a small amount of story content. Just as the final Indy film showed Indiana as a young boy on his first adventure gaining his hat and scars, The Last Revelation shows us a young Lara Croft on her first adventure when she finds her trademark backpack.

On a narrative level, the films and the games parallel as well. Raiders of the Lost Ark and Tomb Raider both have a very serious edge to their stories. Indy and Lara search for artifacts of legend, the Ark and Atlantis respectively. After running from greedy pursuers who attempt to use our heroes’ skills for their own advantage, both find their treasures, but lose them just as quickly when they discover that these artifacts have unspeakable powers that almost destroy them as well as their enemies. On a side note, both Raiders of the Lost Ark and Tomb Raider begin in Peru and in both instances our heroes find themselves pursued by giant boulders.

Lara Croft chased
by a boulder.

Tomb Raider II and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom also closely parallel one another. Both stories center around very dark circumstances involving ancient, hidden cults that utilize human sacrifice and worship Satanic gods. At their center, these deviants have possession of mysterious, legendary treasures that Indy and Lara must obtain by braving the darkest and most dangerous temples in creation, dodging uncountable traps, and fighting off scores of homicidal cultists. In the end of these adventures, Indy and Lara are able to make off with some part of their quest. Indy obtains a Sankara Stone and Lara captures the Dragon Dagger.

By the third adventure in the series, the stories take extreme turns towards the supernatural more than ever before. Arguably, the alternate dimension within Tomb Raider II surpasses anything seen in Tomb Raider III in terms of supernatural content, but the entire plot of III centers around an alien meteorite and the lifeform inside it. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade hinges on the Holy Grail, an immortal knight, and immortality as a reality. Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation as mentioned earlier, takes the narrative parallel one step further and gives us a glimpse of a young Lara Croft just as Last Crusade shows us Indiana as a young boy.

It would be foolhardy and stubborn to insist that Indiana Jones had no influence on the creation of Lara Croft. Similarly, it would be rash to think that Lara’s modern commercial success has not influenced the Indy marketing machine in some ways, the game Infernal Machine being the most obvious example. In any case, they are certainly from the same realm of the imagination and, in my opinion, are the two coolest characters in mainstream culture today.

Michael French, Lifelong Indy Fan and Lara Croft Enthusiast.


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