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TR.N Research Indy's Influences Legacy Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life
 
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
 

Released by Paramount Pictures - 2003

Directed by: Jan de Bont
Story by: Steven de Souza & James V. Hart
Screenplay by: Dean Georgaris
Produced by: Jeremy Smith, Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin & Louis A. Stroller

Starring:
Angelina Jolie .... Lara Croft
Gerard Butler .... Terry Sheridan
Ciarán Hinds .... Jonathan Reiss
Chris Barrie .... Hillary
Noah Taylor .... Bryce

 

After the near train wreck that was Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, one would think the franchise was dead in the water. Fortunately or unfortunately, the film was only a critical failure and actually brought in over $200 million dollars. Hence, a sequel was a forgone conclusion. Two years later, the Indy-inspired Lara Croft returned to the big screen with The Cradle of Life.


Jolie back as Lara Croft.

In this latest installment, Angelina Jolie reprises her role as the adventuring heiress. The original director, Simon West, does not return to the directing chair. Instead, Paramount has enlisted Jan De Bont, director of Speed, to helm this new adventure. As a result, The Cradle of Life goes where the original only dreamed. It is actually a decent adventure film.
Admittedly, I was skeptical that The Cradle of Life could be any good in the wake of the first film. In fact, I was so skeptical that I refrained from seeing it in the theatre. That was truly a mistake. The Cradle of Life is a fun, adventuresome ride.
After an earthquake off the coast of Greece, Lara Croft finds a legendary temple of Alexander the Great. Inside, she finds a mysterious glowing orb. Before she can discover its purpose, it is stolen from her. Later, British agents inform Lara that a crazed scientist named Rice wants the orb so he can find Pandora’s Box and unleash a deadly pestilence across the globe. The British government hires Lara to retrieve the orb and find the box before the enemy does. A globetrotting action-adventure ensues.

I confess not only to being skeptical about this film, but I also admit to saying that Jolie was a poor casting choice. I withdraw my comments about Jolie after seeing The Cradle of Life. It must have been directorial restraint in the original that made Jolie’s performance so cold. In the sequel, Lara Croft is dynamic and spirited and a joy to watch and relate to.
Not only is Jolie redeemed in this film, but the entire Tomb Raider franchise as well. Viewers are no longer subjected to a tepid story with isolated and contrived action sequences. The visual tone of the film has gone from muted to saturated and the soundtrack is a true instrumental score with nary a techno beat or pop song to be heard during the whole of the story. The only real criticisms of the film are a short moment with a shark and the sad lack of screen time by Lara’s butler and techno-geek friend, both of whom were fun additions to the original film, but only make short appearances here.
Keep in mind, the Tomb Raider franchise is not a mirror image of Indiana Jones and allows for a higher degree of magic and implausibility. However, The Cradle of Life keeps itself in check with contrived plotting kept to a minimum, staying well within Tomb Raider’s traditional boundaries, unlike the previous film. Yes, the film has its crazy moments, but they are brief and forgivable.


Croft raiding a tomb.

For Indiana Jones fans, this film is gold compared with its ugly predecessor. I must warn readers that from here on in, the plot will be spoiled so as to cite all the parallels with the Indiana Jones series. Right at the beginning the parallels with Raiders of the Lost Ark begin. Lara makes her way into a hidden temple and finds the orb before it is stolen from her as the ancient site collapses. The whole scene echoes the structure of Raiders' opening adventure. Of interesting note is a scene before the initial adventure where Lara speaks with a boat captain who asks her if going into Alexander’s temple is wise. He says that some objects are not meant to be found, just as Sallah tries to tell Indy that the Ark is an object "man was not meant to disturb."
Later, Lara is visited by two British agents who need her knowledge and archaeological talents. They are somewhat ignorant of the Pandora’s Box legend, and Lara goes about filling them in by explaining the myth and then determining who she would need to help her. This scene is literally a recreation of Indy’s interaction with the two government agents in the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Lara even appropriates Indy’s terminology when the agents try futilely to explain the legend. Lara says, "Well, that’s the Sunday school version." When the agents in Raiders fail to show accurate knowledge of the lost Ark, Indy asks, "Didn’t you guys ever go to Sunday school?"


Lara Croft with the orb.

As the story progresses, Lara finds herself trying to use a medallion and the orb to unlock the secret of the location of the Cradle of Life, which is the equivalent of the Well of Souls from Raiders. The medallion and the orb play roles very similar to Marion’s headpiece to the staff of Ra. Lara wears the golden medallion around her neck, just as Marion did, and the markings on both the medallion and the orb must be interpreted to find the location. Just like the headpiece, the orb pursued by the villain, a Belloq-style nemesis named Rice. The orb also serves as the "map room" for the quest, a very unique innovation in the narrative.
When Lara finally unlocks the location of the box, she heads there only to be pursued by Rice, who captures her. She refuses to assist him find the box. A conversation begins that mimics Indy and Belloq’s discourse in the climax of Raiders. Just as Belloq did to Indy, Rice tells Lara that she wants to see the box opened just as much as he does. They then pass through a cavern that looks almost identical to the Canyon of the Crescent Moon in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. While traveling through it, Rice’s men are attacked and killed by mysterious forces, much like the deadly breath of God in the Grail Temple in Last Crusade. Like Indy, Lara survives the journey and finds the Cradle of Life where Pandora’s Box awaits.
Rice, like Donovan, tries to force Lara to retrieve the box. She refuses and Rice dies trying to possess the treasure. Just as Indy knew that to open the Ark was folly, so does Lara realize that Pandora’s Box is a dangerous tool that must never be allowed in the hands of humanity. In the film’s final major parallel, Lara’s love interest in the film, a man named Terry Sheridan, tries to take the box just as Elsa tries to take the Grail. Both characters are obsessed with the material value of the object and die from their ignorance and greed.


Lara Croft in Africa.

The Cradle of Life is not only a film rife with Indiana Jones-style plotting, but it is also a fun adventure movie in its own right. It has its own distinct flavor and sense of fun, great stunts, and a fun story. Jon Voight is thankfully absent, the film does not bog itself down with needless father-daughter back story, the plot is connected and coherent within its own rules, and the main character is fun to watch. Exponentially better than the original, The Cradle of Life actually compels this writer to hope for a third installment.

And if that doesn’t sell you on it, Indy purists will be interested to know that The Cradle of Life DVD includes the preview for the Adventures of Indiana Jones DVD Collection that can be seen at IndianaJones.com but was not included on the Indy DVDs. (MF)

 

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