It was just two years after the release of the first Tomb Raider film that the second one reached the big screens. The film came with a ton of expectations not only from fans of the first one but fans of the video game who either loved the first movie or were disappointed and had hopes that their particular quirks would be addressed. To be sure, some of them were. Without the need to establish character and settings, Cradle Of Life wastes no time getting to the action at the heart of the video game experience. Gone were the rather laughable inflatable breasts as new director Jan de Bont wanted a more natural look for the character, abandoning the prominent look of the video game. But if it was more action both groups of fans wanted, this was the film to deliver on that demand. But whatever it really was that fans demanded, they stayed away from this sequel, which delivered less than half of the box office of the first. Whatever you might think of the movie itself, it pretty much spelled the end for the cinematic life of Lara Croft… until now. With a reboot just around the corner, expectations are high again, indeed. Until then Paramount has decided to whet your appetite with the original films in a 4K upgrade on UHD.
Cradle Of Life begins with the discovery of an underwater temple once built by Alexander himself. An earthquake nearby has shifted the tides and revealed to Lara Croft (Jolie) where the long-hidden treasure is located. It is within this find that Croft expects to uncover an orb that leads to either great treasure or great disaster. It’s the key to the location of the Cradle of Life and Pandora’s Box. Unfortunately, Croft isn’t the only one alerted to the find. A Chinese organization called the Shay Ling have also discovered the site and take the box from our heroine. It’s a rather nicely constructed scene as the temple begins to self-destruct as a fight for the orb plays amid the crumbing ruins.
After escaping the destruction empty-handed, Croft needs help to find the Shay Ling and recover the orb before it can fall into the wrong hands. Those wrong hands belong to Jonathan Reiss, played by Rome’s Caesar himself ,Ciaran Hinds. She’s going to need help. The answer is former lover and rival Terry Sheridan, played by Gerard Butler. He’s every bit the scoundrel and mercenary and is currently in a former Soviet bloc prison. She manages to negotiate his release with a promise of freedom and money if he helps her get the orb. She also has permission to kill him “any time and for any reason”. All of this is a set-up for a global trek to get the orb away from Hinds, who plans to see it create a necessary pandemic. In true Indiana Jones fashion, it’s a race to the film’s Macguffin: Pandora’s Box.
The film borrows too heavily from some of the same plot devices of the first movie. There’s the ex-lover rival and the other side that uses her as she tracks them to get both sides to the next level. It’s pretty much a plot device lifted directly from Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade and works only occasionally as we sit back and enjoy the global romp, anticipating the big finish common to all of these films. It might involve different people and different motives, but you can see how much the two films stay on the same course throughout. What the film neglects along the way is any kind of heart or emotional center. The history between Croft and Sheridan is shallow and too often teased to be of any real consequence. By the time we get to the film’s final beat, one that is intended to be an emotional wrencher, there’s simply not enough there to get the anticipated reaction. Set pieces are nothing short of spectacular, the best money and 2003 f/x can buy. But this is the first movie, but without the heart.
The Tomb Raider film franchise was based on the popular adventure video game. This second Tomb Raider film, however, owes more to Indiana Jones and James Bond than anything else. Cradle of Life does an excellent job of moving along an adventure story. With exotic locations in Africa and China, Lara Croft has plenty of opportunities to show case her Bond-like bag of gadgets. Critics didn’t like this film much, but then again most film critics don’t seem to appreciate a film as a thrill ride. Angelina Jolie keeps the pace and adrenalin pumped up for the entire two hours. Sure, some of it is rather silly (The CGI shark scene was downright corny), but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a lot of fun. Jolie isn’t that hard to watch, either.
Cradle of Life is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The ultra-high-definition 2160p image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an average bitrate of 60 mbps. This was one of the first major films that was actually finished in a digital inter-medium format, and it shows a little here. The idea was the ability to blend the CG with the film elements with a more seamless look. In HD that was pretty convincing. Here it was a little obvious. The underwater shots are the worst, particularly the large CG shark. Otherwise this 4K upgrade adds a lot of detail and sharpness to the last version I viewed. Black levels are where you see the most improvement, but there is evidence of some DNR here that takes away grain of film but also dust that once filled shafts of light so wonderfully. Colors don’t pop with the usual HDR vividness, but then again colors were never really the highlight of these films. They are dark and moody. The best representation of color comes from the ocean and jungle life.
The DTS HD-MA 5.1 track is pretty much the same as that found on the Blu-ray. There’s no improvement here, and I have to question the decision to skip a UHD Atmos or DTS:X upgrade. Dialog punches through just fine. There are really weak surrounds here that don’t immerse you into the action like an upgrade might have. It’s the subs that suffer most from the decision, and they come alive in rare moments. That opening temple collapse could have been spectacular.
The extras are all on the Blu-ray copy of the film. The only things you will find here are a repeat of the original Blu-ray extras which are, unfortunately, also a repeat of the DVD features. They are all in terribly distorted standard definition and not likely the reason you would buy this release. The menu also retains the same system as the Warner release which this is obviously merely a direct copy.
Look. I know this isn’t Indy or Bond. The fact is that the elements do blend for a satisfying action picture, if not one with heart. Jolie has done a great job of creating a character that works on more than its physical level. Yeah, the accent sucks. You could nitpick this film to death. Me, I’d rather just open up the case. But… “That’s what got Pandora in trouble.”