“Tomb Raider” (2018) review PLUS exploring the “video game movie” problem

Strives to put cinematic storytelling first and video game representation second, but still comes across as tropey and borrows heavily from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade. However, in all fairness, it does provide this generation with a moderately good action-adventure film based on a best-selling video game series. Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft differs from that of Angelina Jolie’s in that she comes across to audiences as someone who’s impulsive, reckless, and experiencing difficulty in managing her life. Furthermore, she does not excel at everything she is trying to do to survive life and make ends meat. Those qualities give this Lara Croft a level of humanity that allows her to connect more with audiences. Moreover, she is a believable character–she feels real. In fact, that is probably the best element that this reboot has going for it–the realness of the adventure. Not that the film is without exaggerations and fantasy elements; but, the story almost feels like an adventure that could take place under the right circumstances and with the right tools. The realness might have been increased by not feeling like, at times, you were sitting there playing the video game version. Although this initial return to the video game turned motion picture adaptation is frocked with predictable plot beats and turning points, it does show promise for a solid franchise if tweaked. Moving forward, the stories need to be stronger, original, and leave room for SUBTEXT.

Lara Croft is the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished years earlier. Hoping to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance, Croft embarks on a perilous journey to his last-known destination — a fabled tomb on a mythical island that might be somewhere off the coast of Japan. The stakes couldn’t be higher as Lara must rely on her sharp mind, blind faith and stubborn spirit to venture into the unknown. (IMDb)

Video games turned motion pictures aren’t anything new. From Super Mario Bros to Mortal Kombat to Resident Evil to this year’s Tomb Raider, there have been many attempts to adapt interactive media (video games) for scripted/narrative cinematic storytelling. Ultimately, it has proven to be nearly impossible to create a successful motion picture from a video game. In short, Hollywood simply cannot seem to crack the code for a movie adaptation of a video game. There has yet to be a video game to film adaptation that has even encroached upon the fresh threshold of Rotten Tomatoes. But why is that? Often, movie adaptations of video games fail because their is more emphasis placed upon video game brand representation than the art of cinematic storytelling. In its defense, 2018’s Tomb Raider shows an effort to overcome that obstacle. Today’s Tomb Raider made a solid effort to spend time worrying about it’s quality as a film, but still fell victim to being too grounded in its interactive media roots. If studios who either own or license a video game intellectual property (IP) can spend time analyzing the source material for purposes of tapping into what makes the story itself work, then perhaps a successful video game movie can be produced.

Not just limited to interactive media –>film adaptations, but anytime there is a well-established franchise, the writers and director struggle to find where the happy medium is in satisfying the core of the fan base and translating the story between two forms of media. As much as modern interactive media has in common with films (referring to the cut scenes), there is still the human component that cannot be translated for the screen because there is no “choose your own adventure;” it’s this disconnect that often contributes to the poorly written plot for the screen. Much in the same way that movies based on comic books struggled for a long time until Iron Man, with the brilliant exceptions of Tim Burton’s Batman (a Barman movie directed by Burton) and Batman Returns (a Tim Burton movie that happens to have Batman characters), interactive media based movies will eventually find the sweet spot. I feel that this sweet spot will be found when writers and directors take the characters from a video game IP and place them in an original cinematic story that skews more towards the focus being on the cinematic storytelling than adhering to brand recognition and the existing story that can be played, and has been played, on the console or computer. Take Burton’s approach to Batman Returns. Create a story that works for the screen that happens to have the characters from the video game.

Movies aren’t the only adaptations of interactive media; themed entertainment has also spent time adapting a game for an entire attraction. According to Theme Park Tourist (2014), popular seasonally operating Paramount’s Kings Island (purchased by Cedar Fair in 2007 and all Paramount property removed) spent $20MIL on a ride that lasted a mere five years. Based on the hit video game and blockbuster action movie Tomb Raider: The Ride was on par with Disney and Universal in respect to story, setting, and special audio/visual effects; however, after Paramount sold off its theme park investments to Cedar Fair, the ride got rebranded as The Crypt, a generic theme, and all direct associations with the movie and game Tomb Raider were removed following the 2007 operating year. Interestingly, the ride attendance continually dropped following the rebranding, and the ride was eventually moved to Kings Dominion in Virginia in 2012. Although there may be other reasons as to why the ride became less popular and eventually moved to another park, it is conceivable to conclude that there is a special relationship between the characters and story of the game and a themed entertainment attraction. Both the attraction and the game have the advantage of the human component–the ability to truly experience the elements of the game. 

Over all, I found the new Tomb Raider to be a fun watch! Certainly don’t feel that my time or money was wasted. I remember playing Tomb Raider on the original Playstation and Playstation II (it was soon after that, that I lost interest in gaming), and as a mild fan, I feel that this film did the characters and story justice. By the end of the movie, it is obvious that MGM’s intention is to attempt to produce a blockbuster franchise. And to the film’s credit, this first installment had a satisfying ending plus it quickly setup the next movie. If you like action-adventure movies or even a fan of the video game series, I feel that you will enjoy Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider!

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“The Forest” movie review

The ForestInto the woods…off to find a body. The Forest is a brilliant example of January’s reputation as a movie graveyard. Banking on its ability to over-utilize the cliche jump-scare to get a heightened emotional response from the audience, this film demonstrates little uniqueness in this sub-genre of horror; however, I gotta give it a little credit. It was successful in causing me to jump in my seat a few times and even cringe a little. If for no there reason, this film will possibly prompt you to lookup the legends of the Aokigahara Forest, surrounding the foothills and floor of famed and picturesque Mount Fuji in Japan. Starting off as a movie that feels as if it will have a slow burn but then pick up in the second and third acts, The Forest is more like an annoyingly dripping faucet that has a perpetual clog that you wish would eventually explode with excitement. There is definitely a sense of anticipation and anxiousness, but the movie fails to provide a thrilling release. The only intriguing element of the movie is that this fictional story is indirectly connected to true stories of the Aokigahara Forest. Unfortunately, the stories of people going into the forest with the intent to either commit or contemplate suicide is all too true. Furthermore, a friend of mine who lives in Japan told me that the forest really does seem to have a mystical power that compels people to harm themselves or others. Interesting. If you ever visit Aokigahara Forest, be sure to stay on the path and never remain in the forest after dark.

The Forest is about a young American woman named Sara (Natalie Dormer) who senses something has terribly befallen her identical twin sister Jessica. With the intent on finding her sister, Sara flies to Japan and begins to investigate the whereabouts of Jessica. Learning of the legends surrounding the mystical Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji, Sara starts to develop a plan to rescue her. Unfortunately, the reputation of the forest scares the locals so much that she is unable to find anyone to help her. Just when all hope is nearly lost, Sara meets local Austrailian travel expert and writer Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and he contacts his guide friend Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) to lead them into the dark and twisted pathways of the forest. Against the recommendation of locals and Michi, Sara and Aiden remain in the forest after dark to find Jessica, but they have no idea that they are about to encounter the tormented souls of those who are looking to add to their numbers.

The characters aren’t the only ones who stray from the pathway, the film itself strays from the pathway of a well-paced and developed plot. I am not sure if the movie is supposed to be self-reflexive in that it is about exploring dark, repressed memories that subconsciously torment the soul or if it supposed to be a superficial cliche horror flick that provides an hour and a half of mild to moderate entertainment. From poorly written dialog to including too many poorly placed flashbacks, this film is all over the place. I have often commented on my dislike for films that rely on flashbacks to support or tell the story. Every once in a while, there come films that actually utilize the flashback in a way that works extremely well–but those are few and far between–this is definitely not one of them. The first several minutes of the film feels like a ping pong match because the audience is constantly tossed back and forth between present day and 20-30 year old flashbacks.

I feel strongly that this is a horror film that could have really used much more character development for Sarah. Not that horror films are the place to find development amongst its lead characters, but the story being told here was actually a good platform for integrating that element into the narrative. It’s almost like the writers were going that direction, but failed to see it through. Films like this one are not produced to add to the artistic medium of visual storytelling or offer up any degree of legitimate critical value, but still these types of horror films should continue to the library of other horror films by adding something new–even a small contribution. That being said, the fact that the film does integrate true elements of local folklore and true stories of suicide in the forest does give the film a little something that many do not have–a direct connection to the horrific reality of a place that anyone can visit on their trip to Mount Fuji. After talking with my expatriate friend who resides in Japan, I do look at this film a little different since the narrative appears to hit very close to home for many who live with news of the dark side of that forest as part of their lives.

For what it’s worth, it’s a fun movie to watch if you are looking for some cheap scares. Like with most horror films, it is best enjoyed or appreciated in a group setting.