4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2018; PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: “Lara Croft: Evolution of an Icon”
CASTING Alicia Vikander as gaming icon Lara Croft was a good idea.
The Swedish actress, dancer and producer is known for her work in “Ex Machina” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Vikander won an Academy Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role for “The Danish Girl.” She replaces Angelina Jolie, who played Lara twice in two fun, but uneven, action flicks in 2001 and 2003. That Lara punched out a shark. In this 2018 origin story, Vikander spends a lot of time being punched out herself. Strangled. Kicked. Stabbed. Half-drowned. Give her points for effort.
Vikander is in good hands with Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug. He made an international impression with “The Wave” (2015), a disaster movie based on true events about a tsunami that destroyed one of the country’s most popular tourist locations. Still, “The Wave” maintains its 83 percent rating on rottentomatoes.com, while “Tomb Raider” only gets a 49. How did such promise go wrong?
It’s not that Uthaug and Vikander aren’t a good team. The action in “Tomb Raider” is all we could hope for – and looks great in 4K. There’s a flash of a good story to come and a glimpse of the true Lara during end scenes. But the story, based on the games, takes itself too seriously. There’s no fun, not even a smile.
In “Tomb Raiders Uncovered,” one of four bonus features on Warner Brothers’ release, Producer Graham King says, “I wanted to reboot the series … The tone is changed. We’re making a film that’s more gritty, got some drama to it, got a lot of emotion to it.”
Right. There’s so much grit, it buries the heart. And, beg pardon, but what emotion?
Impulsive and stubborn, Vikander’s Lara Croft is all business, no charm. The story borrows so much from “Indiana Jones,” Steven Spielberg could sue for copyright infringement. Walton Goggins (“Justified”) provides a breath of life. Cast as villain Mathias Vogel, he works for Trinity, another evil corporation out to rule the world. The McGuffin is Himiko’s Tomb located somewhere on Yamatai, a lost island kingdom of Ancient Japan ruled by an evil queen, who was buried alive.
For the past seven years, Vogel, his team of roughnecks and anyone he can force into slavery have been digging and blasting away without any luck. Until Lara arrives with the map her missing father ordered her to destroy.
Among the many flashbacks, we learn Lara’s rich father Richard (Dominic West), kept leaving her behind to pursue his own adventures. He’s a dull man for an explorer, and their relationship seems strained at best. It’s difficult to imagine she cares so much for him, but Lara forsakes the family fortune rather than verify his probable death. When she finally discovers a clue to his whereabouts, it’s off to Hong Kong, and then to Yamatai, with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), son of Richard’s friend.
They are shipwrecked, captured by Vogel, and the story becomes a series of chase and discovery scenes, until the secret of Himiko’s Tomb is revealed … which we guessed about midway through.
Digitally shot at 3.4K and finished at 4K, image quality is good throughout on Blu-ray and first-rate on 4K Ultra Blu-ray. Detail is sharp in urban, ship, island and tomb scenes, and covered by a light but convincing wash of film grain. Color is rich and well saturated, with eye-pleasing pop. HDR/Dolby Vision black levels are deep, and shadows alive with texture and detail. There is nothing wrong with the 2160p (2.39:1 ratio) picture.
Where the new “Tomb Raider” wins is in its action scenes, especially in a storm-tossed shipwreck and jungle chase sequence that lands Lara in rapids. These look realistic, and the suspense is genuine, a grand job by all involved.
“We were looking for a very raw kind of nature and South Africa had just that,” Uthaug says in “Tomb Raider Uncovered.”
The production turned Cape Town into Hong Kong, and built Himiko’s Tomb on location and on set in England. “I believe in getting as much as possible in camera to make it feel as real and grounded as possible,” Uthaug says in the bonus featurettes. “We used visual effects to further heighten what we did on set … We threw [Vikander] down an Olympic white water rafting course with her hands tied … We built this giant tank on the back lots in Cape Town. We filled it with floating walkways, junks, floating restaurants and lots of extras.”
“It was very, very authentic. It kind of made me feel like I was back in Hong Kong,” Wu says..
The 4K and Blu-ray benefit from eight-channel Dolby Atmos and default 7.1 True HD soundtracks. It all sounds good with clear dialogue and an array of immersive effects filling the room. However, musical cues composed by Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg) deliberately overwhelm the tracks, suddenly boosting sound to neighbor-complaining levels.
Why should a background score and thundering bass crush a shipwreck or shoot-em-up? It rots watching a film with the remote in hand.
The most fun is “Lara Croft: Evolution of an Icon,” where filmmakers, cast and fans share their love for the tomb raider. Cosplayer Meagan Marie, Senior Community Manager, Crystal Dynamics, and author of “20 Years of Tomb Raider,” leads the discussion.
“Tomb Raider: Uncovered” is a short making-of, while “Breaking Down the Rapids” and “Croft Training” focus on action scenes and preparation.
Wow. “Tomb Raider,” with its fine cast and director, great locations/sets, stunts and action scenes should have been a contender. It misses because, ultimately, we can’t care about this distant hero and we’ve already seen her adventures elsewhere. Back to the drawing board.
— Kay Reynolds