Exclusive: GameSpot on the Set of the Tomb Raider Movie
GameSpot's Lauren Fielder travels to London to get the latest scoop on the Tomb Raider movie currently in production.
I've logged hundreds of hours of sitting through game demos, some good and some not so good. And while little compares to seeing a megahit game revealed for the first time, even fewer experiences compare to watching a game transform into a blockbuster film right before your eyes.
Those familiar with the Tomb Raider series of games likely know that next summer, the Tomb Raider movie will hit theaters across the county. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to London with Paramount Pictures to get an exclusive peek at the Tomb Raider movie in progress and participate in the Tomb Raider Live Webcast event, which will be held today online. The movie, however, is being made at Pinewood Studios in Iver Heath. If Iver Heath doesn't ring a bell, then perhaps Pinewood Studios does. Within these studios, specifically the 007 sound stage, lies the birthing ground of at least 16 James Bond films, the original Mission Impossible, Batman, and now the coming Tomb Raider movie, which is being directed by Simon West and stars Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft.
Behind the Pinewood gates, the 007 stage, known in the vernacular as the "Bond stage," (the largest sound stage in the world), hunkers down on the rolling English countryside like an impossible, misplaced hangar. Bizarrely, the inside is more spacious than the outside - like some sort of tesseract. When I saw this set, it was dressed for the Angkor Wat tombs in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The cast and crew will actually film in Cambodia in the coming weeks, but the reality doesn't take away from the fact that seeing such a spectacle re-created in a temporary space is both brilliant and disturbing. I started to wonder if through set construction I could enhance my personal surroundings. Could I build a re-creation of Cambodia in my house? Not without the help of the film's production designer and one of its visionaries, Kirk Petruccelli, who spent a large amount of his time showing us around the various sets. When not showing us stacks of photos and sketches of the various filming locations, he walked us through the Croft Manor, which is a contemporary take on what you'd expect to find hidden away north of London - a high-tech castle with as-of-yet uninvented gadgetry complementing a generous smattering of ancient artifacts and archaeological finds.
The buck doesn't stop at Cambodia or the Manor. Pinewood Studios also houses a re-creation of an Icelandic village. The cast and crew spent weeks filming scenes in Iceland that'll eventually be introduced in the Tomb Raider movie as Siberia, yet the Pinewood set allows for further filming without relocating the entire Tomb Raider community for several shots. Game magic is wonderful - the re-creation of exotic locations based on photos and then rendered in 3D - but seeing the actual, tangible mock environments used in filmmaking that so convincingly fool the eye is quite another story. I walked around the Iceland/Siberia set and, with the exception of the Alpo dog biscuits sitting on the side of a table (offerings for the four-legged "talent" in those scenes), I could have easily tricked my mind away from London. In fact, I did. But I came back around pretty quickly when Kirk promised a tour of the Tomb Raider movie vehicles.
The two headlining gadgets in this movie are no doubt the jazzed-up motorcycle and the Land Rover Defender - two rides Tomb Raider game fans are somewhat familiar with. Sitting in and on these vehicles was a highlight for me. A company just outside of London, which creates stunt vehicles for many films, received the base vehicles from the manufacturers and then, under the direction of Simon West and Kirk Petruccelli, turned them into Lara's muscle machines. What's amazing is how aesthetically pleasing these beasts are. They've got 700 pounds of extra stuff, but they look great. Not only can you drive the Defender through 4 feet of water because it's rigged with an undercarriage air valve that emerges from the hood, but it's also the best looking thing on the road. And yes, the Defender actually has a rocket launcher.
We caught up with the film's director, Simon West, on the first day at Pinewood. Most impressive perhaps was his dedication to making the Lara Croft character a true, strong female lead. The first step toward a successful Tomb Raider, according to West, was getting the right star. Academy Award winner Angelina Jolie was his choice, and after I had the opportunity to watch her in action - doing her own stunts - I couldn't agree more. Most agree that the game character Lara Croft is sexy, but some argue that she's not the strong, positive, tough role model we've sought. But Angelina appears sold on making Lara less of a pretty, trash-talking game character and more of the kick-ass kind of adventurer that's been idealized by the mainstream media, not always with validation.
After a pretty fortunate, several-day tour of Pinewood, my eyes danced with the stunning imagery and the experience is still boomingly large in my mind. Yet the movie's plot is still an enigma to me. Sure, I know bits and pieces. I know some of the characters, and yes, I've even seen a trailer or two. But the trip was sort of like how I imagine visiting Willy Wonka to be. It all looked really good - worlds and environments created from scratch to look like places most people only dream of going. Watching a movie come together is very much like watching a game in development. You meet the characters, you see weapons and bits of wardrobe, levels, and even vehicles. But you don't see them together much until relatively shortly before the game is released. In Hollywood, this is called a trailer. To us, it's a demo. For the Tomb Raider movie, the components I've seen are fascinating, and the scale is so much greater than that of the games, so I can only imagine now what the final product will be next summer.
In the meantime, if you didn't catch this morning's Tomb Raider Live Webcast event at tombraider.real.com, in which John Tracy and I give you the full tour of the Tomb Raider sets from London, check it out again tonight, when it will be rebroadcast at 7pm PST. We interview Simon West, show you around the sets, and more.
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