Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the disc for the original Tomb Raider movie seemed less than stellar, Cradle provided a consistently solid picture.
Sharpness was excellent. At no time did I notice any signs of softness or fuzziness. Instead, the movie appeared tight and well defined. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and only a little light edge enhancement manifested itself occasionally. As one might expect from such a recent movie, Cradle lacked any sign of source flaws.
Given the movie’s range of settings, it offered a pretty good array of colors. The hues came across as vibrant and dynamic throughout the movie. The film offered rich and concise tones that were well represented. The sequence in Shanghai presented especially lively colors. Blacks also seemed tight and dense, while low-light shots appeared appropriately detailed and accurate. Some moderately funky-looking digitally graded day for night photography gave parts of the final act an odd appearance, but the images remained adequately visible. Ultimately, I found little about which to complain in this generally excellent transfer.
In addition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life seemed solid. The soundfield offered a consistently lively and engaging experience. From the forward speakers, I heard solid stereo separation for the music, and effects presented a vibrant and active presence. Different elements were neatly localized, and they moved across channels and blended together neatly and cleanly.
The surrounds also contributed a terrific amount of information as they created an encompassing environment. The rear speakers featured solid reinforcement of music throughout the film, and it included a wide variety of effects as well. Virtually every action sequence came across with a fine level of excitement and activity from all around the spectrum. Gunfire, critters, vehicles, and various baddies all popped up from the different speakers, and these allowed the mix to really kick to life nicely.
Audio quality also appeared very solid. Although much of the speech needed to be looped, dialogue always came across as natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Music seemed robust and vivid, as the songs and the score demonstrated good fidelity and range. Effects were the stars of the show, however, as they presented excellent clarity and accuracy and also packed a good punch. Bass response seemed deep and rich, and highs were crisp and bright. Cradle didn’t quite live up to the reference-quality audio of two other Jan De Bont flicks - Twister and The Haunting - but it created an excellent impression nonetheless.
Despite the film’s lackluster box office reception, Paramount accorded Cradle a good special edition DVD. It opens with an audio commentary from director Jan De Bont, who offers a running, screen-specific piece. De Bont covers a mix of topics, most of which focus on technical domains. He gets into locations, stunts, visual effects, and the many logistical challenges caused by this sort of massive project. De Bont also occasionally chats about the actors and lets us know a little about casting, improvised lines, and some other issues, but he mostly goes over the nuts and bolts issues. At times De Bont favors too much praise; we always hear how this was fantastic and that was amazing. Nonetheless, he gives us a lot of information and creates a reasonably interesting examination of the movie.
Up next we find seven deleted/alternate scenes. Presented non-anamorphic 2.35:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio, these run a total of 11 minutes and 41 seconds. Most of these offer fairly uneventful moments that slightly expand existing concepts and seem inconsequential. One introduces the Djimon Hounsou character earlier in the film, and the alternate ending provides a less effective conclusion to the movie. The latter’s the most interesting to see, as it’s a rare example in which the utilized ending seems more daring than the unused one.
One can view the deleted/alternate scenes with or without commentary from director De Bont. He gives us some notes about each clip and explains why he omitted all of them. The commentary adds nice information about the snippets.
In the Featurettes domain, we locate five programs that cover various aspects of the movie. These include “Training” (eight minutes, 54 seconds), “Vehicles and Weapons” (4:28), “Stunts” (10:54), “Visual Effects” (11:25), and “Scoring” (4:44). These combine movie snippets, behind the scenes images, and interviews. We get comments from director De Bont, stunt coordinator Simon Crane, actors Angelina Jolie, Christopher Barrie, Noah Taylor, Ciaran Hinds and Gerard Butler, story writer James V. Hart, personal trainer Ed Chow, stuntwoman Nicola Berwick, horse trainer Gerard Napliox, action vehicle coordinator Graham Kelly, armorer Richard Hooper, special effects director Chris Corbould, line producer Phillip Lee, visual effects supervisors Steven Begg and Ben Shepard, production designer Kirk M. Petrucelli, and composer Alan Silvestri.
“Training” concentrates on Jolie’s preparation, as we see her learn and execute different physical activities. “Vehicle and Weapons” offers what the title states, though it doesn’t include much depth. Nonetheless, it presents a fun sequence in which Jolie examines all her new toys with Hooper. “Stunts” discusses the scene in which Lara and Terry quickly descend on ropes as well as the high-rise jump. “Visual Effects” looks at the faked underwater photography, the Stealth re-entry pod, and the creatures and setting in the Cradle of Life. Lastly, “Scoring” looks at the movie’s music, its creation and intent. None of these seem outstanding, but all offer some nice moments and collectively give us a pretty decent look at the movie.
A short but cool feature shows up via Gerard Butler’s Screen Test. In this three-minute and 59-second snippet, he performs the scene in which we first meet Terry in jail. It’s quite a good performance; many screen tests seem somewhat artificial, but this one feels like it could go straight into the final flick.
After this we discover two music videos. The disc presents Korn’s “Did My Time” and the Davey Brothers’ “Heart Go Faster”. The former mostly mixes the usual lip-synch and movie elements, but it also attempts some sort of plot and incorporates specially-shot footage of Jolie in character, so it seems a little more interesting than usual. The latter presents no new shots of Jolie and consists of band images and movie bits. However, it’s a little more stylish than most in its genre.
For DVD-ROM users, we can check out an archive from the original theatrical website. Based on the DVD itself – you need no Internet connection – this includes some exclusive footage from the set as well as a mix of downloads, interviews, and text pieces. It’s a decent little collection.
At the start of the disc, you have the option to watch some previews. This includes ads for Paycheck, and The Adventures of Indiana Jones. These also appear as part of the “Special Features” menu. One other note: as usual with Paramount’s releases, most of the extras provide both English and French subtitles.
Without Angelina Jolie, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life would probably be little more than an average action/adventure flick. Actually, with Jolie it rarely seems better than average, but the actress helps give the movie a decent personality. Cradle remains pretty pedestrian, but it nonetheless provides some enjoyable moments. The DVD offers very strong picture and audio plus a reasonably satisfying set of extras. Action fans won’t find anything remarkable in Cradle, but it gives us a moderately enjoyable romp highlighted by its lead actress.