I wasn’t planning to see Tomb Raider, the new reboot of the Lara Croft franchise. But my friend and fellow movie geek Tom Norton, Senior Editor of Sound and Vision, asked if I wanted to see it with him while he was in town. He had flown in for the LG TV Reviewers Workshop (see my writeup here), and he stayed a few extra days to see as many movies in Dolby Vision as he could, since there is no Dolby Cinema anywhere within a reasonable distance from his home in the Florida panhandle.
In this version of the origin story, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is an independent but aimless young woman mourning the disappearance of her wealthy and secretly adventuring father Richard (Dominic West). She goes in search of him with the reluctant help of sailor Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), who takes her to a mysterious island identified in Richard’s notes. They are captured by the villain Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), who is searching for the same thing that lead Richard to the island seven years before. Other minor but important characters include the executor of Richard’s estate, Mr. Yaffe (Derek Jacoby), and Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), who runs Richard’s businesses—and who is likely to figure prominently in a sequel if one is made.
I never saw 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie in the title role, nor its sequel, The Cradle of Life, from 2003. But from what I’ve read, the new movie is more like the 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider video games than the earlier movies. In any event, I found the new movie to be fairly unbelievable. For example, Lara has no experience or training in archeology or exploration, yet she leads the way in solving the puzzles and uncovering the secrets that drive the plot. Also, she is severely injured at one point, which doesn’t seem to slow her down much. And Vogel, the main bad guy, is not very menacing.
On the other hand, the Dolby Vision high dynamic range is excellent. There are many scenes in dark caves and other underground settings, and the black level is very deep with mostly superb shadow detail. (One exception is when Lara finds her father’s secret study; shadow detail in that shot is almost completely absent.) As usual with Dolby Vision in a Dolby Cinema, the black interstitials (moments of full-screen black between scenes) are true black, not gray as they are in a conventional cinema. Also, highlights such as the sun and explosions are very bright. All of this results in an image that really pops.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack makes full use of the entire speaker array, with off-screen voices and other sounds coming from various directions. In addition, the ambience inside the tomb is effectively represented all around the audience. And like many Atmos soundtracks these days, the music is mixed well into the room.
Tom and I both thought the volume was pretty high, but my measurements were surprisingly moderate: Leq (average RMS level over the entire length of the movie plus trailers) = 92.7 dBZ (flat), 82.3 dBA, 91.5 dBC; Lmax (maximum 1-second RMS level) = 116.5 dBZ; L10 (level exceeded 10% of the time) = 96.1 dBZ; L50 (level exceeded 50% of the time) = 80.5 dBZ. Still, I felt the need to plug my ears on several occasions.
Tomb Raider is mildly entertaining—obviously, a female version of Indiana Jones, though Lara is the only female in the entire story after she leaves London, which seems a bit strange. Alicia Vikander does a creditable job portraying Lara’s grit and determination, but everyone else feels quite empty. Overall, I think it’s better suited to seeing at home rather than a commercial cinema if you’re interested in it at all.
On the other hand, the Dolby Vision and Atmos presentation is excellent, so if you decide to venture out for it, I recommend spending the extra few bucks to see it in a Dolby Cinema if there’s one near you; for a list of locations, click here. At the AMC Burbank 16, Tomb Raider is playing only during the day; Black Panther is still being shown there in the evening. I guess semi-scary tombs and Alicia Vikander can’t replace Wakanda and Chadwick Boseman entirely!
Check out the trailer: