New life in ‘Tomb’

If it worked for Batman and James Bond, why not Lara Croft?

When the producers behind the now 17-year-old “Tomb Raider” videogame franchise considered options to breathe new life into the series, they turned to movies like Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” and 007 adventure “Casino Royale” for inspiration.

The result is the simply titled reboot “Tomb Raider,” out today, that introduces a younger Croft (now 21) and sends her off on her first big adventure. The action and setpieces are amped up; the graphics are slicker to cater to a younger generation of gamer.

With Hollywood’s studios relaunching established film franchises to keep them afloat, game developers find themselves in a similar situation of having to come up with new ways to keep aging brands alive or lose control of a major source of revenue.

“Tomb Raider” is expected to be the first of many game reboots that take advantage of new videogame consoles from Sony and Microsoft, but also target a younger consumer.

“We were faced with a challenge that is rare with videogames, given that games are still quite a new medium: How to continue this franchise as it transitions from generation to generation, not only with hardware but players, as well,” Darrell Gallagher, head of studio at Crystal Dynamics told Variety. “Seventeen years is a long life for videogames.”

With the last “Tomb Raider” title, “Underworld,” wrapping up a trilogy in 2007 (and serving as the eighth game in the series), Crystal Dynamics felt pressure to move the franchise forward. The entire series has sold more than 35 million units, since the first was released in 1996, making it one of the game biz’s bestselling properties.

“We started to look at other franchises outside of gaming,” Gallagher said. “Bond and Batman are two great examples, with Bond being around for 50 years. We looked at the bold choices they made to make sure the franchise is relevant for a current audience rather than sticking to a formula that is dated.”

“Tomb Raider’s” Croft is certainly iconic, too. One of the few female heroines in games, the buxom, gun-toting British archeologist became known for scant outfits, ponytail and puzzle-solving skills. Her recognition factor was further elevated with two films starring Angelina Jolie.

With the game now out, Crystal Dynamics has its own film version of “Tomb Raider” in mind — and a reboot serves as the basis for a potential new film franchise. Previous attempts died after the wordy sequel “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life,” earned just $67 million domestically in 2003, and $157 million worldwide.

In a rare situation, Crystal Dynamics is working closely with GK Films to develop the actioner. Gamemakers typically just license off the film rights to a title and hope for something good at the megaplex.

“They are working from this new take that we’ve given them,” Gallagher said of GK Films. “It’s a good partnership. We’re seeing the challenges through the same lens.”

Collaboration was key for Crystal Dynamics when agreeing to partner with filmmakers.

“It was important for both of us to have a cohesive version of the franchise,” Gallagher said. “We didn’t want to see a film version that was a continuation of the old ‘Tomb Raider’ films. It was important to find a partner that respected what we did and we respected what they did,” with the gamemakers sparking to the kind of character-driven films GK Films has produced like “The Departed,” “Rango” and “Hugo.”

But at the end of the day, “we make the games, they make the film,” Gallagher said.

To remake “Tomb Raider,” nailing Croft was necessary, according to Noah Hughes, creative director at Crystal Dynamics.

“Looking at Lara as a character, she was still going to be an intellectual heroine, a brilliant archeologist, but more athletic, more competent in traversal and puzzle solving and combat,” Hughes said. “The goal was to emphasise the core attributes of the character and her determination and ability to overcome any challenge.”

To refresh the classic puzzle-solving elements and Croft’s characteristics, Crystal Dynamics plotted an origin story that puts her in survival mode as she explores an island within a Bermuda Triangle-like region. In addition to the pistols Croft is used to firing, producers have now also given her a bow (a nod to “The Hunger Games” and “Brave”).

“She’s an expression of all the things that are exciting and fun about going on epic adventures,” Hughes said. “There’s an X-factor no one can explain but is universal in design. She’s a great character to work with.”

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