Simon West went into production with Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft alongside Daniel Craig, Iain Glen, Noah Taylor, Chris Barrie and Jolie’s real-life father Jon Voight.
West: The studio always wants to go with a safe bet, and that usually means someone who has had some big hits in the lead, and back in those days that felt more like a guarantee. They would go after Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts and even Catherine Zeta-Jones, names that they knew and had a certain body of work. But with Lara Croft, I wanted to be a bit of a rebel and be on the dark side as well, which is why I wanted to go after Angelina.
Kris Wall (former Flickering Myth video games editor): I felt that she was stunt casting more than anything, a huge name actress playing the world’s most well-known video game character was a great marketing angle, but it didn’t really make for a convincing Lara Croft.
Although West had his heart set on Jolie, he also met with Spice Girl Victoria Beckham about the role.
West: It was actually from her fanbase. She had her own group of fans pushing for it. I don’t know if it was Spice Girls fans who had grown up or whether it was the new lot of her fans. But there was a huge push for her. I met her, but for me I was looking for a serious actor. Before the film came out, Lara was seen as this inflatable Barbie doll character, and that’s exactly what I didn’t want her to be. You’re fighting against what Lara Croft looked like anyway, she was that va-va-voom physique. And Angelina had that physique, but she was also had that darker side to her – particularly in those days – and she was a dark, serious actress. It was always going to be an actress over a personality.
Production of Tomb Raider: The Movie took place in England, Iceland and Cambodia, with scenes set to be filmed in China removed due to budget and time restraints and the option to replace China with Scotland was turned down by the director. It was a hazardous production with the crew nearly dying of hypothermia in Iceland, and Jolie tearing the ligaments in her foot during a simple stunt which set production back by a week. But it was in the editing of the movie where West found most of his issues.
West: We had a difference of opinion with the studio about the style of it. I wanted to have a lot of humour in the film, and I’d filmed a lot of funny scenes with Daniel Craig and a sidekick character, who was Julian Rhind-Tutt. And they were old friends. I’d cast them separately but they were actually old friends, so they were very funny together. But the studio wanted to play it very straight and take it very serious. But I think summer movies need to have that humour. All of my movies, even the serious ones like The General’s Daughter which is about the rape and murder of a girl in the American army, took a lot of the humour straight out of the book. And it’s always been really successful for me. But for some reason the studio wanted all of the humour taken out of it. And that to me was disappointing.
Reports and rumours of West being locked out of the editing suite began to do the rounds, bringing up similar stories about Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel during the post-production of fellow video game adaptation Super Mario Bros. The most persistent rumour was that Paramount hired famous film editor Stuart Baird to ‘fix’ the film. Baird had made a name for himself in Hollywood as the man who could re-edit any movie and make it better, having done so in the past with Superman: The Motion Picture, The Omen and Lethal Weapon for Warner Bros., and had recently saved M:I:2 for Paramount. The rumour stated that Baird was brought in to ‘fix’ Tomb Raider: The Movie in exchange for helming their upcoming blockbuster Star Trek: Nemesis and several sources within Paramount reported that Simon West’s first cut of the movie “virtually unwatchable” and a “sure bomb” and that Gordon and Levin were working through the night to make sure the movie hit its June 15th release date.
West: People say that about every movie. If you ever hear that story about someone, it’s false. A director is not legally allowed to be locked out. The Directors Guild of America protects directors right up until the bitter end. It’s a myth that just gets pumped up. And it was probably the stories about me having a difference of opinion with the studio about the humour that has probably been blown up and sensationalised. But I was certainly not locked out and I was there the whole time.
De Souza: When Simon West said he had to write the script himself, at the end of the anaconda’s belly it’s an immediate arbitration. So there was no discussion of who would like what, it was decided by the writer’s guild. Simon ended up getting an “adapted by” credit, which is a very strange and archaic credit.
West: The writers do have to fight their corner, and rightly so, so they can get their just deserts. But the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) is part of the Hollywood system, and they will make sure they deliver in a timely fashion for the studios.
Friedman: I got delivered to my house a box of scripts from the Writer’s Guild saying, ‘we’re going to arbitrate your credit on this script. You need to read everything and tell us why you deserve it.’
De Souza: No more than three writes can hold ‘story’ credit. Now sometimes you’ll see six names, and those are writing partners, so it will be two names with an ampersand, two names with an ampersand and two names with an ampersand. Screenplay can have no more than three writers with the same rules. And if you look at Tomb Raider, it has these credits. It was insane!
Charno: [I] was then surprised when it came to arbitration that the story and characters were based off my script. And that’s why I got story credit.
Friedman: Traditionally if you’re a first writer on a script and they throw everything out, you still get a story credit. And I was pretty much notified that I was going to get a story credit, but if I wanted more, then I had to tell them why. And so I jumped right to the end and read the script they decided to shoot, which I hated. And what I wrote back to them was, ‘I don’t want my name on this in any way shape or form’.
De Souza: In my opinion, many times people say that – and it’s not true.
West: I think [I got writing credit] because I did the story rather than the dialogue and character development and things like that. And it’s the way I work with on a lot of my movies: I come up with plot ideas and the mechanics of the film and cool scenes and throw that into the pot, but you always want a fully trained and great writer. There’s no substitute for a great screenwriter. So I think the adaptation was an acknowledgement of that I came up with the story and a lot of the ideas, but actually real screenwriters wrote the script.