The 2001 blockbuster Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was one of the first commercially successful films based on a video game series, but many fans might not be aware of the film’s troubled development. From numerous script revisions to Angelina Jolie’s initial reluctance to take on the role to a rushed post-production schedule, it’s a miracle that the film made its 2001 release date, let alone turn out to be one of the highest-grossing films of the year.
One intrepid Tomb Raider fan took it upon himself to create a documentary series that would take a deep dive into the production of each of the three theatrical releases, warts and all. That fan is Kilian Guibert and the first part of his “Widescreen Adventures of Lara Croft” series is now available to watch on the Tomb Raider Files YouTube channel.
Part one of “The Widescreen Adventures of Lara Croft” explores the conception and production of the 2001 film, from its initial announcement in March 1998 to its release in the summer of 2001. The almost two-hour-long documentary is mostly in French but English-language subtitles are available. Don’t let any of this deter you; this is a must-watch documentary for any fan of the franchise.
Tomb Raider Horizons was also able to secure an exclusive Q&A with the documentary’s creator Kilian Guibert, who kindly took the time to answer some questions about his research process and the various challenges of working on such an ambitious and unique project.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your YouTube channel?
My name is Kilian, I’m 27 years old, and I’m a news editor for the official fansite Laraider and run the Tomb Raider Files YouTube channel. It’s a channel about Tomb Raider, but the content is more focused on analysis and documentaries than on news.
I’ve been a big fan of Tomb Raider ever since I saw my father play the first Tomb Raider on PC. As a 5-year-old kid, I had never seen anything like it. This experience fuelled my love for adventure stories revolving around lost cities, artefacts, and travel around the globe.
Afterwards, I was able to play the game myself and became attached to it, and I’ve been following the progress of the Tomb Raider brand and the character of Lara Croft ever since.
Q: What inspired you to create your “Widescreen Adventures of Lara Croft” documentary series?
I’ve had an attachment to the first Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film ever since I was a kid; it was the first “adult” action movie I ever saw. I remember my father coming home one evening with two pirated DVDs of the film (with no extras). The dubbing of the films was only available in Canadian French, which was a drastic change from the French version I later discovered when a friend gave me the VHS version as a gift.
In the VHS version, there was a bonus featurette called “Digging Into Tomb Raider“, which was about the development of the film. This little 25-minute documentary started my interest in learning more about the behind-the-scenes history of the films I was watching.
The inspiration for “The Widescreen Adventures of Lara Croft” came one evening in 2017 when the first trailer for the reboot with Alicia Vikander and the “famous poster” were released. I was browsing YouTube looking for various information and I came across a review about the first film. Unfortunately, what was said didn’t go further than the usual easy and uninteresting criticism.
In the end, I was quite surprised I wasn’t able to find a retrospective video about the creation of the film like other films might have. So I thought, why not write an article about it for Laraider?
That’s when I decided to read up on the subject and read a book that came up in my internet search called Tales from Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? by David Hughes. The contrast between Paramount’s positive bonus material and the reality and complexity of the film’s development made me realise that I didn’t really know much about the subject. So I decided to take a chance and talk to some of the people who developed the film. This led me to interview one of the film’s many writers, Michael Colleary. He was even kind enough to give me his script, which I read and discovered that it was completely different to the final film.
I thought my research was over but then I got in touch with Dave Stern, who wrote the novelisation of the 2001 film, with the hope that I could interview him. I wanted to find out if his novel had been written with the help of the screenplay and if, by chance, he still had a copy of it. Unfortunately, he didn’t have it anymore. Then one day, I was on Ebay and finally found a complete screenplay of the 2001 film, which had been written by Patrick Masset, John Zinman, and Simon West. This motivated me to return to my research. I also found an article on the internet which had extracts from the excellent book Lights, Camera, Game Over! by Luke Owens. It talked about the development of video game film adaptations in detail and there was a whole long chapter dedicated to Tomb Raider.
I got hold of the book and over time, the draft for an article turned into a draft chapter for a possible republication of a French book called L’Histoire de Tomb Raider: L’Odyssée de Lara Croft by Alexandre Serel. I had gotten in touch with him and proposed this project. Unfortunately, Covid-19 came along and stopped everything, and this project was cancelled.
So then I decided to launch my own YouTube channel – Tomb Raider Files – in September 2020. This was a project I had had in mind for many years and I still had all this unused text. I put this idea aside and began with a video about Ben Wheatley and the development of Tomb Raider II, the sequel to the 2018 reboot film; Wheatley was originally going to direct the film but was replaced by Misha Green in early 2021. I followed this up with the documentary “The Metafiction of Lara Croft”, which looked at the metafictional side of Lara Croft through her musical appearances. This was good training to see if I could handle such a complex project.
Q: Can you tell us a little about how you put this documentary together?
After writing about the subject for about two years, I started to put my editorial ideas on paper. Some decisions were made completely by instinct.
The project was initially going to be one video about the two Lara Croft: Tomb Raider films. In the end, I thought it would be better to split this project into two separate videos – one for each film – and then make a third video about the 2018 reboot.
The main idea was that “The Widescreen Adventures of Lara Croft” had to be interesting and comprehensive as well as visual and dynamic. I wanted to avoid the cynicism of other videos I’ve seen about the film – like the Cinema Sins video – or rely on the popular format of retelling the film with jokes. Basically I wanted to make the best possible documentary about the films without it being watered down, and to tell a story.
I had several ideas I was imagining for other videos, like using comic books to tell the stories from the abandoned scripts in a roundabout way. So I spent many hours on PhotoShoot trying to find the right poses for Lara, correcting the backgrounds, etc.
I also wanted to insert a little narrative element into my documentary and make Lara one of the people who was looking for the unused scripts, reading the stories, and getting reprimanded by Paramount. I thought that was quite funny.
The editing phase took me about eight months to complete. It took longer than I had expected because I had to re-record all of my narration; I wasn’t satisfied with the original result. Fortunately during the editing process, I was able to get some help from Tom Penalva, aka Automne on YouTube, who is a singer and a great friend of mine. He used his beautiful voice to narrate various parts of the video and offered his technical expertise as a sound technician.
My wonderful friends Sly and Chamayoo were also a great moral support and were able to give me their feedback and suggest some interesting alternatives. For example, Chamayoo suggested that I could do the whole video using the 4:3 format, and I kept this idea for the chapter about the shooting of the film. In the end, this complicated things a bit because I had to resize the scenes from the film to match the format of the bonus videos. I could never have done all this without them.
Arnaud, another friend of mine and fellow editor for Laraider, was able to design an entire animation scene by hand based an abandoned climactic scene from the original script.
Q: So, was it hard to track down all the information and material you needed for your videos?
The most time-consuming part of the process was getting in touch with the various people who had worked on the film. They couldn’t all reply to me quickly, which meant the project had to be put on hold each time. But the people who replied to me were favourable to the project. Tomb Raider Collection and the storyboard artist Martin Asbury provided me with the storyboards needed to complete my video.
The research phase was intensive, because at the beginning, I didn’t have much documentation to work with. The Tomb Raider Chronicles website helped me establish a timeline of events. Then I had to look for artwork, advertisements, and scripts, which I had to pay for out of my personal savings.
Some articles were found by chance, like the musical part of the soundtrack, which was made possible thanks to an article found in Billboard magazine. Other information was obtained from magazines of the time, like Premiere, which I had to buy two copies of, one in French and one in English.
It was a long process and I kept wanting to add more and more, so the writing and editing phases got longer.
Q: Which is your favourite of the three Tomb Raider films that have been released to date?
I have a fondness for the first Angelina Jolie film because of its escapism and effective action but I also loved Alicia Vikander’s vulnerability, authenticity, and determination in the 2018 reboot. So I put those films on the same level but for different reasons, though the reboot lacked a bit of fantasy.
Q: And, finally, what would you like to see in a future Tomb Raider film?
For Misha Green’s Tomb Raider sequel, which I hope will be shot this year, I hope to see a Lara Croft who is discovering the supernatural, armed with her guns, and going on a quest around the world with Ana. Kristin Scott Thomas is great as the main villain and this promises some good chemistry between the two actresses. I hope that Lara retains her humanity and that we see her constantly learning as the film progresses.
I’d like to see the overall story break away from just being a copy-paste of the plots of Rise and Shadow, and I’d like to see Misha have some fun with her action scenes and story. If we could have a motorbike chase sequence and see a bit of the Croft mansion, that would be nice.
(Update: Sadly, it looks like the sequel will not be going ahead after all…)
I would like to thank Kilian for taking the time to answer my questions about his new documentary series, “The Widescreen Adventures of Lara Croft”, which is available to watch on his YouTube channel, Tomb Raider Files.
The second part of his planned three-part documentary is currently in the works and may be released later this year. In the meantime, feel free to check out his work for Laraider and follow him on Twitter, @FilesTomb.
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