JOLIE GOOD FUN: Tomb Raider Packaging Design
Early 2000s blockbusters are an interesting creature that I have a love/hate relationship with. If you were one of those people in 2001 who told me that in 20 years time I was going to look back at 'modern movies' with the same fondness that I do 80s films you'd have lost any credibility when it came to understanding my taste. However It is clear, looking back, that movies from the start of the millennium definitely had its own aesthetic. Movies like Charlies Angels fully embraced the effects popularised by the success of The Matrix which meant a lot more 'Wire Fu' as seen in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and a lot less 'accurate physics'. CGI was far from perfection but was still the 'buzz word' to achieve anything, resulting in combat sequences like the opening ninja battle in Blade 2. The final sparkler in creating a 2000s cocktail was editing and transitions. Every shot had to have action and purpose and style, possibly edited to a high octane Prodigy-esque soundtrack.
The trailer to the Angelina Jolie headlined Tomb Raider movie fully presented everything terrible about that era. impossible physics, unbelievable CGI, nosebleed inducing transitions, erratic digital effects and unnecessary stunts that can't work in real life.
Watching the trailer today in 2021 I realise how similar it feels to those Bollywood dramas that do the rounds on social media.
I'd like to admit that the trailer was the reason I didn't watch Tomb Raider on it's release... but it I'd be lying. The actual reason is because I was a Resident Evil fan. Video gamers by their nature have a competitive nature. in the 80s you were either team Mario or team Sonic (go Mario!) which effectively meant Nintendo vs Sega (best represented with Super Nintendo vs Megadrive and Gameboy vs Gamegear). Today the battle continues with Xbox vs Playstation (being laughed at pretentiously by Nintendo Switch & PC gamers). But in 1996 owners of the Playstation were greeted with two ground breaking titles that grew into the biggest franchises in the world. Lara Croft Tomb Raider and Resident Evil. Playstation felt revolutionary for many reasons among the most important it allowed much more complex 3d games but also the ability to save onto memory cards. This resulted in games having longer stories, more complex puzzles and extended pacing. rather than being able to complete a game over an hour through mastery it meant investing time into a game and getting heavily addicted. With both games coming out in the same year and at roughly the same time you clearly gravitated to one. Some people loved being terrified of zombies, dogs, giant snakes and navigating creepy houses, while some were firing their twin guns at bats and running from a T rex in underground caves. Each year after the release of the first tomb raider game came another title in the franchise. Lara Croft even became a cover model for mens magazines (Loaded) as well as personalised 'photoshoots' for PC Gamer, Face Magazine and countless other.
Resident Evil's complex evolution couldn't match the pace of Tomb Raiders development nor it's 'sex sells' marketing. Capcom, RE's developer, relied on strange tie-ins with various types of unique gameplay to keep the brand relevant but these didn't quite fulfil the needs of the fans like Tomb Raider did, When a Lara Croft movie was announced starring 'so-hot-right-now' Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, many cheered for the exciting casting choice and it was a good sign for game franchises but I was among the anti-fans that collectively eye-rolled against the idea. Instead I waited a year for the release of the Resident Evil film starring Milla Jovovich playing a character who also defied physics in a movie filled with digital effects, crazy editing, flashy transitions and loud music... but I celebrated it. It not only raised Resident Evil in status but was a huge contributor to the return of the zombie subgenre.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider was a massive box office success with a return of 274.7 million USD while Resident Evil made a humble 102.4 million but that would eventually change by the time we got to the 6th movie in the questionable Resident Evil film franchise making 312.2 million USD. BUT WHO'S COUNTING!?
In 2020 I was asked by Astro to provide artwork for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and its sequel Cradle of Life. This would be the first time I'd seen the films outside of its iconic trailers and I had to confess I heavily enjoyed it. The feel of the film is clearly early 2000s nostalgic but I was surprised by the inclusion of fantastical harryhausen esque creatures and combat set pieces. everything was a visual spectical and each sequence challenge and set felt like that of a video game. Even more impressive was the horror sequence in Cradle of life that felt heavily influenced by James Cameron's Aliens.
Both films in the series enthusiastically combines the most entertaining parts of James Bond, Indiana Jones with post-Matrix fight choreography and I was excited for this project. Note: I do feel that the marketing and some sequenes with Jolie could be described as exploitative but I would argue that there's a fair balance with some equally sexualised scenes at the expense of a pre 007 Daniel Craig and pre 300 Gerard Butler. If I had any complaints its that there's a sinful misuse of the acting talents of Chris Barry, a British, national treasure.
Immediately what becomes apparent when watching Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is the level of detail that has gone into the lore and design of the unique artefacts and puzzles. I immediately wanted to ensure that the details of the work wasn't lost in the cover design. I felt it was easy to overlook in the original marketing campaign behind Jolie's pose and unnecessary fake books so I wanted to push the archaelogical adventure aspects more inline with Indiana Jones and The Mummy rather than the motorcycles and spies aspects.
My other desire was to make the covers feel interactive. I wanted to capture the feel of Lara combining the tablets by having the artwork of the two films joining to create a beautiful panoramic. It took a substantial amount planning and manipulation of light sources to create a perfect balance between the two covers. Astro have released the covers individually and as a combined image each looking highly striking from any display. All cover variants are available here