A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Will archaeology survive another Tomb Raider movie?
Well, Lara Croft is back. The character, played again by Angelina Jolie and based on the Tomb Raider video game, hits the big screen on July 25 in "Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life."
In reality, scuba diving in Greek waters is highly restricted and anyone lifting up bronzes like this would be arrested in a flash, such actions violating laws dating back to 1932. So the movie would be over in ten minutes, if this were reality. Since it isn't, Lara Croft can simply grab something and say, "It's mine!"
So that's the basic idea--the movie is one long chase sequence, including motorcycling on the Great Wall, little wonder China refused permission for them to film there. The stand-in for China? Llyn Gwynant, near Beddgelert in Wales, and a computer-generated Great Wall (according to a BBC report, the film industry in Wales had been hard hit by foot-and-mouth disease). Other archaeological window-dressing in the film includes a cave filled with terra-cotta warriors, copied from those in the tomb of China's first emperor, Shihuangdi. Oh, yes, it isn't strictly archaeological, but what looks like Grendel, the monster from Beowulf, and a number of his siblings do make a guest appearance.
The movie is better than the first--which hauled in more than $274 million worldwide and had a $48 million box-office opening weekend, the most ever for a female-driven movie, according to Viacom--so it is sure to be a commercial success. In the pantheon of archaeology-related adventure movies, it recalls the original Indiana Jones movie, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and uses the tried-and-true formula, replacing the Ark of the Covenant with Pandora's Box, and Nazis with a bioweapons merchant who thinks many of the world's inhabitants are unfit to live.
For all its entertainment value, there's nothing here of any redeeming value in terms of archaeology. It's unfortunate; I don't think it has to be that way, even with a character based on a video game. Oh well, maybe they'll do a third movie in which we'll see Lara Croft at a scholarly meeting presenting a paper on long-distance trade and kinship ties in Assyria based on her trace element analysis of metal artifacts (maybe ancient knives?) and newly translated cuneiform tablets. I can see it now...as a distinguished professor in a tweed jacket and bow tie raises his hand to object to her conclusion, Croft reaches for her cutlery.... Hmmm. Maybe it's better to not worry about archaeology if you go to this movie.
What's Wrong with this Picture?
Pointing out the archaeological flaws in "Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" is probably an unnecessary undertaking, but here are a couple of things I spotted in the one viewing of the movie I had. There must be others, so let us know what you see and we'll post them.
Big problems with the Luna Temple. Luna was a Roman moon goddess (actually the Oxford Classical Dictionary says Sabine), so Alexander wouldn't have erected a temple to her. The Greek equivalent would have been Selene. The temple sank in 330 B.C., says Lara, but Alexander didn't get to the Indus River--where the box supposedly was found--until 326, so there's a chronological disjunction there. Also, the box is said to have been responsible for a plague among Alexander's army, but the ancient author Arrian's The Campaigns of Alexander makes no mention of a plague there, the box, or, of course, the Luna Temple. Moreover, I don't think there's any record of an earthquake in 330 or the following years. There was one in 373 B.C., which produced a tsunami that destroyed the Greek city of Helike, near Corinth, and another earthquake must have been responsible for the tsunami that devastated Tryphon of Apamaea's army as it marched along the Syrian coast near the city of Ptolemais in the second century B.C. But not in 330.
Mark Rose is executive and online editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.