Roar Uthaug came to international attention with his 2015 film, The Wave. For Tomb Raider, he brought together an extremely diverse cast for the 2018 reboot. Screen Rant spoke to him about how he got involved with the film, what challenges he ran into while making it, and how he approached adapting a video game to a live action feature.
Screen Rant: So, with Tomb Raider, obviously it's a big franchise in the video game world and even in films in the past, what was your approach to it and how did you get attached to project?
Roar Uthaug: Well I got attached because my previous Norwegian movie The Wave, it was screened here in L.A. and one of the executives at MGM saw the movie and wrote my agent and wrote to him about Tomb Raider and of course I got really excited. I didn't know. . . I'd played the game like way back and of course the Angelina Jolie movies, but I didn't know what they have done to the game after that, I started my research and like saw trailers and scenes from the 2013 reboots and got really excited because I love what they've done with that, making a new kind of more authentic and grounded Lara Croft.
That was something that really appealed to me because that's I guess, also what I try to do we do with The Wave, a disaster movie, trying to make this a big disaster movie but grounded in reality with characters you care about and root for and that's what I wanted to do with this.
Screen Rant: You know, speaking of grounded, I actually love the fact that in the in the 2013 reboot, the game has a lot of mysticism in it, but this one is very grounded and you get to see that origin of Lara Croft, which we kind of touch on the video game a little bit, but why the direction to go so grounded to this film?
Roar Uthaug: It's my personal taste as well, I think that's a good way to get the audience engaged in a movie like this, to make them believe that this is actually happening, this is a real girl living in East London, has a real life there, and she is taking on this great big adventure, but it's throughout it you feel that there's a reality to it and she's . . .her experience of rings true and I think that’s something that was important.
Screen Rant: Yeah, I love the opening chase scene on the bikes, it was it was brilliant, it was a lot of fun, and how difficult was that shoot? Because it seemed like a lot of moving parts to that chase scene especially and I notice that there's a lot of chase scenes throughout the film, so is doing . . . I don't know which came first, that one or the one on the boat, did that help you prep for the next one, whatever that would have been?
Roar Uthaug: Yeah a little bit, but then again, I think every chase scene or action scene you try to have a fresh approach to all of it. We actually shot the London Park last.
Screen Rant: Oh wow, really?
Roar Uthaug: Yeah, so we started in Vogel’s tent in South Africa and then just moved out there into that world and then shot all of that and also the Hong Kong harbor chase on the big tank that we built down there.
Screen Rant: Oh wow.
Roar Uthaug: Yeah, then we moved along to London.
Screen Rant: Interesting, now Tomb Raider is a huge large scale movie, what were some of the challenges of working on an American tentpole film like that?
Roar Uthaug: Well, you have scenes of course, the big spectacle scenes, that have a lot of moving parts, like the boat in this scene, the book in the storm. You have this big big constructed of the books on a giant gimbal that could move it around, then water cannons and rain towers and wind machines and then you have a Alicia in the middle of all that and just, it's just logistics, kind of getting a camera around and getting everything everybody safe before each take, so I guess that's the biggest challenge is all the logistics and then it's also about remembering in all those scenes that it's about this character and her experience of it that should ring through and that's something I think Alicia brings perfectly this movie.
Screen Rant: Exactly, Alicia, she's a great representation of the current Lara Croft and it's not, she's not over sexualized, there’s no romantic love interest, which I find kind of refreshing for this. But with the video game genre being such a hard thing to crack in cinema, you guys have done a great job at it, but what do you think the kind of secret is to that because the video game genre’s a little a little bit tougher to do.
Roar Uthaug: I think it's like in any movie, you have to care about the characters, if you don't care about the people that this is all happening to, then you’ve lost. So, I think the most important thing was to make your audience root for Lara, believe that she's a real girl, and I think then you send her out on this big adventure, but then you have to . . . or at least I think we have to keep a kind of grounded approach to all of it so it doesn't feel camp or tongue in cheek and that it feels real and that it feels . . . when she stumbles and falls, she gets hurt and she just bruised but then she picks herself up, she keeps fighting.
Screen Rant: Now, one of the things I actually really appreciate that you did is there was there was a few little Easter eggs from the 2013 game in there, like I noticed the cut like the scar on her face, what other small Easter eggs can hardcore Tomb Raider fans kind of like take out of this?
Roar Uthaug: I think you'll recognize like the bow and arrow, the pick axe, some of her - Lara’s weapons of choice is definitely inspired by the game and also the sequence of her going down the river into the Japanese bunker and the parachutes. It was very inspired by the game I thought that was a brilliant sequence in the game and really fun to try to translate that onto to the big screen.
Screen Rant: Now, were there any films that you were inspired by while making this? Cause I felt very Temple of Doom and towards like the end of the film.
Roar Uthaug: You know, growing up in Norway the Indiana Jones movies were some of my favorite movies and I watched them again and again, so of course that's coming up in my DNA. I don't think there was any kind of particular movie that inspired us, but as for making like a new origin story of Lara Croft for the big screen, you see what people like Christopher Nolan did with The Dark Knight trilogy, or what they did with James Bond and the Casino Royale, they kind of gave it a new energy and you take on a character and I think that's what we’re trying to do here as well.
Screen Rant: Yeah, I think you achieved it. I really think it's a lot of fun, it's a lot of fun. Now that the franchise seems in really good hands, in your hands, do you - are you planning for the sequel? Because you don't want to give away too much what happens at the end, but you leave it open that the trinity’s still out there, so what are your thoughts?
Roar Uthaug: We haven't started talking about that at all, now we're just focused on making this movie.
Screen Rant: Well, personally where would you like to see Lara Croft go? Just not even so much of . . . just where would you personally see her go?
Roar Uthaug: I think what we've tried on this movie is to show how Lara Croft goes from being young independent girl in East London and then going through all these ordeals and then when she's comes out in the end she's kind of become the ‘Tomb Raider’ there and I think that's what we wanted to do with this movie.
Screen Rant: Another thing that I thought was brilliant too is that in video games, there's a lot of problem solving skills involved in playing the game and it felt very much like Lara had to do this, so I almost feel like I was almost playing as Alicia as Lara, so was that intentional that you were like, ‘OK let's use what's around here, let's try to make this kind of like similar to what the video game would have you do’?
Roar Uthaug: Yeah, I think it was important that it's not just about physicality and because I think that's something that's really interesting with the Lara Croft character, that she's smart and she solves puzzles with her mind as well and I think that's something we definitely wanted to keep in the movie.
Screen Rant: And last question, as a filmmaker I'm sure you that you've learned so much from every film you do, was the biggest lesson you learned while making Tomb Raider?
Roar Uthaug: That's a difficult one . . .there were so many lessons learned on this movie. I was just handling all the moving parts of a big production, you learn a lot from that and then of course working with great actors, like Alicia, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, you learn so much from them by watching them do their craft.
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- Tomb Raider (2018) release date: Mar 16, 2018