“Life insurance?” “I don’t need any!” says Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, which the BBC thoughtfully put on just after blowing the London Eye to smithereens in a mushroom cloud of fireworks for a New Year’s treat. I like the two Tomb Raider films; there’s no point making a film based on video games unless you’re going to — accurately and/or excitingly — recreate the sorts of scenarios you go through in the games, and they certainly manage that. But in Lara’s smug assurance that she can survive anything, she puts her finger on the one thing that’s missing.
When you play Tomb Raider, your overwhelming experience is of dying, over and over again. That impossible series of jumps that has you plummeting to a spiky death at every new point, those flooded tunnels that gently and continually drown you until you find the exit, that stony monster whose weak point is so hard to find and target.
The closest thing in fiction to the feeling that I’m describing is in 90s SF novel Quarantine by Greg Egan, in which the lead character finds a way to choose from multiple quantum states (OR SOMETHING, IT’S QUITE TECHNICAL) so that he can — for instance — make sure he ends up being the version of himself, out of all possible realities, who finds a million-to-one lock combination or has the good luck for all the guards to be looking the other way.
And that’s the version of Lara we see in the movies, the one who, implausibly, survives every trap and dodges every bullet the first time around. Like a perfect YouTube walkthrough, but without the exhausting months of exploration and practice that go into them. There’s a bit in Quarantine where you get brilliantly wrongfooted, and find yourself following a luckless version of the main character in a universe that doesn’t get chosen as the final reality. It’s dizzying. And that’s the sort of video game film adaptation I’d really like to see. With the main character dying over and over again in cruelly inventive ways, then coming back to life a few seconds earlier for another go. I haven’t seen the film of Prince of Persia, though its game mechanics of rewinding time in the sticky spots would lend itself to this idea perfectly, because frankly it looks shit. So if someone could sort out something decent along these lines this year that would be great, cheers.