Roar Uthaug: Game for a Blockbuster

March 13, 2018
We went to London to speak with Tomb Raider’s director Roar Uthaug to discuss growing up in Norway and what it takes to bring Lara Croft back on the silver screen.  

The Tomb Raider game franchise is over 20 years old and in that time there’s been two movie adaptations starring Angeline Jolie and even a game reboot back in 2013. 2018 will see it undergo another reboot, this time on the big screen with Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) in the title role.

Taking into account films like Atomic Blonde and Wonder Woman, why do you think strong, independent female characters are the in spotlight now more than ever?

I think it’s a cultural thing. In all parts of our world, women are rising. I think that reflects in our movies as well. And there’s a hunger to see different kinds of women portrayed on film.

And what about this version of Lara Croft? What kind of hero is she?

What I like about this version is that, of course, she’s fierce and unstoppable, but she’s also smart, and resourceful and vulnerable. When she falls, she gets hurt, she gets bruises, but she picks herself up. She’s not a Teflon superhero. She’s a real girl in a real world, and I think that’s something Alicia brought to the role; a sense of authenticity to everything.

How much pressure do you feel fronting such a massive blockbuster movie? Did you go in calmly, or were you thinking, ‘I better not mess this up’?

I didn’t really think that much about the pressure. I just focused on each day, each scene, each shot, and tried to create the best possible performances and moments. And also, the biggest spectacle! It’s both of those worlds. We have some fantastic actors and the biggest spectacle with action and adventure.

In the footage we’ve seen, Alicia talks about how she nearly caught hypothermia. Can you take us through that?

We have a lot of water stuff in this movie. We have a shipwreck sequence, where we had this big boat on a giant gimbal in our studios down in Cape Town. We were hitting it with wind and rain and water cannons. We were really pounding our actors with it, but she never complained.

Why did you choose to shoot in Cape Town?

Well, they have the accessible locations we were looking for and also, they have a great crew down there. I’ve worked there before on commercials and I’ve had good experiences there. And we also shot here, on the streets of East London, and the Warner Brothers studios in Leavesden.

In cinematic terms, what to you are the differences between this Tomb Raider movie and the previous ones?

I think what we’ve tried with this movie is to make a really gritty, realistic, action adventure movie, where you feel that she is put through all this distress. She gets hurt. She gets knocked around and she has to find the power to fight back.

The film seems to use a blend of CGI and real stunts…

We were striving to get as authentic an image as possible. We tried to do as much as possible in camera and on location. When we are on a stage, we built huge scale sets to rely as little as possible on CGI to get that kind of gritty feel we were looking for.

Are you a gamer yourself?

I used to be. I played the first game when that came out.

Is there a big difference between game narration and movie narration?

Yes, because in the game you are in control.

But when making a film, you control the narrative too?

When you are making a movie, you have to make a bigger emphasis on creating characters that engage the audience. It’s through the characters that you experience all the action and adventure. And if you don’t have characters you care about, it doesn’t matter how big the spectacle is.

Was it in the back of your mind to replicate the feel of the game?

Well, the game was definitely a huge inspiration for us, but then we took that inspiration and ran with it to create our own brand-new origin story of Lara Croft for the big screen. We’re trying to make the movie for everybody. Not just fans of the game, but also the general audience who don’t have the general knowledge of who Lara Croft is, or what Tomb Raider is. However, we also tried to intersect that with Easter eggs for the fans that I think they will appreciate.

It’s not just an action movie though, is it? There’s also a big father/daughter story that’s being told. So, when you’re telling that story within the action story, what things were you most mindful of?

That’s the emotional core of the movie, that’s what draws you in and makes you root for her. It’s her journey of discovery. That’s how, as the audience, we make the emotional connection to Lara.

Was it a dream come true for you to make a Hollywood movie?

Yes, definitely. When I grew up, the movies we made in Norway were a lot of small, art house movies. So, the only time you saw action and adventure was from Hollywood. I used to love going to the movies and watching movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future or Terminator 2; those big spectacles. It’s definitely a dream come true now.

Is it like you imagined when you were younger?

It’s a lot less glamorous than you think it will be. (laughs) It’s a lot of hard work. Everybody I meet are big fans of cinema. We’re just a bunch of movie fans making this big film.

It’s been a big year for Norway in terms of big Hollywood movies. For example, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg directed Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Do you know them?

Yes, Norway is a very small island. (Laughs) We’re like 5 million people.

Did you talk to them about their experiences? What did they tell you? Did they share advice?

I think we all share advice. When we are in LA we often meet up. It’s helpful to have someone who comes from the same kind of background to exchange experiences.

Who does Kristin Scott Thomas play?

That was great. She plays a character called Ana Miller who has been Lara’s guardian while her father has been missing for several years. And she also looks after Croft Holdings which is the business that Sir Richard Croft (Dominic West) runs.

So, would you say you’ve tried to make this your own movie and not just a big Hollywood movie with Hollywood actors and action sequences?

I’ve tried to do my personal take on it and I think that’s something you’ll see in the movie as well. But of course, it’s been an amazing experience to work with all the resources you have on a big movie like this. It’s a big toybox!

Tomb Raider is in cinemas from March 15, 2018


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