Twenty-two years ago, Lara Croft sprang into iconic status thanks to a pair of smoking pistols, unusually short shorts, and thanks to polygonal designs of earlier video games, unlikely and unwieldy pointed and prominent breasts. For girls and women, she became a stand-in and action role model, an Indiana Jane digging in to challenging, puzzle-solving, butt-kicking quests in terror-filled ancient ruins. For some, she represented not only a fun character, but a fantasy girlfriend: beautiful, intelligent, tough, not afraid to get down and gritty.
After Ms. Pac-Man, Lara Croft became the most recognizable game heroine: Zelda and Princess Peach relied too much on Link and Mario. Though Samus Aran of Metroid appeared several years earlier, it was Croft's distinctive look and style, and the success of her games, that cleared the path for strong women in adventures throughout the Metroid, Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Final Fantasy series, among others.
But Croft's hot pants and midriff-baring shirts were problematic: Anyone truly digging in grit and crawling around on stone would wear something to protect the knees, at least. Designers claimed to have been surprised by the pin-up status, but as far back as the seventh game, 2006's "Tomb Raider: Legend," designers have worked to de-sexualize her appearance and focus more on story, stamina, muscle and brain.
Another major reboot came in 2013, for the 10th game in the series. This weekend's movie based its plot on that game, both titled simply "Tomb Raider." Here's more:
• Rhianna Pratchett was lead writer on the 2013 "Tomb Raider," which sold 11 million copies, and wrote the 48-page hardcover graphic novel, "Tomb Raider: The Beginning," timed with the game's release, and wrote the 2015 sequel "Rise of the Tomb Raider." Pratchett's also written for games including "Overlord," "Mirror's Edge" and "Heavenly Sword."
• She's among the young gamers caught up in the series, while remaining troubled by its mixed messages. When Crystal Dynamics took over from Core Design for the reboot, Pratchett worked to make Croft less "James Bond-y." She told Entertainment Weekly: "With this Lara, I wanted to bring her down to earth a little bit more, and think about her as an average London student just out of university who paid her way through and worked bar jobs — someone more in line with young women in London today. … A bit more relatable (but also able to) explore that conflict you get with being human and a superhero.”
• Croft's still brave and curious — in cargo pants — though the 2013 reboot took her back to younger days, still in development as a hero. In the EW interview, Pratchett said "... we wanted to explore the vulnerability and fear behind the great bravery … on the road toward becoming a tomb raider."
• When the film starts, Croft's a 21-year-old bike messenger in London, barely paying bills, missing most of her college courses, refusing to take control of her father's global empire, though he's been missing seven years. Against his last wishes, she journeys to his last-known destination: a mythical island somewhere off the Japanese coast.
• Like Croft, Pratchett knows something about following the footsteps of a famous father: Her dad's fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett, creator of the Discworld series. Unlike him, she's written mostly games and graphic novels, though as co-director of Narrativia Limited, which holds multimedia and merchandising rights to her father's works, she's writing a screenplay for a film adaptation of his novel "The Wee Free Men," currently in development with the Jim Henson Co. Narrativia is behind the BBC series "The Watch," based on Discworld, and "Good Omens," from the novel he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman.
• Angelina Jolie starred in the 2001 "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and 2003 "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life." Another Oscar winner, Alicia Vikander, takes over as Croft this weekend. Born in Gothenburg, Västra Götalands län, Sweden, she moved to England at 15, and is one of just six Swedish actors to be nominated for an Academy Award, with Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Ann-Margret, Lena Olin and Max von Sydow. Winning best supporting actress for 2015's "The Danish Girl," she became the first Swede to win an Oscar since Ingrid Bergman in 1975, for "Murder on the Orient Express." Other notable roles include the mostly-human robot in 2014's "Ex Machina," and Kitty in 2012's "Anna Karenina." She's married to actor Michael Fassbender.
• "Tomb Raider" is directed by Norwegian Roar Uthaug, whose stunning 2015 disaster movie "The Wave" showed at the Bama Art House in 2016. Dominic West, who plays Lord Richard Croft, also played Vikander's father in the 2014 "Testament of Youth." Birmingham-born actor Walton Goggins, the magnetic villain Boyd Crowder of TV's "justified," plays Mathias Vogel. Other prominent co-stars include renowed Shakespearean Derek Jacobi as Mr. Yaffe, and Oscar-winner Kristin Scott Thomas as Ana Miller.