Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - Iceland & Cambodia
While much of "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" was created on the sound stages of Pinewood Studios, two spectacular locations were chosen for exterior scenes: one in Iceland (standing in for Siberia) and the other in Cambodia.
Most of the Icelandic scenes were shot on a glacier, and on icy lagoons full of floating icebergs ranging in color from black to bright turquoise - so blue that they look like the creation of an over-imaginative art department. Much of the landscape has been carved and shaped by rivers of ice flowing down from permanent icecaps.
The crew of "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" was based at the small farming, fishing and fish-processing town of Hofn, set amidst stunning surroundings. All locations required for the week's filming lay within a two hour drive. The town is on a main road, and a tough five-hour drive, from Reykjavik, the capital. With most of the equipment transported over road, the unit flew in from London, transferring to smaller planes at Reykjavik before making the additional one hour flight to Hofn.
Location manager Chris Brock, a man well used to moving mountains, crossing continents, and keeping a sense of humor comments, "Taking a unit our size onto the glacier was quite something to organize. I don't think anyone had ever taken an amphibious transport boat onto the glacier. The road up to the glacier was quite narrow and steep, with some very sharp turns. It even amazed the locals."
Inevitably, the day before the unit arrived, there was a terrible rainstorm that washed the snow off the glacier, leaving sheet ice, and washing away part of the road up to the glacier. Local safety authorities advised the production during all stages of shooting, ensuring the production's well-being.
Despite the wondrous scenery, shooting in the frigid temperatures was trying, particularly for Angelina Jolie in her Lara Croft gear. While every other member of cast and crew was submerged in the warmest mountain gear, Angelina was clad in her ice blue top and a stunning blue fur-trimmed coat as she rode a sled pulled by teams of husky dogs.
The production next moved to the spectacular location of Cambodia, off-limits to filmmakers since "Lord Jim" was filmed there in early 1964.
Since the 1960s, Cambodians have been ravaged: bombed during the Vietnam War, tortured by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge cadres in the 1970s, occupied by the Vietnamese in the 1980s and engulfed in civil war in the early 1990s.
Modern day Cambodia is the successor of the mighty Khmer empire, which, during the ninth to fourteenth century Angkorian period, was the cultural heartland of Southeast Asia. Its Angkor Wat legacy is one of the wonders of the world. The ruins of Angkor are in a category of their own; no other historical site in South East Asia matches their grandeur.
It was to Angkor Wat that the filmmakers wanted to go. Having negotiated with APSARA, the body that protects the Angkor Wat heritage site and is supported financially by the United Nations, the filmmakers were given permission to film in certain locations within the vast Angkor Wat area.
"I knew that audiences probably would not have seen this environment," says West. "They've seen the pyramids. They've seen the Acropolis and all those ancient monuments. But this felt like an untapped location. The mixture of ancient architecture overgrown with nature appealed to me. It felt lost and forgotten. A number of these temples were abandoned four hundred years ago, and so the jungle has overtaken them. In a story like this, there is a certain amount of exploration and moving of things. But we were very careful not to damage these ancient monuments."
Production personnel worked out the practicalities, importing equipment from Thailand, over a road that was once a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge. Littered with potholes and mines, the film transport was preceded by a minesweeper and the Royal Cambodian army. As thirty truckloads of equipment inched their way to Siem Reap, gateway to the Temples of Angkor Wat, the convoy was often forced to stop as soldiers repaired the bridges ahead.
"I feel blessed and very lucky to have been a part of this film and this experience," Angelina Jolie told a press conference in Siem Reap. "Being here in this country has changed my life. It makes me feel different about everything: my life, work, what we can all do. It's the most amazing place I've ever been to in my life."
The film brought much needed finance to the area's heritage site, hotels, restaurants and shops. It also provided employment, albeit temporary, to hundreds of local people. Many of them played extras, including one hundred genuine Buddhist monks. For all of them, the two weeks when Hollywood came to Siem Reap was an extremely beneficial experience.
But all good things must end, and the unit returned to Pinewood Studios, England to complete the film's final scenes.
"This was a huge enterprise," says Levin of the production of "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider." "The logistics were enormous and complicated, so the physicality of the production was enormous. We pushed the envelope in every way possible to put something on the screen that is fresh. Technically, it is immensely complicated. There is not a visual effect that we have not included in the film, and many scenes have relied on multiple uses of visual effects."