An Ode To Sam Nishimura From Tomb Raider

Once upon a time, there was a girl. She was a film studies graduate and looking for her big break in the world of post-education. She followed her friends to a mystical and mysterious island, documenting their travels.

When we as an audience first met the girl, it was only for a few seconds, where we saw her dragged off by a scary-looking man with a knife. She was hidden away until the release of the full story.

When the story was released, we saw the girl in a different light. Sure, she was still a little bit of a damsel in distress, but she turned out to be a lot more than that.

We saw her playful but sensitive banter with our protagonist. We saw the half-smiles. We saw the girl and the protagonist bond over the course of the narrative. And of course, some of us saw a little more, underneath all of the subtle movements and words. Something that kept us going. Something that pushed us forward.

But that girl is now forgotten, passed aside with a hand-wave explanation in the sequel, and only slightly more of a payoff in the side-stories.

At this moment, we are just like our protagonist. We think we know about sacrifices, but what we have here is a loss, a choice that is made for us. Despite the cries to bring her back, we must sadly think that the girl will never come grace our screens again.

***

I’ve been mulling over the loss of Sam Nishimura for the past few weeks. With the months leading up to the release of the new game, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, we’ve been seeing a lot of people ask the developers, “where is Sam?

And I sadly have to admit, I’ve grown apart.

Please understand.

I love Sam; in the same way I love Lara as a character. But sometime that is not enough. And we need perspective. Lara is our protagonist, not Sam (although I would totally buy  Tomb Raider Snap, a spin off in the style of Pokémon Snap, where Sam tries to photograph Lara beside certain objects like a T-Rex, a relic and holding her dual pistols).

To love her knows when to let her go. Not forgotten, not a footnote, but a defining part or our heroine’s legacy. And with her departure, Lara can eventually start to heal and move on.

I, along with many others in the Sam Nishimura movement were unsatisfied with the way Sam was maligned during the interim between 2013 and RotTR. But I can see why they decided to focus on Jonah rather than Sam.

With Lara flying from desolate desert to hazardous hiking expedition, she needed someone to keep up, and Sam isn’t that. Jonah, Reyes, Roth, they would all be able to keep pace with our lead. Sam could not, not without changing a large sense of her character from 2013. Sure, Alister and Zip (Lara’s mates from the LAU trilogy) wouldn’t keep pace either, but a different Lara calls for different rules.

So I begin to look to the horizon. Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is nearing completion, so unless Eidos Montreal throw us a curve ball, these would have to be in a sequel.

So, what do I want from Lara’s belle?

Easy one start with, keep her ambiguous enough. I know, I know, we all want her to make out with a girl by the end of the game, and with Kassandra in AC: Odyssey and Ellie from The Last Of Us II at this year’s E3 being major talking points, TR could have been riding ahead of the curve with it’s non-straight lead.

Maybe it’s me, but I’m more of a fan of all that sweet hand-holding and the longing stares rather than character full on snogging each other. Yorda and Ico’s closeness in Ico has much more depth to it than if the characters just made out.

The problem with trying to add a character in is the questions that it poses. With Lara jetting off around the world, she needs a character that wants to wait for her and understands what her job is and where it takes her. For her to be a recurring character (which is needed if the interaction is going to have any bearing on the story), she needs to compliment our heroine, essentially becoming the “other half” or at least offering vital help.

And the major problem is, is that Sam was those things. Which is why it hurts more to cut her out and start anew. Because it was there. It was within reaching distance and possibility, but it wasn’t used.

So how to construct it?

The new Tomb Raiders take much from Uncharted, so here is another thing it can take from them. In Uncharted 2, Nathan Drake had a diary filled with sketches, notes, and importantly, phone numbers and names of girls all around the globe (this was actually inspired by a tweet by @pfangirl, who has written extensively about Lara Croft being a gay character).

Lara has a notebook, filled with her Dad’s notes, but soon they will be full of her own. She’s taken notes all the way since AoD and Anniversary. Her notebook can be filled with numbers and drawings. Jonah, Reyes, Conrad’s daughter (wouldn’t that be a scene to watch? Lara talking to her surrogate father’s ACTUAL daughter), these are all people from the first reboot game that Lara helped and in turn they helped Lara become the Tomb Raider.

From Rise, there is Sofia (because you could cut that sexual tension with a knife) and Nadia (who also had a full-on crush on our protagonist), two women who mirrored our protagonist; characters that she could relate to and find solace from their shared experiences.

And aside from character from the games, there could be a myriad of one-time flings; girls from Kathmandu to Kansas. Have her wake up next to a girl a la Girl With The Dragon Tattoo beside some watering hole in the backwoods of whatever country she’s in. There are so many ways you could play with this idea.

However, with the loss of Sam, I’m kind of annoyed that instead of a monogamous, strong relationship between two characters will be swapped out for the “promiscuous lesbian/bisexual” trope (I personally read her as ace, since I see Lara as seeing sex more as a biological need than an emotional one). But with Lara’s lifestyle, she can’t ask for a special someone to wait for her while she spends other ten months shooting chickens with fire arrows or petting another twenty llamas.

Conclusion

I had never thought about Lara as being part of a couple before 2013. And with Lara and Sam’s time together, seeing that vulnerable side, I was touched, because it was sweet and adorable, in that way first blossoms of affections are (and relationships of any kind are rarely seen in AAA games). But then I become irritated, because that vulnerability gives us a character like Sam, but then discards her. Would it have just been better to never have that part of Lara? The heart doesn’t miss what it doesn’t know.

I also see the limitations. I recently replayed 2013, in my series of “Play-Games-While-Listening-To-Podcasts-And-Achievement-Hunt” and despite talking to Sam several times; she doesn’t have much of a character. There is a base there, but not a fully developed character. She needed shades, she needed dimensions. To give her those aspects would have taken time, which would have disrupted the pace of RotTR, unless it was incorporated as an integral feature. Which as a side-story, it wouldn’t be.

Again, please understand.

I love the character. But I have to stop. I need to say goodbye. Because while Sam has been a character in my heart for half a decade, Lara has over four times that. And between the girl I have grown up with, against the girl I met when I was an adult, the former will win out every time.

Let me conclude with the poet Rumi’s #1849 from Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi, which I feel fits the moment…

 

“The moment you find a companion in joy,

Is the moment you find your life’s own fate,

Beware that you don’t waste that moment in vain,

You will find very few such moments again.”

 

Sayonara Nishimura-san. 

Thank you for being there, for both the fans (so many who were brought in by you) and for being there for our dear Lara.

 

Banner Photo Source: Video Games Source, July 23 2013, Tomb Raider – Coastal Forest: Samantha Nishimura, Mathius Introduction Cutscene HD Gameplay PC. [YouTube video].

Thoughts On The Tomb Raider Trailer

Back in June 2016 I wrote a piece on the then announcement of Alicia Vikander being cast in the role of Lara Croft for the new Tomb Raider film. There have been quite a few updates from when I last spoke about the film, the major point being the release of the poster and the first teaser trailer for the film. For those who haven’t seen the latter, let’s have a look right now, then I’ll go through parts I like along with some other general stuff

Okay, so let’s get into this.

First things first, the film has a reported release date of March 16 2018. At the time of writing that is still half a year away. Teaser trailers are usually sent out before the film has been signed off, so a lot of people complaining about poor CGI quality, it’s not fully representative of the final film. Yes, it’s odd to show it in a trailer if it’s not representative of a final film, but hey-ho, look at Suicide Squad. But while the CGI doesn’t look particularly good, the stunts are done for real. Looking at this behind-the-scenes featurette (warning: may contain spoilers), you can see for yourself that the sets are largely built and that the Stunt Co-ordinator is none other than Franklin Henson (whose list of credits is extensive). He has worked on similar themed films such as Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom and National Treasure: Book Of Secrets, which if they are anything are fun, pulpy adventure films that Tomb Raider should fit comfortably alongside.

One point I also want to make is that I love how many references to the 2013 game are in the trailer. The majority of the film is based on the 2013 reboot, along with dashes of the sequel to said reboot, which was released in mid-2015. These are more than just a wink-and-a-nod to the audience who are in the know, these are the scenes ripped direct from the screen to the…erm, slightly bigger screen. The slow-motion jump from the ship, falling through the broken glass of an airplane cockpit, climbing the broken wing of another airplane; these are all shots players of the reboot will recognise. This is probably to appeal to us fans since the film won’t be truly following the game, but that’s adaptations for you, what works for one medium won’t work for another. One scene from the game that hasn’t been shown in the trailer is Lara’s first kill. Lara is using her bow and axe in the trailer, so it’s guaranteed they’ll be some bloodshed, so I hope that this dramatic and memorable scene from the game, where Lara is covered in blood and in shock after killing someone for the first time is in there.

Sadly, there is no Sam or Sam-approximate featured (Lara’s possible beau in the reboot series), just a few lines from Kirsten Scott Thomas being the only female interaction in the trailer. Vikander stated that the film will pass the Bechdel Test, so there has to be some more female characters in there. In the same interview, Vikander also stated the film “…actually has relationships and stories…” so maybe it could be a subtle approach to the perceived “not-straightness” at play in Tomb Raider, which I’ve written about here.

The trailer and the behind-the-scenes featurette do sadly give away a bit too much of the plot for my liking. Maybe that’s my fault for watching too much, but to be honest, apart from the trailer and poster, I’ve stayed away from news about this film. I’m not going to go through the trailer and start dissecting all the scenes and speculate about what might happen in the story (despite previously doing it for Red Dead, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and many more on this exact site) because the trailer is pretty clear on the narrative beats, evil scheming and all. Thinking about it, it’s better than Assassin’s Creed, which hid half of its bogus story away from the trailer, making us all believe more than half of it was going to be in the Animus.

Talking of Assassin’s Creed, yeah I know. We’ve all been burned before. Assassin’s Creed was a personal one for me. I’m going to keep harping on about Macbeth forever, because it was the perfect precursor to what an Assassin’s Creed film could look like. That film was excellent, and yet despite having the exact same cast and crew, Assassin’s Creed was a confusing mess, despite showing us the exact opposite in it’s promotional material. Maybe I’m too forgiving of Hollywood, maybe I’m clutching at straws in the hopes of a game I love being adapted for a wider audience. All it has to do is not be terrible. That really shouldn’t be a big ask.

Finally, I just want to address the wave of backlash against Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft. Check out the comments for the trailer up above, or the comments in IGN’s thread on the trailer. I called this back in May, that Vikander was going to have a hard time because she wasn’t “real Lara” i.e. Lara from the 1990s. Despite Vikander herself, the trailer, the behind-the-scenes clips and the poster all saying or inferring that this is an origin story, some people are just not getting it. However, the lovely Easter Egg at the end of the trailer with the dual pistols is a neat nod to the series roots, especially since they look like the same pistols from Angelina Jolie’s TR films…

And hey, Nick Frost is in there, it’s always nice to see him.

Those are my thoughts (or looking back on it, ramble) on the Tomb Raider  trailer. Time will tell if the film is going to be any good, but I’m already excited.

 

Banner photo source: nerdist.com.

Thoughts On The New Tomb Raider Film

After months of speculation, with names coming and going and the writers and directors being announced, we finally have our next big screen version of Lara Croft; Alicia Vikander. But let’s go back half a year and see the beginning of the third Tomb Raider film and the names that are already connected to it.

Ever since October time in 2015, when the first proper rumours announced of a return to the film screen (MGM bought the rights in 2013 but only in 2015 had they started making moves). The studio, obviously wanting to mimic last year’s Suffragette (a film notable for the main crew being entirely women) started canvassing for female directors. Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), Mimi Leder (Deep Impact, Pay It Forward) and Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) were all brought up as possible directors for the film. Out of those three I would have gone Bigelow, she would have drawn in crowds.

In the end, a fairly unknown Norwegian director, Roar Uthaug, was brought in to direct around November 2015. I researched his film, The Wave, to see what he could bring to the film. The Wave is a Norwegian disaster film about a giant-tsunami destroying a small town in a Norwegian fjord and has received critical acclaim (it was even submitted for Best Foreign Film Oscar). If Tomb Raider 2013 (what they’re basing the film on) was anything, it was destruction and just from the trailer, The Wave looks like a perfect audition.

Just a side-note, many people managed to confuse The Wave with The 5th Wave, a frankly rubbish YA film starring Chloe-Grace Moretz. They have similar names but they are not the same film. Similar to how people managed to confuse The Room (honestly the worst film ever made) with Room (one of the best films of 2016).

The script-writer has already been brought on as well. Geneva Robertson-Dworet, (Transformers: The Last Knight, Blacklist) is penning the script, following the tradition of female writers of Tomb Raider (Vicky Arnold for TR2 and Rihanna Pratchett for TR 2013). Hopefully Robertson-Dworet will find some inspiration from Pratchett’s 2013 work, but change where appropriate. The “First Kill” arc (where Lara kills her first human and starts to uncontrollably sob, but then five minutes later is mowing down enemies like Rambo) would be a good place to deviate. It would turn into parody if the film went the same way as the games, but it could be a glorious high stab at violence and brutality and what it does to a person if they film it right. And last point about the games, they damn better put some Lara/Sam in there. I, along with a large amount of 2013’s player base did not put so much investment into that relationship for it to not feature in the film.

Lara vs Lara
The new film will focus less of the action girl (right) and more of the survivor plotline (left). Source: imgur.com.

And finally, just a few weeks ago, Alicia Vikander was announced to play Lara Croft. Before her announcement, all bets were on Daisy Ridley. Yes, Ridley was great in Star Wars VII and looked a lot like LC, and with her telling the Hollywood Reporter that she had been in talks to play the part, it looked almost certain that she would be cast. I had my reservations however. Ridley had only been in bit parts before jumping into Star Wars. I thought maybe trying to helm two franchises might be a bit much for one relative newcomer.

Compare her to another Star Wars alumni Harrison Ford, or another actress Jennifer Lawrence. Sure, both of them have held two major franchises before, but in between they did other contained work (Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner for Ford, The House At the End Of The Street and anything David O. Russell for Lawrence). That’s what I think Ridley needs, instead of another blockbuster, she could build a reputation for smaller, indie work. Sadly, deep down I knew my #1 choice, Camilla Luddington (the voice and motion-capture for Lara in the games) would not be chosen due to her less-known status (unless you watch Greys Anatomy). But as soon as Vikander was chosen, I knew it was a good shout.

Alicia Vikander HQ photo
Our next Lara, Alicia Vikander on the left. Render of Lara from Rise Of The Tomb Raider on the right. Source: filmonic.com.

Vikander has only really come onto the mainstream scene recently. Despite performing since 2006, many people haven’t seen her work. I first saw her in 2012’s A Royal Affair, but you may have seen her in one of the six films she was in back in 2015. If you want a good base for her work, I suggest A Royal Affair, Ex Machina and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. That trio will show off action, drama and romance and several flourishes of what Vikander may bring to Lara. If you really want to you can go see The Danish Girl but her performance wasn’t anything particularly special. Also, keep an eye out for her in the new Jason Bourne, although how “hands-on” (i.e. breaking people faces) she will be is unknown.

So, we’ve got around a couple of years until we see the third Tomb Raider in cinemas (at the time of writing it was a 2017/18 release date). And with Duncan Jones’ Warcraft and Justin Kurzel’s Assassins Creed coming out later in 2016, are we seeing a tipping point for video games? If anything, Vikander will bring a strong performance and it’s always nice to see Gaming’s First Lady back in the limelight.

P.S. In TR 2013 there was this scene…

TR the descent
Source: kotaku.com.

This is a scene ripped directly from 2001’s horror film The Descent. Just something interesting, I wonder if they put it back in the TR film. Film imitating games imitating film?

 

Banner Picture. Source: Google Images.