The BBFC's longest serving Director, James Ferman, had already departed the Board by 2001. His successor was Robin Duval, former Deputy Director of Programmes at the Independent Television Commission. After taking over from Ferman, Duval had
overseen a shake-up of some of the more antiquated aspects of the BBFC, implementing new policies and guidelines and making the BBFC and its methods more accessible and accountable to the general public. But echoes of Ferman remained and would
rear their heads when Paramount's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider came in for theatrical classification at the BBFC.
BBFC Director of Antiquated Policy
BBFC Director of Accessibility and Accountability
Unheeded Advice from the BBFC
The submitting film company, UIP, first provided the BBFC with a rough cut of the film in June 2001 for an advice viewing ; a process whereby a film company can submit a work-in-progress to the BBFC and request information on what rating
the film is likely to receive, or to see if any changes can be made in order to secure a particular classification. In this case, UIP wanted a 12 rating. Tomb Raider was still in the editing stages at this time, and was not fully completed, and
following the advice viewing the BBFC noted that the film's content was predominantly PG level, but that certain scenes were troublesome and likely to push the film right up into the 15 category.
The Board's main concerns were the scenes that featured an out the front switchblade knife, with the BBFC taking the firm view that the weapon was presented as glamorous. The glamorisation was compounded - in their eyes - because the
weapon was associated with the highly sexual character of Lara Croft. This opinion is confusing, because Lara is never seen to wield the knife herself. In actual fact, the weapon belongs to the villain of the piece, Manfred Powell. As the
BBFC state in their case study of Tomb Raider:
In the original submission of the film, there were several glamorising shots of knives. They were depicted in rather fetishistic detail, with close-ups, slow motion effects and glinting lighting. There was a great deal of emphasis on the
mechanics of handling these weapons, with characters twirling them about to show them off.
The Board also expressed concern about a head-butt delivered by Lara Croft to Powell in the final fight. Not only did they see it as a dangerous imitable technique, but the context in which it occurred was an issue too; the fact that the heroine
of the film was seen to use the manoeuvre made the BBFC feel it increased the chances of children copying the act in real life. Whether this judgment is based on any scientific research or hard evidence is not immediately clear. Regardless, the
head-butt would have to be cut in order for a 12 rating to be awarded.
Glamorous Cuts for Cinema Release
After the initial advice viewing, UIP resubmitted Tomb Raider - which was now in its completed form - to the BBFC, and Robin Duval sat in on this screening. A 12 rating was again requested, but there was a problem - none of the BBFC changes from
the advice viewing had been implemented at all. All of the glamorising shots of Powell's knife still remained, along with Lara's head-butt in the final fight. As a result, the BBFC issued a formal list of general cuts to UIP, which would
end up affecting four scenes in the final UK theatrical version of the film.
The initial requested cuts cover three scenes which feature Powell's knife in reels 4 and 5 of the film:
Significantly reduce sight of flick knife, especially shots which emphasise its attractiveness. Remove in particular sight and/or sound of knife opening, close shot of bloody blade and clear sight of knife being twirled.
Glamorised knives: The opening
The UK cinema version removed the shot of the knife blade emerging from its handle, along with its metallic ringing sound; cutting to the side-angle shot of Powell standing with the knife already fully opened in front of Lara's face.
Glamorised knives: The zinging
The second edit occurs almost 14 minutes later. Powell comes up with a cruel method to obtain Croft's help by killing her former lover, Alex West. As Powell begins to speak, he pulls out his knife and opens it.
The metallic ringing sound was removed from the soundtrack for the UK cinema version.
Glamorised knives: The twirling
Around 10 minutes later, Powell and Lara knuckle down for a fistfight to the death. After Powell brings Lara to the ground, he reaches down to pick up his strewn knife; which is now bloodied from an earlier injury to his shoulder.
Powell then spins the knife around his finger by using the specially designed finger ring on the knife handle, before raising it to strike Lara. Two shots were removed here, creating a slight jump in the footage. The close-up of the bloodied
knife lying on the ground was removed, as was the brief overhead shot of Powell spinning the knife.
In the UK version, he bends down before suddenly seen to be standing upright, his arm already in the air and raised to strike.
Imitable Techniques: The head-butt
The final change the BBFC requested was as follows:
In final fight, remove all sight of head-butt delivered by Lara Croft.
In this sequence, Lara beats Powell into submission, before inserting her thumb into his shoulder wound from earlier in the film. She then head-butts him, before swinging her arm back in a large sweeping motion and striking Powell in his
throat; a blow so hard that it kills him instantly.
The UK cinema version, however, removed not only the sight of the head-butt but the throat chop too; replacing the blow to Powell's throat with alternate footage of Lara punching him in the face. For UK cinemagoers, Powell now appeared to die
from this simple punch.
The above changes were made quickly made to Tomb Raider by UIP due to the film's hectic post-production schedule, with the alternate footage used for the final fight looking decidedly dirty due to it being taken from unrestored film trims.
Film damage is evident on the hastily-inserted alternate footage
Less than two weeks later, the film was seen by the BBFC for a third time, only this time in an edited version. With all of the necessary changes made, the BBFC issued the film with a 12 rating on Friday June 22nd 2001.
Same But Different: Cuts for VHS and DVD
Later that year, Paramount Home Entertainment resubmitted Tomb Raider to the BBFC for a video certificate. The version submitted to the Board was the uncut international version of the film, which contained none of the cuts made to the UK cinema
version. In order for the film to be released with a 12 rating again, the BBFC reissued the formal list of cuts that were ordered for the cinema version.
A couple of the edits made to the UK video and DVD releases are slightly different to the cinema version. For example, the scene in Venice now shows Powell's knife actually opening, although the sound of the blade opening is still removed. The
final fight also rearranges the footage slightly. The throat chop to Powell was allowed to remain on video after the BBFC examiners concluded that Lara's blow appeared to land on Powell's chest and not his neck. The head-butt, on the other hand,
was still removed. The punch to Powell's face that replaced the throat chop in the UK cinema version was substituted in place of the missing head-butt, with the throat chop now back in its proper place as the fight's finishing move.
With the necessary edits made, the BBFC classified the film for home video on Thursday November 1st, 2001.
UK DVD: 12 rated and cut
Lara's head-butt briefly featured in one of the DVD's documentaries, so this was also removed for the UK disc. Extra sound cuts were also made to director Simon West's audio commentary, in order to remove the sound of Powell's knife opening
underneath West's speech.
Simon West may have been the director,
but it was the BBFC who yelled "cut!"
Uncut for Blu-ray
It was 2009 before Paramount resubmitted Tomb Raider to the BBFC, only this time for an intended UK Blu-ray release, and once again it was the uncut international version of the film. It was passed uncut with a 15 rating by the BBFC on Wednesday
July 1st, 2009.
UK Blu-ray: 15 rated and uncut
US DVD: PG-13 rated and uncut
After eight years of having to make do with censored versions, UK viewers could now finally see the uncut version of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in high-definition, without censorial interference. Viewers looking for an uncut release on DVD
can import the uncut Region 1 disc from the United States, as all UK DVDs still feature the edited 12-rated version of the film.
Cutting Edge Episode 5: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Gavin Salkeld details how the BBFC set out on an impossible quest to de-glamorise Lara Croft, or at least to edit out the glamorous usage of knives. The video is presented exclusively by Melon Farmers.
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.