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The tabloid casting couch of Lara Croft

When people free associate on the subject of Lara Croft, breasts are what come to mind - and the actresses made for the part choose themselves. But, asks Paul McCann, is it real?

An unholy alliance has been formed between the dirty macs in the national press and the dirty anoraks of the Internet.

Between them they have conspired to create a movie star bunfight story where none exists and given picture editors carte blanche to reproduce pictures of large-breasted actresses and an even larger-breasted fictitious computer game character until we all die of boredom.

The story in question is the supposed making of a movie version of the hit computer game Tomb Raider - and more importantly who will play the game's over-inflated hero Lara Croft.

Croft, if you've been in a persistent vegetative state for a year, is the first female star of the computer games world.

Unlike the speed-freak pizza delivery man Super Mario, her popularity is based less on her antics than her attributes. As if proof were needed that computer game players spend an unhealthy amount of time gripping their joysticks, her popularity is built on the fact that she's built. Really built.

Way back in June a computer game magazine announced that Eidos, the maker of Tomb Raider, was in talks with a Hollywood studio about making a movie version of the game. Eidos already has a contract to make computer games out of MGM movie characters, so going back the other way didn't seem a bad idea - unless of course you've seen the movie version of Super Mario Bros starring Bob Hoskins.

Since the original story of the movie negotiation started, the 150 or so unofficial Tomb Raider web sites on the net started slobbering over who might play a live action Lara.

Liz Hurley was immediately on the list, her career has largely been based on the same two attributes as Lara Croft so there's little surprise there. Then there were stories - again on the web - that Bruce Willis had bought the software company to guarantee the role for Demi Moore.

Next came a number of Internet polls about who should play the lots of flesh and blood Lara - with Sandra Bullock coming out ahead of Hurley and Rhona Mitra, the woman who Lara was based on, and who is alleged to have had breast implants so she could, er, fill the role.

These stories were all faithfully repeated by the tabloids. In August the Scottish Sunday Mail reported that Ms Hurley was due to take the role and even that she was to fight a baddie played by Sharon Stone. This did not stop The Sun slapping an exclusive banner on its story yesterday that Hurley would play Lara.

In fact Eidos is still negotiating rights with a number of US studios and is yet to even decide if Lara will be played by a person or by digital animation.

"Every time the tabloids mention Lara and the movie it gives them the opportunity to print pictures of lovely ladies with large breasts," says Larry Sparks, world-wide marketing director for Eidos.

Mr Sparks hints that he is unhappy with such coverage. Lara has turned Eidos from a pounds 1.3m loss to pounds 3.1m profit according to its last results and she has shifted 2.7 million games world-wide. He doesn't want over- exposure to kill her off like the other flesh-revealing icons of contemporary adolescence who this week sacked their manager.

But at the same time Tomb Raider II is released in a few weeks and breast- obsessed publicity probably doesn't hurt.