Movie Review: ‘Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made’


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Plot:  This documentary, directed by Tim Skousen and Jeremy Coon, recounts the exploits of Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos, and Jayson Lamb, three eleven year olds who in 1982 decided to do a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  A film that took seven years to complete, only the famous airplane scene was never filmed.  Over thirty years later the three reunite to fulfill a childhood dream and finally film the sequence. 

Review:  I started writing for this website for one reason:  I love movies.  Some might even say it’s an obsession.  You want to find a good way to distract me, engage me in a conversation about the enduring brilliance of Jaws, or if Back to the Future III is better than II (it isn’t), or why Uwe Bol continues to be a thing.  We’ll probably end up talking the sun down.  Yes I am passionate about films.  But even so, I don’t think I’m passionate enough at thirty-eight to take on what Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos, and Jayson Lamb did at eleven.  A shot for shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark?  The idea alone boggles the mind.

I want to say up front that before this documentary I’d never heard of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.  It’s surprising considering it is my second favorite movie of all time.  So suffice it to say I hadn’t seen the trio’s adaptation.  And from what I saw in the clips from the documentary, it’s not very good…but it’s not meant to be.  These kids weren’t professional actors after all.

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However, the final product is not what’s intriguing here.  As often times is the case with any passion project, the story behind it, is what fascinates.  In that aspect Skousen and Coon’s documentary succeeds, and the two deliver a very good if not great documentary.  The duo deftly weaves old VHS footage with modern day interviews of the principal participants.  They even managed to get Hollywood actors John Rhys-Davies (Sallah from Raiders and Crusade) and Tim Roth (The Green Inferno, Hostel) to participate.

Structurally, the documentary centers around the three’s attempts to shoot the sequence they never finished, namely the airplane scene where Indy fights a Nazi and eventually the plane blows up.  Branching off from there are Zala and Strompolos’ attempts to get funding for the project, the various successes and failures they endure over a course of seven years (including almost setting a house on fire and their efforts to construct a believable boulder), and their own personal lives.

It’s that last that proves the most fascinating, as all three go in various directions.  Eric becomes a prominent figure at a respected video game company (and the Raiders project nearly costs him his job), Lamb, the special effects expert, pursues a career in that same field, and Strompolos after a downward spiral into drugs eventually gets clean and becomes an office worker.  Yet the passion project intrinsically binds them together as in childhood the three endure various hardships including divorce, betrayal (Chris actually went after Eric’s girlfriend at one point), and physical abuse.  The back story behind the fallout  between Chris, Eric, and Lamb is particularly intriguing.  However, through it all the project was their refuge, salvation, and eventually their redemption.

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What’s great about movies is their ability to inspire and influence others.  This culminated in 2002 at a film fest at the Alamo Draft House where fans were exposed to the movie.  In fact the film was so well received that 30 minutes in when they had to cut it off due to the premiere of The Two Towers, the crowd started booing.  Think about THAT for a second.  In fact at one point Harry Knowles, the founder of the website aintitcoolnews.com  said this amateur film blew the Gus Van Sant shot-for-shot remake of Psycho away.  Probably because the Raiders adaptation has soul whereas Van Sant’s Psycho is soulless.  Even Steven Spielberg eventually requests to meet the group, much to the trio’s delight.

The idea of a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark looks like a ridiculous idea on the surface.  However, you can’t help but get caught up in the ambition of the trio especially Zala.  It’s cliché sometimes to call a movie inspirational, but this one truly is.  Very few people have the testicular fortitude to go after a dream like this, to the point where it may even cost you your job.  And to start this at eleven and see it through to the end??  Shoot the closest thing at that age I did was start a real life Monster Squad, which lasted like two weeks.  By the end of the film I was rooting for these guys to fulfill their dream in spite of everything stacked against them.  I saw the same passion for films that I have, reflected in them.

For anyone who’s a fan of film, Raiders!, is a delight.  It’s sure to warm your childhood cockles and make you remember why you fell in love with movies in the first place.  In a year when crushing reality has been particularly brutal, it’s nice to remember that escaping into fantasy can sometimes profoundly change your life for the better.

My rating:  8/10

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