From the Desk of Bigger Boat Pictures:
Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015)
Directed by Tim Skousen and Jeremy Coon
Reviewed by James Rosario
This one might be my most personal review to date. Anyone in my family, and anyone that knew me in childhood knows that I was obsessed with Indiana Jones when I was young. While the photos of me as a chubby lad, dressed up like good ol’ Indy—hat, whip, the whole nine yards—may be a bit on the embarrassing side now, I have no qualms with my past, or with my love for all things Indiana Jones. Hell, I even liked the newest addition to the franchise where many of my comrades from way back when dismissed it as nonsense. Some even claimed that it somehow ruined the originals for them. This is an insane notion to me. These are the same types of people who are convinced that the new Ghostbusters film (2016) is a crime against humanity, one which threatens their very existence. I’ll admit that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) is the weakest film in the franchise, but, I ask that all of the naysayers go watch it again, but this time, watch it with your kids. Watch it again and imagine what you would have thought had you seen when you were their age. And be honest. I want you to try really hard to do that.
So what does all this have to do with the film at hand, and why might this review be my most personal to date? Well, to put it simply, Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen’s documentary about a gang of pre-teens shooting a shot for shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) could easily have been about my friends and I, if we had had just a touch more ambition. I identified with these kids and their plight on a very personal level. In fact, I found myself a bit jealous that they pulled it off as well as they did. Jerks.
Starting in 1982, and continuing over the course of the next seven summers, Eric Zala, Chris Stompolos, and Jayson Lamb set out to do the impossible. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2016) tells the tale of their efforts, and the impact they had on their lives and friendships. They were only 11 and 12 years old when their adventure began, and they were working mostly from memory (home video wasn’t really a thing yet in 1982), which is remarkable in itself. Zala, who acted as director and played the villain, Belloq, constructed meticulous storyboards of the entire film after only having seen in once or twice during its original theatrical run. Amazing. Stompolos was cast as Indy and acted as producer, while Lamb contributed as cinematographer and special effects guru—whose efforts nearly burned down a house, and got the cops and paramedics called on occasion.
Shooting was finally wrapped in 1989, minus one very difficult scene—the one in which Indy fights a burly Nazi underneath the wing of a German aircraft. You know the scene, or you should anyway. By the time they had finally finished, they had graduated high school and their friendships had been severely strained. How they managed to finish is beyond me. The animosity between these once best friends is front and center in the outtake footage shown. They all vowed to never work together again.
Fast forward about 13 years. Somehow director Eli Roth gets his hands on a copy. He sends it to Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News who organizes a screening at the Butt-Numb-a-Thon film festival where it is a huge hit. People loved it despite its obvious shortcomings (one of which being that the character’s ages change frequently from scene to scene, as the film was shot out of order). Roth and Knowles then track down the filmmakers and give Raiders: The Adaptation a proper premiere, and people absolutely love it. The film has a nearly unheard of rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes! Spielberg himself saw it and loved it! That is simply amazing. The rest is history, right?
Not quite. Remember that scene that they didn’t get to shoot? The one with the airplane and the burly Nazi? Well, nearly 30 years later, Zala and Stompolos decided that they needed to put this baby to rest, and by rest I mean they intend to literally blow up a replica of a World War II era plane. Long gone are the days of spending their allowances on props and effects, and asking for wardrobe pieces for Christmas and birthdays. This time around they have Kickstarter and a pyro-technics expert. The production of the final missing scene is fraught with complications, of course, but the team presses on.
The end result is pretty spectacular—and, as it turns out, extremely dangerous—but, that’s sort of how these guys always rolled. It wasn’t the first time in the now 30 plus year production of Raiders: The Adaptation that someone went to the hospital. I’ll leave it at that.
I generally like the way that many modern documentaries are put together. Call it a trend, but the “A bunch of friends got together, did something, it was great, then suddenly it was all over” type of story works for me, and this approach certainly works for Raiders! The filmmakers cut between talking heads telling the story of what happened, and the actual footage that was captured during the shooting of their insane project. We see the boys grow from middle schoolers to adults, all in the context of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Their growing resentment towards each other is clear, and I find it fascinating that, through this, they managed to (mostly) finish their project. Their lives through the years post-Raiders is also covered, much of it not pretty, and told with honesty, warts and all, as they say. Mixed with that, is the “present day” storyline, which consists of our heroes trying to blow up a German aircraft, and their reconnection with each other in doing so. It’s a ride, one filled with inspiration, depression, and redemption. This approach, as I said, is a bit trendy, and perhaps becoming dated, but it still works for me. I’ll let you know when it doesn’t.
So, should you see this movie? Well, that might depend on your level of fandom, your tolerance for documentaries, or your love for filmmaking. For me, this was a no brainer, and a resounding “Yes, I most definitely will be seeing this movie!” I happened to enjoy it quite a bit, actually. I really wanted to see Zala and Stompolos succeed, and I really wanted to see that damned plane blow up. I watched it with my 15-year-old son who has taken an interest in filmmaking himself. I could see the inspiration in his eyes, which was both moving to me, and brought me nearly full circle, as a father and as a filmmaker. My childhood friends and I never pulled off anything even remotely as passionate as Raiders: The Adaptation, hell, as an adult I’ve never pulled of anything even remotely as passionate, but that’s on me. See the film, relive your youth a little, and have a great time doing it. Raiders! shows us that it’s never too late. That sounds pretty cheesy, but, as Indy would say, “Trust me.”
And to my brother, Matt, and my childhood filmmaking friends, Cody and Jeremy Anderson: Do you guys wanna remake Die Hard, or something?
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