CCFF 2015: RAIDERS! THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE review
written by: Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen
produced by: Jeremy Coon, Tim Skousen and Kyle Newman
directed by: Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen
runtime: 104 min.
U.S. release date: MArch 14, 2015 (South by Southwest Festival) and May 1, 2015 (Chicago Critics Film Festival)
People often ask me what my favorite movie is. Although it’s a confounding and perplexing question to address, the easy answer is “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. It’s got everything: action/adventure, drama, humor and romance as well as memorable lines. Scoff all you want, but it’s a proven fact that Steven Spielberg introducing the world to Indiana Jones, impacting countless moviegoers, filmmakers (both then and now) and kids ranging from about 8 to 12 years old. I can attest to that part, since I saw it at least five times the summer it came out when I was 9 years old. So did Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala, in fact I’d bet that they saw it more times than I did that summer.
In 1981, Chris and Eric were two boys in Mississippi who decided to remake “Raiders of the Lost Ark” shot by shot, line by line. Chris played Indy, Eric was behind the camera and a kid they met, Jayson Lamb, was on special effects. They cast Angela Rodriguez, a local girl a little older than them as Marion and started filming in 1982, during their summer break from school. For the next seven years, the teenagers would continue filming, taking huge risks with fire and explosives – just think about how they would’ve staged the firefight in Marion’s bar in Nepal. With obviously concerned parents and the ups and downs with trial and error filmmaking, Chris and Eric are put to the test, when most kids their age are concerned with landing a date to prom getting into the college of their choice.
For a movie that already holds a tremendous amount of nostalgia, there’s an obvious curiosity factor that comes to mind when considering the idea of a handful of kids shoot their own “Raiders of the Lost Ark” movie. So, in many ways, a documentary about the making of such a movie comes with it’s own built-in audience. To that end, directors Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen do an impressive job curating and compiling footage of the movie and combining that with where Chris and Eric are now, decades after their falling out halted filming.
The most intriguing aspect of the film comes when it catches up with Chris and Eric, now in their 40s, as they reunite in 2014 and attempt to finally film the flying wing sequence. They are still many hardships in the process (if not more, considering the lives they’ve lived since filming stopped) and since neither of them, or their crew, embarked on careers in the film industry, their 10-day film shoot is obviously filled with unforeseen problems. We’re already so invested in their endeavors though that seeing what they have to endure to finally finish such a complex sequence winds up being quite an absorbing experience.
Throughout the film, the directors insert ‘talking head’ moments from family members, friends, former teachers and even moments where “Raiders of the Lost Ark” actor John Rhys-Davies pontificates philosophical affirmations. We also see how director Eli Roth (“Hostel”) turned on Ain’t It Cool editor, Harry Knowles, to the film, since copies of “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation” was spreading as fast as word-of-mouth. These moments give us an idea of just how contagious the concept is to fans of the original film – be they family, friends or professional filmmakers. It obviously give us a look at who Chris and Eric were/are from the perspective of those who knew them then and now.
We also learn how Chris had to overcome a drug addiction and how Eric might be a couple of days away from losing his corporate gig, which is his main source of income. So, there’s definitely a portion of the movie where we consider the innocence of childhood and the responsibilities that come with being an adult. You can look at these guys as crazy, but their determination is quite contagious and our curiosity in regards to the final outcome holds our attention.
“Raiders!” had me thinking how powerful word-of-mouth and how contagious a passion project can be for everyone involved. The film is also a reminder how inspiring and affirming it is to have someone else working with you to pursue and fulfill your dream. Going in, I thought this doc would be simply follow the story of the kids who made their own “Raiders of the Lost Ark” movie, but it became much more. You don’t have to be a fan of the Spielberg classic to appreciate and enjoy what Chris and Eric accomplished, all you have to do is embrace the child in you.