Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
2016, NR, 93 min. Directed by Jeremy Coon, Tim Skousen.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 17, 2016
The emergence of digital video and editing prosumer equipment in the late Nineties spawned a tsunami of homemade, film geek-friendly remakes and offshoots (see, for instance, variations on the theme of Star Trek and Star Wars; go directly to YouTube). Some of them are better than their source material, or at least a welcome and canny respite from Hollywood’s multimillion-dollar budgetary overruns. But way back in 1982, three preteen kids in Mississippi (Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb) fell so head over heels for Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg’s rollicking throwback to the cliffhanger serials of the Thirties and Forties) that they spent the next seven years of their lives re-creating a fully storyboarded, shot-by-shot remake of the film on super lo-pro video.
Raiders!, co-directed by Napoleon Dynamite participants Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen, recounts and recaptures the project’s youthful enthusiasm and kidhood chutzpah with a potent mix of gosh-wow wonder and genuine heart, which is, in a word, inspirational. The Eighties-era pre-production footage of these pint-sized DIY-or-die filmmakers and the gnarly and impressively dangerous effects work are equal parts fraught, touching, and hilarious. But the bottom line here is that they did it, period, and eventually a bootleg VHS found its way to the likes of Eli Roth and Harry Jay Knowles, who programmed the finished project at his annual Butt-Numb-a-Thon some years back. It was finished then, almost, except for one key sequence: Indy’s fistfight with the strapping, bald Nazi who eventually gets a propeller-head courtesy of an unchocked Flying Wing. Decades after they commenced their wildly ambitious take on Raiders, the no-longer-young filmmakers finally brought that memorably explosive sequence to life (which can now be seen under the title Raiders: The Adaptation), thereby capping off exactly what this film’s title promises.
Because the film was shot out of sequence to begin with, doc helmers Coon and Skousen intercut various scenes from the Eighties-era shoot (amusingly, the young actors’ pubescent ages are all over the map from shot to shot) with their eventual reunion as they attempt to film the Flying Wing sequence. There are nail-gnawing, backstage EFX and near-disastrous dramas in abundance, natch. At one point, the kids very nearly set their parents’ house on fire attempting to re-create Professor Jones’ escape from that flaming, Nepalese barroom early on in Spielberg’s original. Quoth the Who: The kids are alright. In fact, this story of their unbridled fandom fantasy-made-reality is key to the whole crazy world of popular fan-made films that burst from the internet seemingly every week.
This documentary is the sort of film that will leave both young and old(er) film fans grinning like the boys (and one girl) who dreamed the whole fantastic, mad scheme up in the first place. Parents, in particular, should take note: Insofar as your offspring go, where there’s a will there’s always a way. Just don’t forget to keep your homeowner's insurance up to date.