What if you remade a Hollywood blockbuster in your mom's basement?
Filmmaker Jeremy Coon had heard rumors about the Raiders of the Lost Ark fan film. Some kids in Mississippi who spent their allowance and seven summer breaks making a shot-for-shot remake of the adventure classic back in the Eighties. Movie geeks described it with lavish hyperbole. Mind-blowing! Face-melting!
"I thought it was an urban legend," Coon says. Then the Raiders remake screened near his home in Utah – and his face melted. "Fifteen minutes in, I'm like: How do I not know about this?"
Coon, a producer and editor on Napoleon Dynamite, wanted to make a documentary about the film – to capture its dramatic backstory, as well as the quixotic hope of its now-grown creators to complete their masterwork. The Raiders remake, you see, was not finished. One scene was missing: the elaborate fist fight on an airplane tarmac that ends in a spectacular explosion. And though director Eric Zala and star Chris Strompolos had spent the past decade touring the film circuit with their beloved oddity, they had a nagging sense of incompletion. Was it crazy to think they could finish their movie now, more than 30 years after they began? And had "crazy" ever stopped them before?
Raiders! tracks their amazing journey, both as adolescents creating what would become a classic in its own right, and as adults, barreling toward their goal with the same mix of creative drive and delusion they displayed in their youth. Back then, they didn't let logic or safety concerns get in the way of their vision. Kids were lit on fire for a scene and dragged on the ground behind a moving truck. (R.I.P., unsupervised childhoods of the Eighties.) As the now-middle-aged team gathers in a mud pit in Mississippi for an against-the-odds shoot, we see the same defiance. Jobs are placed on the line; weather patterns are ignored. As the hits start coming – budgetary constraints, crew revolts, a 75-foot plane replica with mechanical issues, and one breathtakingly frightening moment which will not be described here – the documentary veers from feel-good triumph into the Fitzcarraldo territory of cringe-inducing disaster. What price should you pay for realizing your dream, anyway? And should some dreams be left alone?
Of course, we can't tell you how it ends. But Raiders! is about more than the success or failure of re-creating a film. It is about the hard work of growing up. Sacrifices must be made; friendships must crack.
"This story is about life as much as it is about a movie," says Tim Skousen, who co-directed the documentary with Coon.
Indeed, the spectacle is a bit reminiscent of Richard Linklater's Boyhood. Like that homegrown epic, we watch the actors age right in front of the camera. But this is real-life boyhood taking place, a boyhood that will be familiar to many children of the Seventies and Eighties, who rambled into the woods with their camcorders and their Hollywood visions, losing themselves in a fantasyland that was safe from the cruel realities of divorce and adolescence.
"This is a friggin' Norman Rockwell painting at 24 frames per second," Harry Knowles tells the documentarians of the boys' original film. (Knowles first brought the remake to public attention back in 2002, and Austin itself plays a central role in the movie's evolution.)
We are all haunted by our childhood dreams and our incomplete selves. Watching men try to escape from that long shadow makes for its own kind of suspense – and inspiration.
As Coon says, "Even as an adult, you're like, 'Shot-for-shot remake? That's impossible.' But if you start thinking about what you can do as opposed to what you can't do, you might be surprised."
Documentary Spotlight, World Premiere
Raiders! Saturday, March 14, 9:30pm, Alamo South Lamar Monday, March 16, noon, Alamo Slaughter Thursday, March 19, 9pm, Alamo South Lamar Friday, March 20, 9:45pm, Vimeo
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation Saturday, March 14, 11:15pm, Alamo South Lamar