Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen’s documentary Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is a fascinating film about three 12-year-olds who began creating a shot-for-shot remake of their favourite film – Raiders of the Lost Ark – in 1982 during their spare time, not knowing that it would come to consume the formative years of their lives, and inevitably wind up changing them forever. Over the course of seven years, this ambitious project would occupy their summers and weekends as they meticulously recreated each scene of Speilberg’s 18-million dollar blockbuster on a shoe-string budget – with the exception of the airplane sequence, which was deemed too dangerous to shoot. Now, more than 30 years since they set out on this adventure together, Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb reunite to complete their fan film once and for all and close this massive chapter in their lives.
Coon and Skousen really stumbled across an incredible story with Raiders!, made all the more compelling by how impressive Zala, Strompolos and Lamb’s homemade fan film – officially titled Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation – actually ended up becoming. Of any film to try and recreate for your own amusement, as either a child or an adult, the original Raiders is just such a hugely ambitious choice, made all the more complicated by the presence of fire, special effects, complicated set-pieces, and wild animals (including monkeys and camels). Not to mention the fact that home video didn’t even exist at the time, meaning the whole thing needed to be planned out without a viewable copy as reference. Through the glimpses of footage that the documentary provides, the defining element that truly holds the film together and elevates it above typical fanfare is the raw passion and love that is felt in every frame, speaking to the insane level of commitment that these boys had in bringing this project to life, which was praised by Speilberg himself who saw the adaptation following it’s emergence as a cult phenomenon thanks to a few famous screenings at underground film festivals in the mid-2000’s.
As the documentary explores in great detail, serious sacrifices needed to be made in order to bring this herculean task to a close, and the road to completion was full of several bumps and unexpected turns. Coon and Skousen do an excellent job of providing an occasionally critical perspective on the level of obsession that this project has had over those involved – particularly director Eric Zala, whose own career is placed in jeopardy as he pleads with his boss to allow an extended vacation that is needed to finish the film. Complicating matters even further is the fact that previous best-friends Zala and Strompolos have had several falling-outs over the past few decades, with this project becoming the one thing with the power to bring them back together, regardless of their personal feelings or emotions. In the end, despite a serious scare in the final frames, they somehow managed to pull it off, and the completed final scene looks stunning – played in its entirety during the end credits of Coon and Skousen’s doc – offering a satisfying moment of closure for these three men who devoted years of their lives to a project built on the foundation of their childhood love of a cinematic icon: Indiana Jones.
R A T I N G : 3 . 5 / 5 S T A R S
To check out a trailer of The Adaptation, click here.