Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015)
Starring: Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos, Jayson Lamb, John Rhys-Davies, Eli Roth, Harry Knowles
Directed by: Jeremy Coon, Tim Skousen
Synopsis: Documentary about how three kids in Mississippi made a shot-for0shot adaptation of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ Raiders of the Lost Ark. The kids spent over 7 years making the fan-made homage and it’s considered a cult classic now to film buffs.
- The enthusiasm and dedication as well as the ingenuity and craft that these kids did to remake a beloved action movie. When I say that they have spirit and guts in what they do with their little film, I’m not even remotely kidding. Whether it’s the props, costumes or set design, they do a fantastic job and their work is not shabby at all. It’s a marvel that they got down the exact mannerisms and most of the shots totally correct and it still feels like a genuine fun project. They even take huge risks with setting actors on fire and doing motor vehicle stunts! It’s amazing that they are still alive. If only Gus Van Sant had this much skill and fun when he did his silly shot-for-shot Psycho remake.
- I’d also like to point out how interesting it was seeing that since it took them over 7 summers to complete their project, they aged dramatically from scene to scene and it adds to the quirkiness of such an endeavor. And the documentary does a fine job bouncing back and forth, not with just their Raiders project but also with them in the present day when they successfully crowdfunded to finish the only scene they were unable to complete and that’s the fight by the plane with Indy and the German mechanic. So one third is showing the clips of the Raider’s project, another third with commentary from the filmmakers as well as friends, family and industry professionals, like John Rhys-Davies (who played Sullah in Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Eli Roth (who championed these kids when he found a VHS copy of their project when he was in film school) and another third is the filmmakers’ drama and excitement in completing the plane fight sequence. The documentary does a fine job in making this silly subject of kids making a famous action movie interesting with its pacing.
What doesn’t work:
- As interesting as a project and endeavor these kids did, they however, are not interesting. While I am highly jealous of what they accomplished as teens, I found it hard to connect with them. Eric Zala in particular seemed like a real conceited and difficult person and in some ways still does seem that way. Chris Strompolos also seemed like he was a real jerk when he was younger. At one point they had a falling out because Chris “stole” Eric’s girlfriend. And Chris bragged that he didn’t even find her attractive but just wanted to see if he could do it. But besides the morals issues, why should I care? These kids didn’t grow up to be anyone of worth in any industry so it’s not like it was the beginning of a major Hollywood success story. And they didn’t face any adversity in their Raiders project, so it wasn’t a story of overcoming odds to be a major success either. Chris at one point was poor and became a drug addict, but again, it doesn’t matter much to the overall project. Makes for a rather boring documentary when they tried hard to make these guys not just likable but outstanding individuals. In the end they came back together to finish their project. I should also point out that the big drama for Eric as he tries to film his final plane action scene was pleading with his boss on the phone in getting more time off work since too much rain pushed back his filming. Zzzz. I guess I was more interested in how, as kids, they made the film with very limited resources and money. And when the doc centers on that aspect it’s great.
- Harry Knowles. If you don’t know who Harry Knowles is, he’s the main geek over at aintitcoolnews.com. He’s tough to like, and tough to listen to and even tougher to look at. I hate to sound like a jerk but I used to read aintitcoolnews and they are really an annoying geek site, Knowles especially. So whenever I see him in a documentary I cringe. Same goes for writer Ernest Cline, who adds his two pretentious geek cents while sitting in a Delorean from Back to the Future. While I too would love to own a replica of the Delorean time machine, I would not in a million years be sitting in it when I’m being interviewed. I have more gripes against Cline which I won’t go into but suffice to say, I’m not a fan.
- The overall sadness to it. I don’t remember if I ever said this on any of my reviews for documentaries but I think 98% of all documentaries are depressing in some way. Whether its overcoming incredible odds or obstacles, or being great and falling from grace as a has-been or even a mystery that never was solved, most of the docs I watch are rooted in depression. Brian and I watched one about Jon-Mikl Thor and it was one of the most dismal things we ever saw. Even when it’s about two dorks playing Donkey Kong, you can’t help but feel sorry for them that this is their purpose in life. But again, here we have a doc that paints these kids as filmmaking geniuses (for the most part, they could’ve been and I give them much credit for what they did with their pet project) and champions them into the present day. They were teens when they made their Raiders project and they never did anything remotely creative again. But because their project was unearthed, they decided to get together again to crowd fund their last scene to fully finish it. I can’t help but feel equally inspired by what they did and jealous for being able to do what I always wanted to do as a kid and also sad for them for not accomplishing much as adults and still wasting time in finishing this project. It’s a hollow and pointless endeavor and it really made me mad at one point that they nearly killed a pyrotechnician when they detonated the airplane. To put this into perspective, a man who was hired to blow up a movie prop nearly died because a 40-year old amateur filmmaker wanted to finish a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark for no other reason then to finish it for the glory of all geekdom. I’m sorry but that’s a real travesty.
Overall: I’ve heard about the kids version of Raiders for quite some time now and was always intrigued. After all I identify with geeky stuff like this and adore movies—especially Raiders of the Lost Ark. If me and my friends had a video camera we’d surely attempt to make our own movies as well, so I understand the inspiration of these kids. And, no question, I think they’ve really made a really great homage and I would love to see the whole thing uncut. I know I’ve said some harsh things in criticism of the people involved in this review, yet, I can’t really say this was a bad documentary at all. It showed the past and present of these guys in a honest light and it wasn’t boring at all. Is what they did a silly endeavor? Absolutely, but they were kids and they knew that it was silly but they had a ton of fun doing it. They never tried to shop the video around to any financial or professional gain and I commend them for not over-reaching. After the tape leaked and found it’s way to people like Eli Roth, they became more notorious and started to get some respect for their work. Which, again, I’m fine with. It’s not like their meeting with Spielberg gave them get a 3-picture deal with Universal or anything. It was a passion-project and it was always treated as such.
But again, these aren’t my friends and I really don’t care about them. I understand in an attempt to show the human/emotional side of these kids, we need to see their history and hear their feelings about the project, life and growing up and such but I just didn’t care. I read today on wikipedia that there is a possibility that there will be a movie made based on these kids making Raiders and that’s a little ridiculous. But the rights were bought back in 2004 so maybe it never got the legs to get going. I also read that: “Lee Sandlin of The Chicago Reader even hinted that the film was “better than the original”. Now that’s extremely ridiculous on so many levels. I used to trace a lot of famous drawings from books when I was a kid, but I never once did I take that much pride in them or hung them on the fridge. Essentially, that’s what these kids did, they traced and copied Indiana Jones and people are praising them a little too much for it. If they had maybe made an original written and produced chapter to Indiana Jones after they saw Raiders, then that would be really something. Hate to sound like Andy Rooney but let’s be serious too.
Score: 7 “Why couldn’t you just blow up a miniature dummies?” (out of 10)
Not nearly as good as a student film I saw once that recreated the drinking contest scene perfectly.
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We should meet Spielberg for that scene!