The concept of fan-created works is nothing new. From fan fiction, where new stories around existing properties are written for fun, through to paintings of favourite characters, there is a long tradition of this form of appreciation. But for three kids in Mississippi, the release of Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark would lead to a much larger level of fan appreciation.
The three boys decided to make their own version of the film. The entire film. Shot-for-shot.
When they started, they were 11 years old. By the end, they were 18. In between, they had dragged each other behind trucks, poured gasoline over each other and set fire to it and had the police interrupt an alleyway scene thinking they were shooting porn.
This is the story of their wildly ambitious endeavour to recreate a big budget Hollywood blockbuster using their friends and primarily set in one of their basements. It picks up 35 years later as the trio, now not even friends, seek to reconnect…to shoot the final missing scene.
There was always one scene too complex to pull off. A fight around a German plane, culminating in the explosive destruction of the vehicle. As adults, they set out to finally complete their movie.
Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made mixes the current day process of the men trying to shoot their final scene with archival footage, mostly shot by the boys themselves. As they battle with the logistics of building (and destroying) a full-size plane, we see how they got around problems as kids. From the trial-and-error approach to constructing the infamous giant rolling boulder to repurposing boy scout uniforms to be Nazi uniforms, every iconic moment of the blockbuster gets recreated.
The three core protagonists – Chris Strompolos (director), Eric Zala (actor) and Jayson Lamb (SFX) – get analysed somewhat with the problems during and since the creation of the fan film. Strompolos and Zala fall out over a girl, Lamb feels unappreciated, Zala later turns to drugs. The film is fairly unflinching with this material.
What is skimmed over is the “why” of it all. It is suggested that the lack of father figures mean the three seek solace from domestic troubles in the film, but the question is never posed directly to the trio. The drive to carry on for a full seven years is not examined beyond the cursory level.
Nevertheless, this is an effective documentary. The intertwining of the boys struggling with the practicalities of filmmaking with even greater problems as adults works superbly. Strompolos having to repeatedly call his boss and beg for more time off work to finish the film is evidence enough that, sometimes, the ability to use good equipment and professional crew does not necessarily make it any easier.
Ultimately, Raiders! is intriguingly ambiguous. It can be viewed as an inspirational piece on the power of creativity to overcome all obstacles, or perhaps the folly of it all could be seen as confounding. After all, the objective is to specifically copy something which already exists.
In presenting the story in this open-ended way, perhaps keeping the “why” somewhat opaque works best. We all have our own mad projects and maybe we should never question what it is that drives us to do them, as long as we have that drive.
Perhaps the most telling moment in the saga is when Strompolos and Zala have a terrible falling out, but despite not speaking, still get in touch upon the release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in order to see the movie together. In the end, it is the common love for the property that drove them on and perhaps for Spielberg’s film, there can be no higher compliment.
The package is a nice one, with a booklet of the original boys’ storyboards – drawn from memory, since there was no such thing as home video at the time. The extras include a variety of outtakes from the fan film (most of which appear in the documentary) but, oddly, not the fan film itself.
The commentary tracks are solid, if unspectacular. One is the makers of the documentary while the other is Strompolos and Zala, who are very honest in their appraisal of things. “It was a very punk way of doing things,” Strompolos sums up at one point of their efforts, “although we weren’t cool enough to be considered in any way punk.”
Available on Blu-Ray/DVD from MVD Visual.