This past week, the documentary Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made became available to buy or rent on Amazon Prime. I’d heard of this fan film back in 2004 thanks to a great article by Vanity Fair: a group of 11-year old friends in Mississippi had decided to make a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark starting back in 1982, a year after the movie hit theaters. The friends spent the next SEVEN YEARS working on it, finishing in 1989 as they graduated high school. Except for one scene. This documentary covers the adaptation by the kids and their efforts as adults to crowdsource and shoot that remaining scene: Indiana Jones and Marion escaping the Nazi camp, including the bomber exploding. It’s a pretty epic story.
There were obviously many kids involved in this epic undertaking that came to encompass every summer vacation, spring break and long weekend they had. The group was headed by three friends, though. Chris Strompolos gathered the team together and plays Indiana Jones, who would change age drastically since the movie was filmed out of order. Eric Zala was his right hand man, wrangling more kids, doing the lion’s share of directing and playing Belloq, Indiana Jones’ adversary. Finally, Jayson Lamb was cinematographer and provided the special effects.
You wouldn’t think pre-teen to young teenagers could create the boulder scene or the Nazis melting or figure out how to get dragged under a truck in the desert or have a bar shootout with villains catching on fire. That’s what makes their movie so exciting. They did it. For instance, there was no way they could get a spider monkey. So they used Chris’ puppy, Snickers. These were kids filled with ingenuity. Watching Jayson create the ghosts that haunt the Nazis at the end is also very impressive.
The documentary shows plenty of clips of their adaptation thanks to fair use. It’s incredible. And the stories by the grown kids and their parents showing how they figured out ways to do it or how they were able to keep doing this without SOMEONE coming in and putting a stop to it is really interesting. One of my favorite parts is the adult who agreed to supervise everything being a guy who was an extra in Dawn of the Dead who just had nothing better to do and was a terrible source of supervision. You can see him recommending where to set fires and how to make them bigger. It’s kind of hilarious but only because no one got hurt. But damn, there are some close calls.
Half of the movie is spent on the team reconvening as adults in 2014 to Kickstart funds for that last big action scene. And this segment has very high stakes. Eric Zala is now married with two kids and a job at a big video game company. But when the project goes over schedule, we witness his boss repeatedly warn him he’s about to be fired. But he keeps going. We hear about Chris’ troubled past with drugs. But here they are, just over 40 and they cannot leave it behind. The dedication is incredible.
Of course, they ARE now adults. So it’s not necessarily as interesting to see them recreate a movie scene with an adult crew. That said, they do have an explosives expert and a huge plane they plan on blowing up. And they’re not professionals. I won’t spoil anything but it was probably a very bad idea. In fact, Zala and Strompolos essentially cut Lamb out because Lamb argues, quite wisely in my opinion, that they should just be using models which won’t risk their lives.
The story of these friendships which are pushed well beyond the normal breaking point is at the heart of the documentary. Do they get noticed? Do they hold on to their families and jobs? Does anyone from the original movie know what they’ve accomplished? Those are all elements of the documentary.
Overall, I find the stuff about them as kids a bit more interesting but the difficult production as adults has literal life and death stakes so it isn’t boring. If you’ve ever enjoyed Indiana Jones, any fan film or a story about friendships that have gone through big ups and downs, I think you’ll really enjoy this movie.
I give it 2 and a half out of three thumbs!