Raiders of a lost art


There‘s another Indiana Jones film already out there that you probably haven’t seen. Few have. It never made it to the screens and is highly unlikely to ever get a DVD release, but it’s everything that’s good about cinema. It’s known as Raiders Of The Lost Ark: Adaptation.

It started with a comic book. In the fall of 1981, a few months after Raiders Of The Lost Ark had been released, 11-year-old Chris Strompolos was reading an Indiana Jones comic book on the bus to school. Fellow Raiders fan Erik Zala noticed and they started talking. A friendship was formed and after teaming up with Jayson Lamb they decided to remake their new favourite film shot for shot. Why? Because when you’re 11 years old it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

In fact, when you’re 11 years old with long hot Mississippi summers stretching out in front of you, remaking a multi-million dollar movie in your home town seems like an adventure worthy of Indy himself, so the three boys began working on it. The film would take them seven years to make.

They figured that all they had to do was copy each scene, but this was back in the days before DVDs were released soon after the cinema release and long before downloads on the internet. So they smuggled a tape recorder into a screening and recorded the sound so they could learn the lines. Halfway through making it, the fi lm came out on laserdisc but by then they had already storyboarded all 602 of their shots by piecing it together with photos, storybooks, and from memory.

The initial absence of a video camera didn’t deter them (they would later hire one) and they set to work on building a boulder that could chase after Indy in one of the iconic opening scenes. This process would have put off 99.9 per cent of other children who’d attempted it, but that boulder became symbolic of their initial naivety and persistence. The first attempt saw them constructing the big sphere out of bamboo poles and duct tape, but when it was finished they realised it was too big to get out of the bedroom. They took it apart and then couldn’t put it together again. The second (this time from chicken wire) blew away in a hurricane. They eventually got it right with fibreglass and through this trial and error process, and a desire to succeed where most kids would have given up and gone to watch TV, the film came together shot by recreated shot.

Casting wasn’t easy either. Chris would play Indiana Jones, Eric was French villain Belloq, but they needed more people, so neighbourhood kids were recruited, all excited to be part of this project. Young children from Mississippi played everyone from Hovitos Indians, pirates and professors to bar patrons and Nazi soldiers (wearing adapted Scout uniforms). And of course, they had no money. Most props were made, borrowed or received as birthday and Christmas presents. They couldn’t get a monkey, so they used a small dog instead and the scene where the plane explodes was omitted, but the rest is entirely faithful including the part where Indy is dragged behind a truck. When their original Marion moved away to Alaska, the second Marion was to be more than just a part-player on the screen. When Chris, as Indy, kisses her it was his fi rst ever kiss and they carried on long after ‘cut’ was called at the end of the take. They were growing up though the process of making this movie and they’re noticeably older towards the end of the fi lm, with voices that bit deeper. But they kept going despite the diffi culties and fi nally got all the shots they needed at a cost of between $3-5,000.

Time Out was recently given a copy of Esquire magazine from February 1975 and there was a section on a pair of up-and-coming filmmakers. One was a guy called George Lucas, who had just made American Graffi ti, and was now working a new sci-fi fi lm. The other (pictured playing a clarinet on a pier for some reason) was a young man called Steven Spielberg, and he’d just fi nished making a movie about a shark. Their fi lms, Star Wars and Jaws, would change cinema forever and their 1981 collaboration on Raiders would change the lives of three young men in Mississippi. But it was from the same small beginnings that those two giants started out.

Spielberg, who as a child made amateur 8mm adventure movies with his friends too, was passed a copy of their little masterpiece and was impressed enough to write a letter of congratulations, later meeting up with the trio in person. Meanwhile, Hollywood producer Scott Rudin has purchased the life rights to their story; a fi lm based on their efforts is in the pipeline now.

Remaking films cheaply is a recent theme in cinema, with Be Kind Rewind and the forthcoming Son Of Rambow. But this is something entirely different. This comes from a place of love with no commercial ambition and is borne from the kind of fan obsession that you can’t force or manufacture. ‘Being a kid, you don’t know what you can’t do, which is helpful when you are trying make a $26 million film on your allowance,’ Eric Zala said. ‘Kids’ motivations are the purest, and they aren’t unduly swayed by commercial considerations or a Teamsters strike or even the mortgage. It’s about the love of the story.’

You can’t buy their film due to the obvious problems with copyright, but it’s out there on the internet in several parts, on YouTube and some of the BitTorrent sites – we won’t name them because they might get blocked (like most BitTorrent sites now are) but even the semi-resourceful among you will fi nd them if you dig around a bit. After all, if 11 year olds can re-make Raiders Of The Lost Ark then you owe it to them to hunt down and watch their little masterpiece. If you’re a fi lm fan, then this is the purest and most life-affirming feature you’ll see this year. •

From Time Out, May 2008

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