By Paris Spence-Lang
VANCOUVER — I love Indiana Jones. He is the greatest hero ever made, above even Harrison Ford’s very own Han Solo, and I will gladly watch any of the original movies at the drop of a well-worn fedora. But my love for the trilogy has rarely extended past the movies. As for Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala, their first meeting with Indy was the catalyst for, in the eyes of many, the greatest fan film ever made.
It started in 1981, when Steven Spielberg and George Lucas teamed up to create Raiders of the Lost Ark. The next year, 11-year-old Strompolos asked 12-year-old Zala if he wanted to help him remake the movie—the entire 115-minute, $20US-million movie—on, as Strompolos’s son would later say, “his allowance.” Zala said yes.
Seven years later, the pair—along with a cast of friends including special-effects whiz Jayson Lamb—had created a shot-for-shot remake of the entire movie, down to the live snakes, melting faces, and giant rolling boulder. Well, all but the plane scene—the one where Indy gets the tar beaten out of him by the Steve Austin of Nazis, who is then turned into an Aryan smoothie by the propeller before the plane explodes in a phantasmagorical fireball. That plane cost $700,000 to build, making its absence understandable.
But, 30 years later, Strompolos and Zala decided they had some unfinished business—namely, blowing up that damn plane. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made takes you through their film shoot, from Kickstarter, to camel, to “Cut!” But as the documentary progresses, it becomes less about the boys’ remake and more about the boys themselves. To them, the project was a way to escape, a fantasy world where they could hide from the challenges of—in Strompolos’s case—separated parents and an abusive alcoholic stepfather. The boys were outsiders, and the remake became less about adventure and more about acceptance.
The film is full of beautiful moments that underpin its emotional journey. John Rhys-Davies, who played Sallah in the original film, gives wisdom and priceless anecdotes throughout. Directors and film critics such as Eli Roth (Hostel, Inglorious Basterds) explain how the remake inspired them as film nerds. There’s even as much (if not more) drama than the original: romantic competition between the boys, crippling addictions, and even uncut and shocking violence that—when it appears—gives the sobering realization of how close Strompolos and crew came to serious injury or death time and time again.
While Raiders! has parts that go down like bad dates—for example, the audio of SFX expert Lamb, while talking about how he was all but absent from any media recognition, is faded out—the documentary flows well, and is surprisingly deep and satisfying. The movie won’t melt your faces, but it will give any fan of Indy plenty of enjoyment—especially if you, like Strompolos and Zala, are the kind of nerd who owns a whip.
But I swear, it’s not mine.
Raiders! opens at Cineplex International Village on June 17thBC, British Columbia, Cineplex International Village, Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made