In 1982, three friends in Mississippi – Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb – set out to make a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. You know, just for fun. They were 11 years old, and it took them seven years before they were done with the project ... although they were never able to fully finish; they were missing one key scene.
I won't tell you which scene that is, because you can see them go through the adventure and the torment of finally shooting it as adults in the thoroughly hilarious and surprisingly poignant Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made. Documentarians Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen revisit the odyssey that consumed the entire teenage years of Zala, who played Indy; Strompolos, who directed the film and played tons of smaller parts; and Lamb, who was all about cameras and FX. The result is a portrait of fandom and friendship, of amazing creativity and inventiveness, as three imaginative nerdy kids and a whole bunch of their friends dedicated themselves to a remarkably devout expression of love for their favorite movie. We get clips from their work as well as behind-the-scenes footage of it all going wrong (which happened often).
But Raiders is also a portrait of childhood in the '80s, of broken families that left kids emotionally adrift – and eager to latch onto a father figure such as Indiana Jones, if only from afar – and of the era before helicopter parents, when as long as there was no arterial blood or broken limbs and you were home before dark, we kids were left to our own devices. (The guys liken themselves to the Goonies. Zala's and Strompolos' moms appear on camera today to marvel at what their sons were getting up to – like setting fire to themselves – while they were busy working to support their families.) The guys' Kickstarter-supported quest to finally get that last scene in the can is beset by the same kind of problems that even big-budget movie shoots face: bad weather, FX breakdowns, budget overruns of both time and money and the frustration that goes along with all of those. Yet there remains a childlike enthusiasm and a certain artistic purity – the guys' work is about absolutely nothing but the sheer joy of cinema – that brings to mind fictional movies such as Be Kind Rewind, with its "sweded" remakes of Hollywood films, and Son of Rambow, about kids who make their own version of First Blood.
I have no doubt that both of those films were inspired by Zala, Strompolos and Lamb's Raiders, which was already something of a legend by the time Harry Knowles played part of it at his 2002 Butt-Numb-A-Thon film festival. Anyone who loves movies with a passion is sure to see something of themselves in the reverent worship of cinema that the homemade Raiders represents, and in awe of those who would dare to attempt such a thing.
4 out of 5 stars