Movie Review: Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

(Not Rated; Directed by Jeremy Coon, and Tim Skousen)

Over the last 40 years, there have been millions of people, who have been influenced by the films of Steven Spielberg.

One of those people, was Chris Strompolos.

Growing up in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Chris was 12 years old, when he saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in the summer of 1981. After it came out, it quickly became his favorite film, and he soon after hatched an idea.

Teaming up with a number of kids in town (notable among them Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb), the three decided to do a shot-for-shot remake of the film. Yes, not just a few favorite scenes here-and-there, but the whole film!

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The film’s main cast/crew (clockwise from bottom-left): Jayson Lamb, Chris Strompolos, and Eric Zala

What would follow was a 7 year odyssey, as the boys struggled to make their vision happen.

Finally, in 1989, the film was complete (except for one scene). Even so, the boys each got a VHS copy of their adaptation, and that was the end of it…or so they thought.

In 2002, director Eli Roth managed to see one of those copies, and eagerly passed it along to Harry Knowles, the owner of Aintitcoolnews.com.

Harry was so amazed at what these teens had done, that he included the film in his 2002  Butt-Numb-a-Thon film festival, where it became a surprise hit! Soon afterwards, the media began talking about the film, and the three former filmmakers, found themselves being interviewed about their project.

During the interviews, many would ask about the one scene that was never completed, involving the German “flying wing” airplane from the original film.

For years, Chris Strompolos would joke that they’d go back and film it…and then, in 2014, he and Eric Zala, decided to make it happen…

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Having been a frequent reader of Aintitcoolnews since the late 1990’s, I still remember reading the articles about the surprise showing of The Raiders Movie (what people were calling it), as well as when the guys also ended up on tv news shows, talking about their film.

Aintitcoolnews also brought to light their Kickstarter campaign in 2014, where Chris and Eric attempted to raise money, and finish the “flying wing” scene. It is this event, that becomes the thread, that ties together the Raiders! documentary.

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The main crew, reunited after 25 years (l to r): Chris Strompolos, Angela Rodriguez, Eric Zala, Jayson Lamb

Though unlike the youths that we see making do with a shoestring budget in the 1980’s, the two (now in their 40’s)  have to navigate the tricky path of adulthood, finding funding for this one scene (with no return on the investment), let alone also dealing with raising families, and keeping jobs.

While it is an important part of the film, and connects the present to their past, it feels like the bits to finish the lost scene, get a bit repetitive in places(notably when the decision to film during Mississippi’s rainy season, hinders the planned 9-day shoot). However, the shoot probably gives us one of the most eye-opening scenes in the entire film.

Where the film will probably enthrall most, is in the bits where the guys reminisce about their younger days, and the quest to make the film in the first place.

What is fascinating about the making of their film, was how often the boys had to do the best with what they had available:

  • They couldn’t get a seaplane for Indy’s escape from South America, so they used a motorboat.
  • There weren’t any monkeys in Mississippi for the German spy’s pet in Cairo, so they used a little dog named Snickers (who ends up stealing almost every scene he’s in!).
  • Old boy scout uniforms were purchased from The Salvation Army, and re-purposed as German uniforms.

Even events such as Birthdays and Christmases, would be used as times to get money, or ask for the props they needed to complete the picture.Raiders5

And of course, there was the risk of life and limb.

One would have assumed they might have parental supervision, but most of the time, the boys were off on their own, dealing with runaway trucks, and almost burning down one of their houses!

It’s those little moments that make you crane in closer, maybe even wondering what kind of reckless, gallivanting parents these kids had.

However, their parents were just as concerned, but oftentimes, had to struggle with the rigors of adulthood (divorces, trying to put food on the table, etc).

We also get some bits from the supporting cast and crew, now grown up. Some boys ended up playing multiple parts, and a few seemed terribly miscast for their roles (but it wasn’t like there was a huge talent pool in Mississippi).

Though it has some fun moments, the documentary can also get painfully candid at times.

Raiders6Of the three who made the film, it is Jayson Lamb, who did most of the effects and behind-the-scenes work, but is shown to not have as rosy a memory as Chris and Eric. Though the film does paint it in the light that it was the three boys putting it together, Jayson almost comes off as the third wheel, and it shows in a few scenes, that he’s harbored some of these feelings for awhile.

Even so, what he was able to accomplish with pyrotechnics and creature effects work back in the 80’s, is very creative, including how he accomplished the flying spirits in the scene where the Ark is opened.

Eric and Chris also delve a ways into the aftermath of their teenage years, though when it comes to stories to tell, it is Chris who really lays it all out on the table. Taking on the role of Indiana Jones in the film, seems like an early escape from what life would bring later on…a journey with twists and turns, that leads him to a place he probably never thought he’d end up.

But the film isn’t just about the filmmakers, but also those who were entranced by their efforts. We hear from film director Eli Roth, AICN founder Harry Knowles, and many more, who were privy to that Butt-Numb-a-Thon screening, and share their memories of what that event was like.

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John Rhys-Davies

We also get a few words from John Rhys-Davies (who played Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark), sharing some stories, and giving some thoughts on the fan-film.

While it is nice to see a former member of the actual Raiders film, it almost feels like one could excise John’s scenes, and the film wouldn’t lose much.

Some have asked Chris Strompolos just why the film resonates with so many people. In one Q&A I saw him at, Chris explained that it was because people could see themselves in the characters.

I could definitely agree with him there. In a sense, the boys you see up on that screen (struggling to make a realistic giant boulder, firing roman candles at little brothers), are ordinary kids. They make mistakes (some almost fatal), had crazy ideas, but they were struggling to do something that most probably considered impossible.

One of the cast even says how they were like The Goonies, and it definitely shows: a group of boys off on an extraordinary adventure, one that they could claim as their own…never realizing that many years later, it would entertain and inspire hundreds of people around the globe (including, one particular filmmaker!).

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Raiders7Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: “Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made” is a fascinating look into a bygone era, after the Super 8 camera succumbed to VHS tape, but before the rise of internet sites like Youtube. The stories that are shared, show a vision into how a youthful dream to dabble in the world of film, started as something for a small group of friends, and blossomed into a phenomenon that 3 decades later, shows that just maybe, you can go home again,and give yourself a second chance)

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About MWH1980

Growing up in the state of Iowa, one would assume I'd be enamored with pigs and corn. Well, I wasn't. Instead, I grew fascinated by many things that were entertainment-related. Things like movies, animation, toys, books, and many more kept my attention. This blog I hope to use to express myself regarding my varied obsessions. (P.S. There's no Photoshop involved in that Gravatar-I really am holding an Oscar)

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