'Raiders!': SXSW Review

Courtesy SXSW
A somewhat clunky account of three teens' amazing filmmaking feat.

The story of the ultimate fan film.

In these days of cheap DV and desktop editing software (not to mention middle-aged fanboys who never gave up their geeky obsessions), the fan film is commonplace. The web is full of homemade Star Wars, Star Trek and comic-book movies, some made with more conviction than the genuine article. Things were different in the early '80s, when three pre-teens fell for Raiders of the Lost Ark so hard they decided to remake the film, shot for shot. Their seven-years-in-the-making opus is a thing of legend, and in Raiders!, Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen get a lot of mileage out of its audacity. Their documentary is modest and sometimes clumsy, as if made with the expectation that only the geek community would ever want to watch it. A more polished film would have better chances in the wider world.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation took seven years to make and was shot out of sequence, meaning that its cast ping-pongs through adolescence onscreen, their ages changing from scene to scene. They managed to finish the whole film, save for one bit: the fight sequence in which Indiana Jones battles a mammoth Nazi under and around an airplane that's about to explode.

Now in their forties, two of the three core filmmakers decide to make their film whole. We follow director Eric Zala and star Chris Strompolos as they plan the ambitious shoot, spending tens of thousands of dollars (and, in Zala's case, putting his day job on the line) to build a 75-foot replica of that plane — which they plan to blow up on cue after Indy saves his girlfriend Marion from its cockpit.

Jayson Lamb, an eccentric who was responsible for most of the teen crew's effects work, is excluded from this present-day shoot. As a result, Coon and Skousen pay less attention to him than perhaps they should when recounting the 1980s production. The doc switches routinely from past to present, charting the airplane scene's troubles (sample title: "Day 5: 31 Shots Behind") in between interviews with parents and neighbors who watched these men get their start as amateur filmmakers.

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Happily, nobody erased over the videotapes of unused takes, meaning we get to see very funny failed gags and flubbed readings by 13 year-old actors. Parents briefly shut things down when a fire stunt went wrong, but when production resumed, it risked more mayhem than ever. Looking at the boys' replication of the famous car chase in which Indy was dragged by a truck, it's a miracle nobody was maimed.

Coon and Skousen supply just enough information about the boys' post-Raiders lives to satisfy our curiosity, and explain how the homemade movie was passed around on VHS dupes until it was discovered by film-biz types like Eli Roth. (Roth is interviewed here, as is an admiring John Rhys-Davies.) Many years after they made it, the boys got a chance to meet Steven Spielberg himself, who had been given a copy of their tribute and reportedly told them he was "inspired" by their dedication.


Production company: Jeremy Coon Productions

Directors-Producers: Jeremy Coon, Tim Skousen

Executive producers: Kyle Newman

Director of photography: Tim Irwin

Editor: Barry Poltermann

No rating, 104 minutes