In 1984, the year Paramount released Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, novelist Thomas Pynchon excavated a number of short stories he’d written as a kid. In the introduction to the published compilation, he wrote that he had a momentary impulse “about some kind of wall-to-wall rewrite,” which eventually gave way to “one of those episodes of middle-aged tranquility.” A rewrite just wouldn’t have seemed honest.
Such isn’t the case for Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb, three childhood friends who spent their summers from 1981 to 1988 making a now-legendary shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Part of the film’s fun is seeing how they substituted makeshift resources for trucks, Nepalese bars, golden Aztec idols, and Nazi uniforms. It’s an astonishing accomplishment for a group of kids, including pyrotechnics, fights, melting Nazis, and a child dragging behind a truck.
But one scene was missing: the knuckle-busting fight between Indy and a German mechanic amid the propellers of a spinning Nazi flying wing. There was just no way to shoot it. So Raiders!, a film documenting the kids’ effort, is framed by the group, now adults, shooting the missing scene 35 years later. High-definition footage shot with actual money, a full-scale replica of a Nazi airplane, background camels, and pyrotechnics all seems incongruous — and a little bit like a betrayal of the kids they once were.
There was so much joy in their remake, but Raiders! is often dispiritingly preoccupied with adult issues of financing. But when they talk about their alienated childhoods, broken families, and absent fathers, it’s pretty clear why their cinematic role model was so meaningful.
Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
Directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen
Opens June 17, IFC Center