We’ve finally just seen Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. And what a laugh it was.
We first read about the movie in a Vanity Fair article in 2004. The backstory, in brief: in 1981, after Harrison Ford wowed the world as Indiana Jones, a 10-year-old Mississippi kid named Chris Strompolos talked two friends into filming their own shot-by-shot version of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
And over the next seven summers they did just that, turning basements into South American caves and backyards into Cairo, and shooting the whole thing on Sony Betamax tape.
The friends – Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb — had a local “premiere” in 1989, then set the movie aside and went on with their lives. Years later, through a weird chain of events involving Harry “Ain’t It Cool News” Knowles and director Eli Roth (of Hostel fame), a tape of the crude kiddie homage surfaced and became an underground hit. Which is how it made it to Cincinnati for a local benefit today.
How was the movie? Well, crude. Which goes without saying, of course, but given the intensifying buzz we’ve heard over the last few years, we actually were expecting a wee bit more clarity and polish. It especially shows how much better cameras are in the YouTube era; these kids had trouble at times with intelligible lighting and sound (using only the mic on the camera).
We watched the original film on DVD last night, which was essential for following along today.
But that said, you can only laugh and applaud their ingenuity and think alongside their improvisations as the movie goes along. (The biggest hit at our screening was the very patient pet dog, Snickers, who filled in as the spider monkey Indy adopts in Cairo.) Some scenes are magnificent; some are painful; and in some you just can’t stop laughing at the local kids in stringy prop beards.
Mostly you marvel and chuckle at the same time, as when they pull off some pretty daring stunts during the big truck-chase sequence in the desert — with a Nazi army caravan consisting of an old green pickup and a white Volkswagen Beetle convertible.
And now what? Turns out the Vanity Fair article has been optioned by producer Scott Rudin for a film about the boys themselves, with a script already written by cartoonist and screenwriter Dan Clowes.
And Strompolos and Zala have decided to take a chance again, launching their own feature film production company, Rolling Boulder Films. We chatted with Strompolos after the screening and he said their first film was a Mississippi Gothic thriller, and he mentioned Viggo Mortensen as an actor they hoped to talk with. Dream on again, you crazy dreamers!