If Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made was simply a good-hearted documentary about a bunch of kids remaking their favorite flick shot for shot, it might be entertaining for serious film geeks and Raiders of the Lost Ark fans, but few others.
This charming movie, though, proves far more than that, as it recounts the story of three Mississippi 11-year-olds who spent the better part of the '80s — and their respective childhoods — crafting a homemade ode to the 1981 Steven Spielberg action classic. In relaying the tale of their shared passion project, made over seven years save for one scene that proved too problematic for adolescents to recreate, Raiders! becomes a story of lifelong friendships tested, trashed and ultimately recovered, as well as a valentine to perseverance, artistic ambition and indie filmmaking.
The three boys who took this project on, and thus star in this documentary, are Chris Strompolos (the director), Eric Zala (who played Indiana Jones) and Jayson Lamb (an amateur special-effects maestro), although they managed to recruit dozens of classmates and relatives to help them work on their movie every summer, Christmas vacation and spring break. Raiders! bounces in time between clips of the kids reconstructing famous scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark — the giant rolling boulder nearly crushing Indy, the melting Nazi faces of the finale — and their reunion 30 years later to film the one scene missing from what they originally called Raiders of The Lost Ark: The Adaptation.
That scene is the fistfight between Indy and a giant German as they dodge spinning propellers on a plane that eventually explodes. Much of Raiders! details how the now-adult filmmakers went about finding the money and begging for the time off from their real jobs to complete their long-gestating project. This is the least interesting part of the film, although there's no denying the uplift in seeing them overcome an array of obstacles conspiring against them.
More enthralling are interviews in which the childhood friends talk about their movie as a release from rough home lives, and how their friendship broke apart as filming ending in the '80s, only to reignite at times of desperation — Zala's cocaine addiction in particular — and ultimately when director Eli Roth and some film geeks got a copy of the friends' movie and went searching for the filmmakers.
We should all be thankful they did, since the result is this joyful-if-overlong ode to movies and fandom, a perfect antidote to the summer bombardment of studio wannabe-blockbusters that pale in comparison to Raiders of the Lost Ark, and this movie documenting the making of a movie recreating a movie. ♦