“Raiders!” is the story of a Raiders of the Lost Ark fan film made by several boys in their teens back in the 1980′s. What started as a summer project ended up becoming a spectacular cult classic that even got Steven Spielberg’s attention.
I tend to be a little cynical about fan films these days. I like them, but many of them are made by professionals in their off-hours, and digital post-production is available to anyone with a halfway decent computer. That is what impressed me about the idea of this particular fan film. It was made by kids in their backyard with 1980′s equipment. No computers, no digital effects, and most of the original shots were saved on VHS tapes. That took some effort.
Two friends, Chris and Eric (with camera work by their friend Jayson) decided to recreate the entire Raiders of the Lost Ark movie on their own, shot by shot, with Chris starring as Indiana, Eric as director, and any neighborhood kid they could find as every other part in the movie. They guessed it would take them a few weeks, and their estimate was only off by a little: just seven years.
That kind of stubborn perseverance–especially in two kids who started the movie when they were twelve–just amazes me. These guys kept at it until they went off to college, and somehow managed to also have jobs and (occasionally) girlfriends, when they weren’t drawing storyboards or convincing their mothers to let them set the basement on fire.
Author Alan Eisenstock spells out the story extremely well. It doesn’t read like a non-fiction documentary about the making of a film, it reads like a fiction story about two friends having an adventure. You’re sucked into the story immediately, and the pacing never drags, even when Eisenstock is describing minute details like how they made someone’s face explode, or found the perfect location for the desert scenes, or made the giant boulder that chases Indiana. That boulder, that’s an epic story all by itself.
Eisenstock researched the entire project meticulously, interviewing Chris and Eric for every possible detail until he was able to recreate whole conversations that happened twenty years ago. He doesn’t pull any punches either. Both Eric and Chris come across as likable, but flawed as any human being, subject to obsession, jealousy, laziness, and really bad choices in girlfriends. But the final result, the movie that took over their lives for most of a decade, ended up better than they could have hoped. It just sat around for another decade before more than a handful of people saw it. And the story of how it was finally discovered is such a mix of luck and coincidence, you could make a movie out of it. And from what I hear, someone plans to.
The movie isn’t available for sale, and I only found clips and trailers of it online. But using my considerable sway as a book reviewer (I whined and complained until my boss was sick of listening to me), I got a DVD of the movie. Reading the book first is definitely the way to go. I was able to watch all these carefully filmed scenes and know exactly how much effort went into each shot. I wanted to see some of the scenes from the second I read about them. The scene in Marion’s bar? I’m not kidding you, they literally set a guy on fire, with an unemployed actor drinking a beer as their only chaperone. And it looks great.
If you’re one of the lucky people who’ve seen this movie, the book will tell you everything you wanted to know about how and why this crazy film ever got made. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’m hoping that with the release of the book there will be plans for future screenings. If you’re a fan of Indiana Jones or pigheaded determination, you must see it. But until then, at least you’ve got time to read the book. It’ll make watching the movie that much better.