Raiders of the lost ark documentary

In 1981, when Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark was released, everyone was changed by the world of Indiana Jones. However, few changed as much as Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala. The then teenagers decided they wanted to remake the film, shot by shot and did so over the course of the next seven years. It’s a story that’s very well known on the Internet because the Internet pretty much brought it to the masses. The end game of that story is a new documentary called Raiders!, directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen, which not only documents the process and struggles behind the original version of the remake, but incorporates new footage as Strompolos and Zala come back decades later to complete the one scene they were never able to do: the airplane fight scene.

Raiders! had its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival over the weekend and you can continue to read our Raiders of the Lost Ark documentary review below.

Raiders Adaptation Book

Prologue

As a film fan, it’s almost hard to objectively criticize a film like Raiders!. Simply put, there’s just so much nostalgia and passion on the screen, it’s difficult to separate that. You relate to and embrace it all immediately: The love for the medium, the filmmaker, the movie in question, and any time you see footage from the original movie or hear John Williams’ score, it’s like you’re watching Raiders of the Lost Ark and not a documentary about a remake. That’s not to say anyone could have made this movie and it would have exuded the same energy. Coon, Skousen and their crew do a phenomenal job at curating what must have been an insurmountable amount of content into a very digestible product. I’m just saying, most of us are probably in the bag for this movie

raiders_makers

The Past

So we meet Strompolos and Zala as young boys and learn more about them. We learn how they met, what their family lives were like, how they communicated their passion for Raiders of the Lost Ark, and how those elements became a movie. Things get really good, though, once production actually starts. Raiders! is, obviously, full of footage the kids shot but there’s also a mountain of behind the scenes footage. Outtakes. Mistakes. Unbelievable risks the kids took in making the movie, such as setting each other on fire. These moments are definitely the highlights of the doc.

Raiders Documentary

The Present

That story from the ’80s is then juxtaposed with Strompolos and Zala now. They’re in their 40s, they have wives, lives and jobs. But that lingering obsession from their childhoods never went away and when an opportunity to complete their film shows itself, they jump all over it. Raiders! then documents all of that too, from the raising of funds, to pre-production, all the way up through a brutal 10 day film shoot with more twists and turns than Raiders of the Lost Ark itself.

Raiders doc plane

The Problems

As these two stories move together in tandem, eventually, the movie goes to some dark places. Zala almost gets fired from his job. We hear about Strompolos’ drug addiction. There are multiple divorces, child abuse and lots of the fun, film fan passion that the movie started with gets drained out of it. This is all worthy and interesting stuff that builds on these characters, but it does slow the movie down considerably and take the focus away from the movie itself. It’s a tonal shift that you understand, but are slightly discouraged with.

Raiders doc screen grab

The Perfection

Thankfully, after the audience comes through those woods, Raiders! builds into some amazing climactic moments both in the past and present. A highlight here is the role the Internet, and specifically filmmaker Eli Roth and Ain’t It Cool News, played in popularizing the story of Strompolos and Zala. All throughout the film there’s great cultural perspective, with plenty of news clips, and personal perspective, with just the right amount of talking head interviews with friends and family.

Raiders Doc 2

The Point

Fans of film, filmmaking and Raiders of the Lost Ark are going to adore Raiders!. It’s a beautiful, inspiring story told with a ton of excitement and context. Plus, in the end, you realize this isn’t just about making movies. It’s about the struggle and accomplishment of fulfilling your dreams.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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