The latest episode of Vice’s American Obsessions tells the story of two kids, 12-year old Eric Zala and 11-year old Chris Strompolos, who loved Raiders of the Lost Ark so much, they wanted to recreate it, shot-for-shot.
Unfortunately, kids don’t have the time or resources of a major movie studio, and in 1982, they couldn’t download the script or storyboards off of the internet. They couldn’t even get a copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark to watch at home. They had to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in theaters multiple times and then copy everything from memory. Their parent’s basements were transformed into seedy bars and ancient temples, and they lit their sets (and each other) on fire with gasoline for authenticity.
It took them eight years to film the entire movie, aging from 11 and 12 to 19 in that time. There was one iconic fight scene, however, that was cut out of their version of the film, which was the airplane fight. Zala and Strompolos might have been creative, but they couldn’t find a way to blow up an airplane without looking “cheesy.” Decades later, they teamed up again to finally finish what they started with a Kickstarter campaign to fund the airplane fight.
The Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, which is playing SXSW this year, is more than a fan film or a bit of odd 80s nostalgia. This film represents a huge part of Zala’s and Strompolos’ childhoods preserved on film in much the same way that Boyhood captured 12 years of its cast’s lives. The biggest difference is that Raiders also reflected how a couple of kids learned from their experiences and grew as filmmakers over those years, and despite fights and falling outs along the way, they finished something that they started when they were only 11 and 12. As Strompolos puts it, “It’s a joyful thing, being able to watch the best bits of your childhood in a darkened theater with complete strangers, set to John Williams.”