THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"RAIDERS! THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE"
In JJ Abrams' Super 8, a bunch of kids get together to make an elaborate home movie. In real life, countless kids have done the exact same thing. (I certainly did as a young lad.) However, none had the experience shared by Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos. In 1981, the two boys from Mississippi – aged 11 and 10 respectively – bonded over a shared obsession with Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark and decided to remake it. Chris played Indiana Jones, Eric directed and played Belloq, and their friends filled in all the other roles. Their story is told in the thoroughly enjoyable new book “Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made,” written by Alan Eisenstock, with their assistance.
A couple of kids remaking a famous movie may seem like a thin subject for a 320-page book, but the production was far more complicated than you might expect. The boys dedicated themselves to making a shot-by-shot homage to Raiders, and their insistence on complete faithfulness caused the project to drag out for seven years. They found practical, if foolish, solutions to some of the more complex scenes; for example, to mimic a scene in which a character is lit on fire, Eric really did allow himself to be set on fire, much to his mother's horror. Later, he got his face stuck in a plaster cast, in an attempt to make a mask for the climactic face-melting sequence. Chris wheeled and dealed to get access to obscure necessities like a submarine. And then there was the biggest challenge: figuring out how to make a giant boulder that didn't look fake. That required considerable trial-and-error.
Chris and Eric's friendship took some hits both during and after the filming. Despite their Indiana Jones-inspired bond, the two grew apart as adults. One of the most amazing parts of their story - detailed in great depth by “Raiders!” - is how they eventually reunited. Their little home movie was discovered by a then up-and-coming director named Eli Roth, who arranged for it to be screened at Butt-Numb-a-Thon, an annual 24-hour movie marathon aimed at genre buffs. Its success there helped the remake get seen by Spielberg himself.
“Raiders!” is meticulous in giving you the step-by-step about how the boys made their tribute, how they worked through every obstacle, and how they relied on a seemingly endless well of creativity. It also does a terrific job of explaining the psychology of a couple crazy kids who couldn't let go of a dream. Anyone who has ever tinkered with a video camera will be in awe of their ceaseless dedication. The book is a fast, easy, and fun read. The only weakness is that much of it is dialogue, provided to Eisenstock by Zala and Strompolos. It's difficult to believe that they retain such detailed recollections of conversations decades later. The book doubtlessly takes some liberties in constructing its dialogue, filling in gaps or heightening things for drama.
Even if a few things are slightly massaged, “Raiders!” is an amazing true story, full of the sorts of twists and turns that you'd never believe in a piece of fiction. After reading it, I watched clips of Chris and Eric's work on the internet. It's highly impressive. My childhood home movies were never that cool. Neither were yours.
For more information on the book, or to see clips from the Raiders of the Lost Ark remake, visit the official website.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!