In 1981 Raiders of The Lost Ark was released and like many young boys Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb saw the film and were enraptured by it.

Like many kids Chris wanted to be Indiana Jones, to have his own adventure, to fight nazis, hunt for treasure and get the girl. He therefore decided that he would remake the whole film shot-for-shot and that he would play the starring role of Indy. Chris discussed this with his friend Eric who agreed to help and realising they could not achieve the necessary special effects themselves they got another friend, Jayson, involved in the project.

Together, over the next seven years, the three boys, with the help of almost 100 others, made the greatest fan film ever made, Raiders Of The Lost Ark: The Adaptation. When the boys started they were just 11-12 years old and when they finished they were adults. Having finished they screened the film to family and friends and got on with their lives.

Once the boys had decided that they were going to remake Raiders shot for shot they hit their first problem. No video rental copy was yet available for the film so they therefore began collecting anything they could find to help construct a shot-by-shot storyboard. They collected books, artwork, magazine articles and ingeniously even snuck a cassette recorder into the cinema and recorded an audio version of the entire film. Eric then drew out precise and quite incredible storyboards that allowed them to then shoot the whole film shot for shot with little deviation from the original. He also designed costumes for the film which they began making, including turning school uniforms into nazi uniforms.

Although they didn’t keep track of the budget of their film the three agree that it probably cost them roughly $5000 to make over the course of the seven years. Not bad when compared to the $28 million the original Raiders cost. The boys made everything they could and what they couldn’t they asked for for their Birthday and Christmas presents. In parts of the film where they were unable to replicate certain props and scenery their ingenuity is outstanding and often quite amusing. Their replacement for the monkey is a particular highlight.

One of the delights of the film though is seeing them actually accurately replicate things from the original that you just can’t believe they would have been able to. Particularly startling is the stunts that the boys manage to replicate which help recapture one of the greatest elements of the original, practical effects and stunts which felt genuinely dangerous adding real tension to the action sequences. This helped make the Indiana Jones films such exciting action/adventure films and was noticeably lacking from the recent Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, much to the film’s detriment.

In the 14 years following their hometown première the story of these three boys who remade a whole film in their teens became legendary, especially amongst film students, and VHS copies of the film were traded, illegally sold or rented and passed around campuses. In 2003 one such copy of the film was in the hands of director Eli Roth. Eli Roth was a friend of Aint It Cool founder Harry Knowles who, every year to celebrate his birthday, programmes 24 hours of films at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin which he calls Butt-Numb-A-Thon (BNAT). Eli Roth was in attendance at the 2003 BNAT and handed Harry a copy of the tape which Harry gave to fellow organiser Tim League. He then put the tape on the side in preparation to play it if they ended up ahead of schedule. Luckily this happened and the film played on the screen to 200 film fans who went nuts, cheering throughout. News of the screening spread and Eric, Chris and Jayson were invited to show the film at the Alamo as a special event with a Q&A. They agreed and the film played to a packed audience who gave them a four minute standing ovation.

If you haven’t seen Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation it is perhaps hard to understand why this film provokes such a response but this film is the crazy dream of three children, it is the story of three boys growing up, it is a film filled with originality and imagination, and importantly it is a film that shot for shot remakes a damn good film. One of the greatest joys of the film is that this is the story of these three boys growing up. When they first set out, for instance, Chris was unable to grow the necessary stubble and used vaseline and ash to get the required look but by the end of filming he was sporting genuine stubble.

One of the best moments in the film is when the scene where Indy and Marion kiss is replicated, which when viewed with the knowledge that this was Chris’ (then 13) first kiss ever is a pretty magical moment. This kind of moment is exactly what this film is all about. The film is not simply a remake of Raiders but it is also a documentary/home movie of the three boys’ teenage lives, their friendship and the story of them growing up.

Shortly after the Alamo screening and a high profile Variety piece, Hollywood producer Scott Rudin bought the rights to the boys story and plans to make a fictionalised film of their story. Daniel Clowes was attached to write and direct but there seems to have been little movement on the film since this announcement.

Potentially more exciting is the news that that Eric, Chris and Jayson are working on a documentary about the film and that they have over 40 hours outtakes to use. Apparently they are unfortunately faced with “legal hurdles” in getting their Adaptation released which is incredibly sad to hear, especially considering that Spielberg has seen the film and loved it.

It would be an incredible shame if the film remained unseen by the majority of people due to its slightly tricky position as an unauthorised remake. Hopefully soon these legal issues will be resolved and the film can be released, perhaps with an accompanying documentary. Until then the film is occasionally screened with the proceeds going to charity and if you ever get the chance you should rush to one of these rare chances to see this incredible film.

Images via The Raider Net.