Long before Be Kind Rewind sparked a legion of fan films on YouTube, three Mississippi kids crafted what is now known as Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, an amazing homemade replica of their favorite film. When Steven Spielberg's movie was released in 1981, 11-year-old Chris Strompolos was instantly smitten: "I wanted nothing more than to be Indiana Jones, and decided to go out and do something about it," he tells WW. He enlisted schoolmate Eric Zala to co-produce, co-star in and direct the project. Chris would star as Indy. Another kid named Jayson Lamb ended up working the camera and creating the special effects.
Their take on Raiders, which was filmed between 1982 and 1989 and for one weekend can finally be seen in Portland on the big screen where it rightly belongs, is no casual affair: Costumes, sets, music, props, lighting and special effects are all in place as virtually every shot and line of dialogue is reproduced. The famous truck scene? It's there. The giant rolling boulder? There, and crazily perfect. Working in the days before home video, they had to rely on their memories, a bootleg recording of the film's sound, and the official comic book. Whole scenes were shot over and over until all the elements had been achieved to the kids' satisfaction.
Their obsessiveness expanded the scope of the project beyond their original plans. "Initially we thought we were going to knock it out in a summer," Strompolos says, "but man, it just got out of control." Seven years out of control—including a long hiatus imposed by parents once they saw footage of Eric being set on fire. "We promised to get an adult chaperone after that. Luckily, he was much more enthusiastic about the fire than we were." From then on, they just kept their parents in the dark. Stunts like dragging Chris underneath the truck went off without a hitch, and no one was the wiser.
The only scene not re-created from the original is the one with a moving airplane and a deadly propeller, in which Indiana Jones fights a giant bald guy with messy results. But it wasn't for lack of trying. "We had an airfield and an airplane, and we cast the biggest kid that we knew." They even had a bald cap ready. But the pipe bombs for faking blowing up the airplane weren't working out. "The prospect of having to do miniatures with firecrackers...we didn't want it to look fake. So we skipped it."
Trust me—you won't miss it. The film is an astonishing feat. Obviously, it isn't perfect. The video, having suffered much generational loss in the editing, can get pretty grotty. And the dialogue is indecipherably murky at times, which slows down a lot of the scenes (these are children, don't forget—although Angela Rodriguez as Marion often comes to the rescue with some pretty good acting chops, and I'm also partial to the tiny kid in the beard). But it's mostly the heroic fidelity of the action scenes, of which Raiders is, of course, chock full, that make this such a surprising and inspiring experience.
The makers didn't really see it that way. "We had no plans of doing anything with it, or ever even showing it to anybody—we were just doing it for ourselves," Strompolos explains. "I got married, and my wife didn't even know I was an Indiana Jones fan." A copy made by one of Eric's friends eventually made its way to director Eli Roth (Hostel), who set up a public screening, which sparked a five-year tour of the film to enthusiastic audiences here and abroad. And a thumbs up from the man himself, Spielberg.
A feature film depicting their efforts is in the works from Paramount, scripted by Daniel Clowes (Ghost World) and produced by Scott Rudin. But an adaptation of The Adaptation couldn't possibly reproduce the sight of the actors adding and losing years of their age from one scene to the next, and real kids performing crazy-ass stunts. It would be like, I don't know, substituting the monkey in the real Raiders with a dog named Snickers riding around on your shoulder. Oh, wait—someone already did that. And it's awesome.
Hollywood Theatre. 7 pm Friday, April 18, and 3:30 and 7 pm Saturday, April 19. $8. Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala will host a free seminar at 1 pm Saturday.