Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Indy Film

Last Friday, I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing the first great movie of the summer. My friend asked me to hold off on seeing Iron Man until he gets back from vacationing in the UK, so I checked the movie listings to see what else was playing. Lo and behold, playing at the theatre literally two blocks away from our place was RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: The Adaptation. Intriguing, no doubt. I vaguely remember hearing about this a couple years ago, then I did some quick googling and realized I was in for a rare treat indeed.

For the full story, read this 2004 Vanity Fair article on the project or the official site.

In a nutshell, three pre-teens from Mississippi, Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb, started to film a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark in the summer of 1982, a year after the film was originally released. To realize the monumental scope of this undertaking, remember they didn't have a DVD or even VHS copy of the film for reference. Using their memory, making-of books, the published screenplay, a comic book, and a bootleg audio recording (surreptitiously captured from the 1982 re-release) they pieced together a book of shots they'd need to film... all 649 of them. Amidst puberty, cast changes, production shut-down (by parents), burned garages, and even the release of the two official Indy sequels, they filmed their version with startling commitment over the course of the next SEVEN years.

Cut to several years later, the guys had gone their separate ways. Every once and a while, the film would get shown to curious friends or classmates. A video copy would eventually make its way to filmmaker Eli Roth, who at the time was finishing off his debut feature Cabin Fever (he'd later direct Hostel and Hostel II). At a Austin film festival co-sponsored by Ain't-It-Cool-News' Harry Knowles, they popped in the Raiders videotape at Roth's suggestion. The audience went nuts and a legend was born. Eventually even Steven Speilberg would see their tribute and send them letters of appreciation.

All this preamble and it's really not an easy film to see in theatres. As I understand it, due to a rather informal agreement with the copyright holders (i.e. distribute this and you will be sued), it can only be seen at free screenings at film festivals or charity events. Last Friday was the latter, an event benefiting the Canadian Cancer Society organized by some guy (forget his name) who waited patiently for someone to bring this film to Vancouver, then realized with the impending release of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that he would have to be that someone. Major standing ovation for that guy, way to go! The theatre was packed to the brim, sold out in spite of the greatest fear of the organizers, who had unceremoniously been given the cold shoulder by all the local entertainment weeklies. With filmmaker/Indiana Jones himself Chris Strompolos also in attendance, the place was abuzz as nobody really knew what to expect. Were we all about to be sucker punched with a glorified home video? Steamrolled by a giant paper maché ball of doom?

***UPDATE: The event was sponsored by Kick-Start Cardio with the proceeds specifically benefiting the Canadian Cancer Society's Camp Goodtimes, a summer camp for children with cancer. Jason Kurylo is the man who organized that whole event so I doff my virtual fedora to him. Great job!

Ironically, last weekend also saw the wide-release of Son of Rambow, in which two young British kids attempt to remake Rambo. But this, this was the real deal. It was brilliant. On multiple levels. Within minutes, you realize you're not just watching any fan-made film. Before it started, Strompolos apologized in advance for the poor video quality and sound. It didn't matter... we all know the story, the scenes, the lines, all burned in our collective memories. The magic came from watching, in fact cheering as the scenes unfolded with remarkable ingenuity and dedication. Just how are they going to pull off the giant boulder? They do it. Gunfight in a burning saloon? With reckless abandon, they get it done. The crowd ate it up with Rocky Horror Picture Show-like audience participation. We laughed, we clapped, we cheered. Oh man, the "Hovitos" were a pack of Lord of the Flies kids with arrows and spears, then they chase Indy over the fields where he yells for Jock to start up the engines... of their getaway boat. Trust me, it works. A collective "AWWWW" of regret was let out when the puppy (a hilarious stand-in for that cheeky monkey) eats from Indy's plate. We know what happened to the monkey after that. When teenage Indy kisses teenage Marion, it might just linger a little longer than the original film... The truck chase scene with Indy thrown through the windshield, hanging on the grill as it pulls off, then being dragged by his whip. THEY DO IT. This is just as exciting as the real thing (i.e. the original) because this IS the real thing, sans stuntmen, sans safety experts.

And they don't cop out and film the best bits of the film, they faithfully recreate scenes Indy lecturing his university class, after which a 12-year old Brody brings Indy to meet with some teenage C.I.A. guys to discuss the Ark. In fact, this film is longer than most animated films and the only notable scene missing is the fight with the the big bald Nazi on the plane wing. Even the end credits were getting cheers and laughs (transportation: Mr. Zala) with one particular line inviting gasps. This is the sort of homebrew, community filmmaking that was celebrated in Be Kind Rewind, and in a way lamented since these days such an undertaking seems unremarkable with a generation of youtubers. There's so much to rave about this film, the most entertaining one I've seen in months and by far the funniest, but you really have to see it for yourself... and there's the rub. You probably won't. The only upcoming confirmed screenings are in Minneapolis and Nashville, but keep an eye on that page for updates. Who knows, maybe you can be the one to bring Raiders: The Adaptation to your hometown.

And the story isn't over yet. Producer Scott Rudin (The Royal Tenenbaums, No Country for Old Men) optioned the rights to their life story with, get this, author Daniel Clowes (Ghost World) writing the script. Strompolos told us the script's finished and there's expected to be movement on the project this summer. Perhaps with the imminent return of the real Indy to theatres, this project will also take off! Here's hoping we see an adaptation of this adaptation on the big screen soon. Maybe Clowes can get some pointers from Charlie Kaufman.

Toy Dolls - Raiders of the Lost Ark [originally by John Williams]
A live, off-key rendition of the classic Indy theme by English punk band, the Toy Dolls.

Walter Murphy - Raiders of the Lost Ark [originally by John Williams]
A funky disco-fied version. When I found this I couldn't figure out why Walter Murphy's name was so familiar... then I realized he wrote music for Family Guy including its main theme.

Kate Capshaw - Anything Goes [originally by Cole Porter]
A cover song from Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom as performed, in Mandarin no less, by Kate Capshaw who would later become Mrs. Steven Spielberg. Ah "Temple", the black sheep of the Indy, quadrilogy now. I'm pretty sure this was the first one I ever saw, though monkey brains is the only thing that stuck with me. I've re-watched it a few times since, the last instance when the trilogy was re-released on DVD. On each subsequent viewing, it seems to get just a little worse. Short Round and "Willie"... I cringe a bit just thinking about it, though I think I'll give it another shot before the new one comes out because I am constantly reassured that it's "not that bad".


Kate G. said...

THANK YOU for covering this movie! I heard about it a couple years ago, but have never gotten the opportunity to see it. I patiently await the Indiana Jones fervor that will surely bring this campy film a little closer to the spotlight.

P.S. That Walter Murphy Song is also awesome.

stodmyk said...

Thanks for the review -- glad you liked the film and the screening!

If you don't mind, though (since you're using our poster and all :D), could you link up with our website ( and mention that proceeds went to Camp Good Times, part of the Canadian Cancer Society?

Thanks again!

Fongolia said...

Done and done. Thanks so much for organizing the Radiers screening. It was a real blast.