Film Review: Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (Jeremy Coon/Tim Skousen)

by Jason Suzuki

Jeremy and Coon and Tim Skousen's documentary, about a group of kids who spent their summers creating a shot for shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark over the course of seven years, who return as adults to finish the airplane fight scene, the only one they weren't able to do initially, from the outset seems incredibly niche. But like 2012's Indie Game: The Movie it takes a very specific topic in order to tell a universal tale, while never forgetting that the specifics of the topic still matter. These are plight of the artist(s) movies where the external struggles the artist faces are not just constructs created by bitter, self-professed artists (see: Birdman) but are real, just as much as the internal struggles featured in the film. These movies also include what so many plight of the artist movies forget: salvation through creation.

Childhood friends Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala began their journey to remake Spielberg's film in 1982. Assembling a team of other kids (the third director being Jayson Lamb who is sure to become many people's favorite part of the doc) to make the best remake they could. With very little to no adult supervision they were able to achieve fantastic reenactments of the stunt sequences while not forgetting the dialogue and the notes written on eye lids. Over the course of making the adaptation the friendship between Chris and Eric became rocky and their paths would criss-cross over the years until they were invited as adults to an official showing of the adaptation, a result of an overwhelmingly positive response to it when it played at Butt-Numb-a-Thon. It's there that their love for movies, and what escape from their private troubles that film making had to offer, was reignited. Eventually the urge to finish what they started, despite the decades long hiatus, consumed them to put a pause on their lives and follow a dream.

The structure of the film is a shift back and forth between the recreation of the plane sequence and behind the scenes footage/interviews about the initial adaptation period when the guys were kids. Childhood friends and siblings who participated in the adaptation are interviewed, as are fans important to the discovery of their labor of love such as Eli Roth and Tim League, and most importantly Chris and Eric's mothers are interviewed. By switching back and forth it not only prolongs the suspense in whether these guys are able to pull off the plane sequence despite the bigger budget and weather conditions, but it also raises the stakes. There is a realization that this is much more than fan homage or vanity project. It means something to everyone involved whether it's the escape of kids from broken homes or a lesson to their kids to pursue their dreams. Matching the structure of their adaptation, in which Chris and Eric frequently jump back and forth between ages, the documentary presents this pursuit as timeless.

Their passion was something that was able to resonate off the adaptation, able to cut past any sort of nostalgia its initial fans had for the original and get people to appreciate the remake on a different level. Raiders! is able to capture the story behind that passion and show that it doesn't have to go away over time or be lost to antagonisms of shitty people. When Eric has to call up his already fed up boss for just a few more days off from work to finish the scene, it will be impossible not to be affected at the sight of someone sincere at the mercy of a jaded cynic, who can't bring himself to understand the act of being passionate about something.

What Coon and Skousen have created will resonate with anyone who might have strayed from a goal but have never been able to shake it. It is also about the power of movies and creation in that it is both escape but has the power to mend friendships and life paths. They have captured the pursuit of a dream at its purest. 

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.