Film Review: Raiders!

A loving documentary about the joys and pains of growing up with Indiana Jones


Directed by

  • Jeremy Coon


  • Ernest Cline
  • Casey Dillard
  • Rob Fuller
  • Chris Gore

Release Year

  • 2015

Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala were 11 years old when they decided to remake Raiders of the Lost Ark, shot for shot. Using the open spaces afforded to them by their small Mississippi town, they assembled anybody nearby who was interested in making a movie, and meticulously re-assembled the film over the next seven summers of their adolescence. Except for one scene, the airplane scene where Indy outsmarts a strongman by feeding him to an active propeller, before the plane explodes. That one, they never got a chance to finish.

Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is about the Quixotic quest undertaken by two men, older and wiser now, to finish what they started when they were younger and more idealistic. It’s a loving documentary about fandom in all its forms, from the kind that inspired the remake itself to the kind that passed VHS dubs of it around until it became a cult sensation years after the fact. Geek luminaries like Harry Knowles, Ernie Cline, and Eli Roth are on hand to help chronicle the spread of a remake that’s at once earnest and kind of ridiculous, the product of two young men whose vision vastly outpaced their means.

While the remake is meticulous in terms of capturing the original film beat for beat, there are certain complications, like how the actors get visibly older, or when the Betamax camera used to film in the early years led to a tape-tracked “A” being aggressively imposed over every scene. And yet, Zala and Strompolos soldiered on, weathering everything from the stresses of filmmaking to the difficulties of puberty and wandering attention spans over the years. The project was all-consuming for them; the film touches on how many birthday presents were used for practical filmmaking equipment. For them, the Raiders adaptation wasn’t just a labor of love, it was love. It was childhood. The remake isn’t just a passion project but a home movie, a reminder of a much simpler time.

Raiders!, as a documentary, is much like Zala and Strompolos’ film in that it’s rough around the edges at points, but so utterly sincere that it’s hard to deny after a while. The film’s chronology is confusing at times, moving between the ‘80s shooting process and the remake, and at times it’s hard not to get a little lost. As interpreted by co-directors Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen, the film plays more like a loose oral history than an organized look at the process of making and seeing through a cult curiosity, and while it absolutely keeps with the anarchic spirit of the fan film’s creation, it’s still a bit on the cluttered side. Talking heads come and go, including Jayson Lamb, an oddball third creator back in the day who seems to draw out the tentative sides of his co-filmmakers even today. For better and worse, Raiders! feels a lot like sitting in a room with a bunch of interesting guys and trying to sort a story out of all their inside jokes and long-running thought processes.

However, at its most powerful, the film also touches on the underpinnings of so many geek obsessions in the world at large, the often painful things that drive people to obsess over a piece of existing work and even play around with it. Raiders! is as much about the most difficult parts of growing up as it is the most celebratory ones, about the divorces and failures and divergent paths that lead friends apart and lives in different directions that may or may not be the ones you wanted in the first place. But, through the many tribulations inherent in trying to reconstruct a Hollywood production on the fly, it’s also about how powerfully life-affirming those obsessions can be, no matter how unconventional or specific. That this film exists at all, let alone alongside the unlikely film it honors, is a testament to that.