A documentary by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen. Rated PG
If you were the sort of kid who set your friends on fire, dragged them behind a truck, or played with gunpowder in your parents’ home—all for a video that no one beyond your closest friends was ever likely to see—then Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is definitely the movie for you.
Directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen, and based on a book by Alan Eisenstock, this documentary is, on one level, a funny tribute to three boys from Mississippi, all aged 12 or thereabouts, who fell in love with Raiders of the Lost Ark and mounted a shot-for-shot remake that ended up consuming all of their summer vacations from 1982 to 1989.
But it’s also a poignant look at middle-aged guys trying to relive their youth. Eric Zala (who directed the remake and played the villainous Belloq) and his partner Chris Strompolos (who played Indiana Jones) gave up on filmmaking as adults—Zala says Strompolos resented him for “selling out” and getting a “corporate” job—but when their fan film was discovered by Eli Roth and played at the Butt-Numb-A-Thon festival in 2002, they found themselves instant celebrities on the movie-geek circuit.
So now they reunite to film the one major scene that they never completed as kids: the one with the exploding airplane. The ensuing production delays provide some suspense (Will Zala lose his day job? Are he and Strompolos any more safety-conscious now than they were when they set fire to Zala’s mother’s basement?), and the footage they get does looks pretty good—but it pales next to those faded Betamax tapes, which take us back to a time when amateurs didn’t have Kickstarter to fund their films or YouTube to get them seen.