The official companion book to the hit feature-length documentary, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, in theaters and on video on demand June 27th 2016
In 1982, in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Chris Strompolos, eleven, asked Eric Zala, twelve, a question: "Would you like to help me do a remake Raiders of the Lost Ark? I'm playing Indiana Jones."
And they did it. Every shot, every line of dialogue, every stunt.
They borrowed and collected costumes, convinced neighborhood kids to wear grass skirts and play natives, cast a fifteen-year-old as Indy's love interest, rounded up seven thousand snakes (sort of), built the Ark, the Idol, the huge boulder, found a desert in Mississippi, and melted the bad guys' faces off.
It took seven years.
Along the way, Chris had his first kiss (on camera), they nearly burned down the house and incinerated Eric, lived through parents getting divorced and remarried, and watched their friendship disintegrate.
Alan Eisenstock's Raiders! is the incredible true story of Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos, how they realized their impossible dream of remaking Raiders of the Lost Ark, and how their friendship survived all challenges, from the building of a six-foot round fiberglass boulder to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Fans of all things Indiana Jones will enjoy this new book by journalist and author Eisenstock (In Stitches, with Dr. Anthony Youn), who details the story of the film Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, a shot-by-shot remake of the Steven Spielberg classic that was started in 1982, the year after Raiders' release, by three 12-year-old friends Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb in the backyards and basements of their Ocean Springs, Miss., homes. Eisenstock details the daily process, which resulted after seven years and only $5,000 in a 100-minute film that successfully turned suburban Mississippi woods into Amazonian rainforests, Boy Scout uniforms into Nazi costumes, and fiberglass into the famous giant boulder that chases Jones at the beginning of Spielberg's film. Eisenstock relies heavily on the recollections of Strompolos and Zala, recreating long dialogues that are often too detailed but just as often quite funny. Eisenstock also details how the trio's friendship bitterly crumbles over time. But he also provides a sympathetic look at the film's triumphant rediscovery in 1992 by director Eli Roth and Harry Knowles, who proceeds to screen it to enthusiastic audiences at cult film festivals, leading to the trio finally meeting Spielberg and to the future possibility of making a movie based on their youthful venture.
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What a fantastic read. I wish there were more. If you ever read the story of your youth, hopefully it is the greatest story you've ever read. As an adult with two children now, my biggest take away is that I may be as good, patient and encouraging as Mary and Elaine. Thanks to Eric, Chris, Jayson and Kurt for the opportunity and the dedication to make this what it is today.
Endearing and Enchanting
I received a hardcover copy of this novel from the publisher for review.
Like many who will read this book, I was already familiar with the basics of the story. I read what I could about it, found the trailer online, and even reached out to the filmmakers at one point in an unsuccessful bid to bring them to my city, just so I could see the film in its entirety. Ironically, perhaps, that was seven years ago.
But where I regrettably failed in my quest to experience the magic of this film, author Alan Eisenstock has thankfully succeeded in bringing the story to life with Raiders!.
I should start out by saying that I have never read this type of book before, so the concept and writing style of biographical fiction was new for me and took a little getting used to. Because of the narrative nature, I found myself more than once wondering where the lines blurred between fact and fiction; by the end of the book, I came to the conclusion that it was only in the minor details.
The story actually started a little slow for my taste, beginning with Eric Zala just before, during, and immediately after Hurricane Katrina, detailing the devastation left in its wake of Eric’s family home. While these scenes felt a little lengthy and extraneous at first, their importance was felt later on.
The slow buildup was, in fact, an establishment of styles. Eric’s story is methodical, organized – just like Eric himself. Eisenstock switches his style of prose when introducing Chris; although not overt, there is a frenetic energy that moves it along quickly, giving you the sense that he is on “Hollywood time” – totally appropriate for Chris’s story and personality. The two styles seem to mesh when the kids come together, and the result is nothing short of charming.
So while it did take a bit for Raiders! to get rolling (no pun intended), it leapt into the story enough to really hold my interest somewhere in the 50-page range. Around page 67, my cheeks suddenly felt sore, and I realized it was because I had been smiling ever since.
While still not my favorite genre, perhaps it is a strength of biographical fiction to allow you into the thoughts and feelings of the people portrayed, insights that might elude capture in other forms.
In describing the early years of the boys’ project, I honestly felt 12-years old again, that unique time when the imagination left over from youth coupled with the feeling that you can accomplish anything transforms into an alchemy of inspired creativity, and that spirit was really captured in these chapters.
While I was a wannabe fan of Raiders: The Adaptation before, I never really appreciated what Eric, Chris, and their friends went through to make this film. My recollections of the original Raiders was a bit fuzzy, and as more details of the scope and magnitude of the remake production were revealed, I couldn’t help but alternately giggle (as a former pre-teen) and cringe (as a current mom). The ingenuity and creativity Eric and Chris displayed is unbelievably impressive, second only to the awe-inspiring level of dedication required to finish this labor of love over the course of SEVEN YEARS.
The last few sections feel a little bit rushed and, in some ways, unfinished; the same dedication has been paid to the well-constructed prose, but it feels almost as if there are pieces missing when compared to the chapters before – but the strengths of the earlier storytelling makes it easy to forgive any minor faults.
The last section of the book covers a contemplative, post-Raiders period in the lives of the boys-turned-men, replete with fluctuating highs and lows. Parts of it are sobering, melancholy, and brought up feelings about my own life that I hadn’t expected. I know it’s a tired cliché to say, “It made me laugh! It made me cry!” But it really did – not howls of laughter or body-shaking sobs, but the book genuinely moved me, and it’s one that will be passed around to my friends and family before ultimately finding its place on my bookshelf of treasured tomes.
The only photos in the book are on the dust jacket, and you won’t really lose anything if you get the digital version. Devotees, however, will likely want to spring for the hardcover.
All in all, Raiders! really does capture the magic of “the greatest fan film ever made” and gives you insights into its wild popularity; after reading, you will understand why, for a film that rarely sees the light of day, it has developed a large cult following.
While I still lament not being able to arrange or attend a screening, reading this book feels like the next best thing to seeing the film itself.