#23 – Mississippi, Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation
Once upon a time – okay, maybe something more like the early 1980s – in rural Mississippi there was this 11-year-old kid named Chris Stompolos who went to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theaters and decided that he wanted to be Indiana Jones.
Now, growing up in not-so-rural South Jersey, I can sort of relate to this. My friends and I spent hours upon hours pretending to be Ewoks and building fairly elaborate Ewok villages in our backyards, eating rocks and stick and bugs and shit and “living the Ewok dream.” Or we pretended to be Nelwyns, which is what humans (or Daikinis) referred to in George Lucas’s sword-and-sorcery opus Willow as “pecks.” Actually, we pretended to be Brownies – another race of creatures from Willow. But I’m not sure which is worse, since the later sounds like junior Girl Scouts. We also pretended to be The Goonies, built a clubhouse and used to make our fat friend do the “Truffle Shuffle” to get in. But this isn’t about the awful things I did in my childhood. For that, we’d be here all day.
Unlike the underachievers and sadists that we were, Stompolos took his devotion to all things Indy a step further or perhaps several thousand steps further. He enlisted the help of his school chums Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb and, using a VHS camera, the three pals filmed a shot-by-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The project took almost eight years to complete, literally their entire teenage existence. It premiered in 1989 to friends and family in the auditorium of a local Coca-Cola plant in Gulfport, Mississippi before disappearing into obscurity.
Except that it didn’t disappear. Things don’t just disappear. Not in this day and age.
Zala went to film school — all three boys are involved in the entertainment industry to some degree today. Whether he was the one who ran off a few copies of the film to his film school buddies or someone else, it doesn’t matter. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation got around. And around. And around some more.
Until finally it made it into the hands of Eli Roth, director of low-budget horror films and not-so low-budget horror films like Cabin Fever, Slither and Hostel. Roth shared the film with huge Indiana Jones fan Harry Knowles of the film fan Web site “Ain’t It Cool News.” He showed it to an audience in Austin, Texas at the site’s annual Butt-Numb-a-Thon film festival who loved it and actually booed when the movie was turned off prematurely in order to begin an advance screening of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers!
Roth also managed to slip a copy to Steven Spielberg, who was so impressed that he wrote letters of appreciation to the filmmakers. Whether or not George Lucas ever saw the movie is unknown, but I’m sure Zala, Stompolos and Lamb will be hearing from his attorneys any day now.
The movie’s pretty easy to obtain on The Internetz if you know the right guy and aren’t afraid to show a little full-frontal nudity. That’s how I obtained a copy. And it’s amazingly watchable and entertaining.
Sure, most of the special effects are questionable — that’s to be expected — but of course you need to give these guys a break, since they were teenagers when they made it, for chrissakes. It’s shaky and amateur. It’s hard to make out the dialogue (As if you haven’t seen the original Raiders a thousand times and don’t know the plot…) Putting things into perspective, there’s very little to bitch about. Raiders: The Adaptation as faithful as you can get for a shot-by-shot remake of an American classic. It’s eons better than Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake. Raiders, both the original and the “Adaptation” is just a fun movie and when you don’t change a thing (see footnote) from the 1982 version, it’s pretty damn impossible to fuck up.
Then there are the moments that actually exceed the original. There’s a scene in which Indy is trapped on the hood of a truck and crawls underneath the speeding vehicle to launch a sneak attack on one of his foes. The stunt regularly makes it onto Top Most Dangerous Movie Stunts lists. So, of course, in Raiders: The Adaptation, Stompolos replicates the stunt. Not a trained stuntman, but a ballsy 15, 16-year-old kid.
Setting people on fire? Yep. Raiders: The Adaptation does that too.
Stompolos’s first kiss? Uh huh. It’s right there in Raiders: The Adaptation in imitation of a scene in which Indy kisses Marion.
There’s something real in Zala, Stompolos and Co.’s movie that transcends the original Raiders of the Lost Ark as art. And that’s powerful stuff. It can take you back to a time when movies were more than something to make fun of and geek out about on the Internet. Back when movies were real. And then there’s these three kids who wanted to make it real. And they made it real. Or at least as close to real as they could make it.
And blah, blah, blah. I’m rambling. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation gets a C for style, but an A+++ for effort.
Footnote: Since monkeys aren’t widely available in Mississippi, Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation substitutes monkeys for puppies — which is about the best change the film makes to the original.
Next week: MISSOURI