Attention movie lovers: stop what you’re doing and put this documentary at the top of your must-see list. No, not because it’s a particularly well made movie (it’s not), but because if there’s ever been a movie that openly celebrates and clearly translates what it’s like to be a true movie dork to the screen, it’s this one.
“Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made” is a true gem of a subject, especially for those of us who grew up nurturing a love affair with movies. The film chronicles a set of childhood friends from Mississippi (Jayson Lamb, Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala) who spent seven summers of their lives remaking the Steven Spielberg classic “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The kids started the project when they were just 11 years old and they completed every single scene from the film (even changing ages along the way) except for one. Now, 35 years later, the friends reunite to shoot the one missing scene.
The subject sounds great because it is. I found myself rooting for these guys throughout the movie, and it’s really quite inspiring. There are plenty of funny anecdotes from friends, family and the men themselves (some of the homemade special effects, especially the bar that was set on fire, will have you cringe-laughing), and a few famous faces show up to reminisce about when they first discovered the existence of the homegrown remake. There’s plenty to love about this movie and I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises in this review.
Unfortunately, this film (co-directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen) isn’t very skillfully made or well crafted. A lot of this documentary is bogged down with too much self indulgent backstory, lengthy yet vague explorations of the kids’ lives after their Raiders summers, and poor editing (with much jumping around and many tales that go nowhere). There are also several (obviously) staged scenes and sequences that feel like a needless attempt to build more drama than is necessary. I also would’ve liked to see more footage from the actual remake the boys shot (stay for the end credits where you’ll have a scene-by-scene comparison of the original film and their version; it’s an absolute delight).
This documentary is not very well made but that’s okay. The overall crowd-pleasing story of fandom and friendship is fantastic, so much so that even folks who aren’t true movie fans will find plenty to enjoy. Those familiar with “Raiders of the Lost Ark” will like it; those who know the film shot for shot will be super delighted.
Over a period of seven years during the eighties, three kids obsessed with movies get together, summer after summer, to create a shot-for-shot remake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The resulting film is forgotten for a decade, until it’s unearthed in the early 2000s to become known as “the greatest fan film ever made.”
“Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made” documents the story of those three friends, their experiences in making the film, and the ups-and-downs of their friendship with one another both during and after the years in which they made it. While it’s telling the story of these kids and their movie, the film catches up with them now and chronicles their efforts at finishing now, as adults, the only scene they never completed when they were children: the one where Indy fights the muscular man next to the plane that is moving, propellers turning at full speed.
To a movie nerd like me, I found myself instantly able to relate to these guys. I loved their story and what they were able to accomplish. Scene after scene, I found myself astounded by the lengths to which they went and by what they were able to pull off in making the movie: the special effects shots, the detail in which they storyboarded the film (having only seen it in the theaters once or twice), the sets and scenery. What these kids were able to pull off is nothing short of astounding.
That all being said, this documentary is a good example of why a great subject does not always make for a good movie. The film was not edited well; it used a non-linear format that continually broke up the flow. The filmmakers also didn’t have a particularly good sense of subject, and often spent too much time focusing on story points that were not that interesting while ignoring others that left me wanting to know more. So even though I loved the subject, I did not love the film.
If you’re a movie nerd and have been since you were a kid, you will find much to like here; it’s definitely worth seeking this one out. I just wish the documentary itself was better than it is.