Monday, 15 August 2011

Raiders: The Adaptation. Why didn't I do this as a kid?

South America 1936

Okay, so I’ve watched twice now the legendary Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

Jeez! I can’t believe I’ve not seen this until now.

I know it isn't readily available to see, but even so, there are ways and means. And seeing as how Raiders is my favourite film bar none it’s almost criminal that I haven’t sought out and watched this little gem until now.

Time for a brief history lesson:

Raiders: The Adaptation is a 100-minute, almost shot for shot recreation of Spielberg’s classic movie put together by three young friends - Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb from Mississippi, USA - over a seven year period starting in 1982 and finishing in 1988. The boys were all just 12 when they started. It was filmed in and around family homes, cost hardly anything, and got made through sheer on-the-spot-ingenuity, enthusiasm and a deep love for the material. On its completion the movie had one local showing in 1989 and was then largely forgotten until 2003 when somehow Eli Roth got hold of a copy, loved it and sent it to Spielberg. Spielberg also loved it and contacted the now grown up boys to congratulate them, saying he’d watched it twice on the trot and felt deeply inspired by what they had done all those years ago. The film has since gone on to have a few limited screenings at festivals around the world and made international news when Paramount and producer Scott Rudin purchased the rights to the boys story.

So what of the film itself?

As I said earlier, this is almost a shot for shot remake. It’s shot on 80’s video so the overall picture quality is not great (fuzzy image, picture rolls now and again). But that by no means detracts from the sheer fun and charm of the whole enterprise. Yes, some of the kids look ridiculous in their roles (Toht and Sallah spring to mind) and the long overall filming time means actors often look older/younger/different hair etc. from scene to scene. But their enthusiasm shines through and more than compensates. Also the kids playing Indy, Marion and Belloq are actually pretty good. As Indy Chris Strompolos has some presence and gives some good Harrison; as Marion Angela Rodriguez delivers some of the same two-fisted spunk as Karen Allen; and as Belloq Eric Zala manages to be nicely slimy with added French accent.

Technically the film is also quite the wonder – especially being made in an age long before desktop computer effects were available. For starters the lighting is often a remarkably good match to that of Douglas Slocombe’s. And the recreated sets are either eerily similar to those of the original (Belloq’s tent, the Cairo café) or they are smaller yet still wonderfully accurate versions (South American idol temple, Marion’s bar, Well of Souls). Of the location work, the kids skilfully utilised local alleyways for the Cairo market/basket chase, and what seems to be a huge quarry/sandpit for the desert stuff and end island sequence. And most impressively, they used a real ship and a real WW2 submarine for Captain Katanga’s ship and the Nazi sub.

All the way through watching Raiders: The Adaptation, I was wondering, “How the hell are they gonna do…?” re. upcoming scenes and sequences. But virtually every Raiders sequence is recreated as accurately as humanly possible. The only major sequence sadly missing is the Indy/German mechanic fight at the flying wing. Guess they couldn’t find/recreate a giant flying wing. Still, everything else the kids managed to recreate is nothing short of spectacular. Don’t believe me? See their version of the truck chase. They obviously couldn’t get a horse so Indy just leaps on to the truck from up high. But the rest of the sequence is identical – even Indy going under the truck and being dragged along behind it! This and the earlier fire gags in the Tibetan bar fight looked so incredibly dangerous. I’m amazed their parents let them do it. But then maybe they didn’t know. Probably the latter. Heh.

The film culminates, as does as the original, with the opening of the Ark on the island. Here, the kids even managed some basic visual effects combined with plenty of dry ice and simple camera tricks to portray the whispy spirits and the angel of death as they appear and then attack the bad guys. We even have soldiers being shot through with lightening, melting Nazi’s and an exploding Belloq head!

Now, I just love stuff like this! I love it where fans, driven by nothing more than passion, go out and make something for no other reason than their love of the original material and with nothing to help them except their own boundless enthusiasm and honest creativity. It’s how the likes of Spielberg, Lucas, Abrams et al got started - making their own home movies inspired by others. So huge respect to those three then lads and their friends from Mississippi who went out there and managed this epic feat. What they set out to do and what they achieved is in perfect keeping with that same spirit of ‘just get out there and do it’ adventure epitomised by Indy himself.

Indy: “I don't know, I'm making this up as I go.”

A short tribute vid

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