Because he liked Harrison Ford so much as Han Solo in Star Wars, a young Chris Strompolos was predisposed to like him in Raiders of the Lost Ark. But unlike other kids, Strompolos, now an actor and producer, became obsessed with the film when he saw it at age 10.
"Indiana Jones was a believable character for me," says Strompolos in a recent phone interview. "He was larger than life, and he represented the wit and machismo and the physicality of a hero that I had not seen. It was exciting and true and honest. I wanted to be that character."
With the assistance of childhood friend Eric Zala, who served as director, Strompolos' dream would become a reality. Across seven summers, the two would film a shot-by-shot remake of the movie. The resulting movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, made its debut in 1989 at a beverage distribution company in Gulfport, Mississippi. Years later, when a VHS copy of the movie found its way to horror director Eli Roth, it became an underground hit.
Now, the new documentary, Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (based on a book of the same title), chronicles the making of the movie and follows Zala and Strompolos as they set out to film one last scene to complete it. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made open on Friday at the Capitol Theatre. Zala and Strompolos will participate in a Q&A on Friday night following the 7:20 showing of Raiders and the 9:50 showing of The Adaptation.
Much of the movie centers on the complications involved in filming one last scene. The "airplane scene" involves building a replica of an airplane and setting off a series of explosions. Oh, and Indiana Jones has to wrestle a huge shirtless dude too. As adults, Zala and Strompolos were better equipped to film the scene. But it still presented a number of obstacles.
"It was no more 'endless summer,' says Zala when asked about shooting the airplane scene. "Previously, if we didn't finish, there was always next summer. One of our biggest challenges was time slipping through our fingers. We pulled together the airplane scene in a matter of months and remotely because I lived in Las Vegas at the time and Chris was in Los Angeles. We were shooting in Mississippi and had to do location scouting and build a 70-foot wingspan replica [of a plane] and a straw hut and tower. We were no longer asking for props and costumes for our birthdays. No, you put your own money on the line because so many people have invested so much. Mortgage payments and keeping our jobs weren't on our minds when we were 12."
Zala says he and Strompolos value the learning experience involved with meeting the "challenges" any director and crew might face.
"We learned important lessons when we were kids," he says. "It's not always fun. You have to push through, though it seems impossible. You have to ignore that seeming certainty and push through. When we were kids, we didn't know that remaking a $20 million movie on your allowance wasn't very realistic. We didn't know how to pull it off the second time and have it documented. If we were going to fail, it was going to be immortalized too. We went for it, pushing aside those voices of self-doubt. It paid off again."
In touring with the movie, the two have seen how both the documentary and their Raiders adaptation have connected with fans.
"It's been immensely gratifying," says Strompolos. "We just did this for ourselves. None of that was supposed to happen. Maybe that unexpectedness factors in. That's why we wanted to do this tour. We wanted to meet people who were touched and moved by the journey and taken by our little humble bouquet to the Spielberg/Lucas classic, this perfect film."