"RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE ADAPTATION" — 2½ stars — Eric Zala, Angela Rodriguez, Chris Strompolos, Kurt Zala, Ted Ross, Alan Stenum, Michael Bales, William Coon, Clay LaGrone, Sam Cummings; not rated; Tower Theater
"Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation" is a remarkable, surprisingly watchable, homemade, frame-by-frame copy of the original "Raiders of the Lost Ark," put together by a fearless group of youngsters during their summer vacations.
As Indiana Jones, a history teacher with a penchant for uncovering trouble in his research expeditions, tries to locate the lost ark, he battles evil, danger and ancient curses in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (rated PG), starring Harrison Ford, directed by Steven Spielberg, and the story by George Lucas, which was released in 1981.
The group of a half dozen movie-making kids, led by Eric Zala, worked on filming all but one scene from 1982 to 1989 in Mississippi, including in their basements and living rooms, transforming water heaters into ancient temples and miraculously re-creating the scary fire scenes without burning down their houses, Zala said in a question and answer at the LDS Film Festival earlier this year. Their mothers thought they were playing downstairs, he said.
And they were as they hung from fast-moving trucks and escaped from snakes and spiders. They ran through fields and markets. They made five versions of the huge boulder Indiana has to try to outrun, Zala said. They staged sword fights and fist fights and matched the blocking of the original film seamlessly.
Directed by Zala, who was 11 when they started, with Jayson Lamb creating the special effects and Chris Strompolos starring in the lead role, "Rolling Boulder Films" made the tribute film out of imagination and spare parts without their mothers ever really realizing what they were doing, according to information during the festival's forum.
They begged and borrowed to get costumes and props, including the use of a submarine, and — 25 years later — an airplane.
For every Christmas and birthday, they requested something they could use: an Indiana Jones' hat and whip, a fedora for the villain, straw baskets for the street market, Zala said.
They recruited a friend, Angela Rodriguez, for the role of Marion, brothers Eric and Kurt Zala and neighborhood chums Alan Stenum, Michael Bales and William Coon for the villain and his henchmen. Eric Zala stepped in to play multiple roles.
The end result is a fun watch even though it's a bit shaky in places and the sound levels aren't what viewers may be used to in a movie. The blocking is almost perfect and Ford's reactions and expressions throughout are impressive as done by Strompolos. Thus the humor is retained.
The kids' ages, of course, change as the movie progresses but it's really quite amusing to see pint-size bad guys take on an older and now larger Indiana Jones.
It's interesting to see what the kids came up with to duplicate the monkey in the story (they used a puppy), the natives, the ark and the rats (some pet gerbils). They handled the love scene quite well, especially given the actors' ages and inexperience.
The final scene was filmed in 2014 — about 25 years after they finished the rest of the film. They brought in some professionals to set off the explosions and battled impossible weather as it rained for nine days, Zala said at the festival. They had to worry now about about safety and the health and welfare of the crew, Zala said.
Zala said that he, Stompolos and Jayson Lamb, who helped film and edit their adaptation, met with Spielberg and that Spielberg agreed to endorse the film on its cover: "To this day … still the best piece of flattery George (Lucas) and I have ever received."
Ford is also aware that a bunch of "Mississippi kids" made their own Indiana Jones movie, Zala said.
A 95-minute documentary titled "Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made" about Zala, Stompolos and Lamb was produced by Tim Skousen and directed by Jeremy Coon and was also screened at the LDS Film Festival and received the Audience Choice Award in the Feature Films category.
"Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation" is novel and it's pleasing fans as it works its way around the world. It's showing at various film festivals, and copies of the reworked DVD and digital downloads are available. See raidersguys.com for information.
Both the documentary and the film are being shown at the Tower Theatre this weekend.
"Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation" is not rated, but likely PG; running time: 100 minutes.