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The Reeler Blog

Raiders Redux at Anthology

(L-R) Raiders adaptation principals Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb (Photos courtesy of the filmmakers)

By S.T. VanAirsdale

Along with so many filmgoers over the last 25 years, Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and I share a common love: Raiders of the Lost Ark. We even share a favorite scene -- Indiana Jones' commandeering of a truck from a half-dozen gun-wielding Nazis -- among the many that compel such joy in our youth-of-the-'80s hearts. But where we diverge, and where the pair will always have one up on me, is that they loved it enough to live it. On tape, for the ages.

"I should emphasize that we had no idea whatsoever what we were getting into," said Zala, the director of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, arguably the most inspired remake in cinema history and surely the first seven-years-
in-the-making actioner to feature teenage stars being dragged behind moving vehicles and set afire in their parents' basements. After a short, standing-room-only engagement this summer at Anthology Film Archives, the shot-for-shot (give or take a few) "adaptation" of Steven Spielberg's 1981 classic (a/k/a "The Adapted") returns to the East Village tonight for another weekend stay. "That's kind of the cool thing about being young: You have no idea about what you can't do -- or what you allegedly can't do. No one told us we couldn't make a $26 million film on our allowances."

If the back story is not yet popular mythology, it will be soon enough: Zala and Strompolos began their collaboration at ages 12 and 11, respectively, when the two shared the same bus to elementary school in Mississippi. Each had seen Raiders and, like their friends, were captivated by its hero Indiana Jones. But making believe in their backyards wasn't an involving-enough tribute, Zala told The Reeler; Strompolos suggested a remake for which he would produce and play the lead and Zala, who had made some shorts on video, would co-star and direct. They could knock it out in a summer.

Except the first summer was consumed with pre-production: location scouting, set and costume design ("Boy Scout uniforms make great Nazi costumes," Zala said), casting and other details that prepared them for the following summer. Another friend Jayson Lamb, joined as cameraman and visual effects handler. Boats replaced planes, dogs replaced monkeys. 1982 became 1983 became 1984. Puberty came and went. "There's always the quagmire theory," Zala replied when asked what kept them going. "We thought, 'Jeez guys, we've been doing this for four years. It'd be dumb to stop now. Let's go one more summer and finish it.' Little did we know we were only at the halfway point then. ... It probably helped that we weren't normal children. It's an impulse a lot of people seem to recognize."

The recognition grew in 2003, when a battered copy of a copy landed in the VCR of Eli Roth. Coasting around Hollywood after the success of Cabin Fever, Roth passed the tape to a DreamWorks executive who delivered it to Spielberg. He loved it and soon pressed Roth for details of where to send letters of appreciation. The momentum carried the filmmakers to Austin, where Harry Knowles lauded the adaptation on Ain't it Cool News. They went from anonymity -- "not even an Internet rumor," Zala told me -- to international cult figures overnight. A Vanity Fair feature followed, and Scott Rudin optioned their life rights for a studio adaptation. Zala and Strompolos took the movie -- a grainy combination of VHS and Beta edited after hours at their local TV station -- around the world; they arrived in New York in 2005, when the Brooklyn Underground Film Festival turned away more than 100 people from a sold-out screening.

Chris Strompolos, in yet another pickle as Indiana Jones

"I felt more butterflies in New York because in some ways it felt like I was returning to my second hometown," said Zala, who went directly from Raiders to NYU film school. "The butterflies multiplied when I saw there were people lined up around the block three hours in advance. ... We had reason to feel there would be a good turnout, and people usually have questions about the mayhem that they’ve just seen."

And what to expect from the Anthology encore? For starters, the theater is pairing the adaptation with Spielberg's original, and Zala and Strompolos -- who've since co-founded Rolling Boulder Films to develop new projects together -- are returning for more discussion. "You get plenty of good anecdotes during a seven year-odyssey to make a film," he said. "And I'm really excited to be back."

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation screens Nov. 15-16 with Raiders of the Lost Ark (separate admission on Nov. 17-18) at Anthology Film Archives. Visit the theater's Web site for schedule and ticket information.

Posted at November 15, 2007 2:21 PM

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