David is thinking about the meat faerie (zoomardav) wrote,
David is thinking about the meat faerie

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation

You probably read the Vanity Fair article or have at least heard of it, but last night I got to see it. It was AWESOME. The best part, we were one of only 8 or 9 audiences to have ever seen it, since its premiere for friends and family in 1988. The co-director was there and answered questions after the film.

The basic story is, in the 80s, a group of Mississippi teenagers spent 7 years (7 YEARS!) making a mostly shot by shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark on home video equipment. The quality is as rough as you would imagine a 20 year old video tape to be. It started in 1981, when the main players were 10 and 11.

This movie is a powerful testament to what it means to be a nerd. If you ever wonder why people get obsessed with movies or TV shows to the point of distraction, this movie answers them. Children from divorced families getting together to create their own fantasy world every summer while people made fun of them.

Technically, the movie has every fault you would imagine. But, those faults pale in comparison to how much they got so very very right. The giant boulder is a giant boulder, the fire in the bar scene is a fire in a bar (admittedly, a bar they built in someone's cellar) and when Indiana goes under a truck while holding onto his whip and is then dragged behind, you find yourself cheering in excitement that they pulled it off.

One of the great pleasures of the movie is watching them solve problems that don't occur to the casual viewer. You wonder how they'll do the boulder, what the ark will look like and how they'll pull off the chase scene. To be honest, this is where they focussed their efforts, but the real interest is in the tiny moments. For instance, if you are in a small town in Mississippi, where are you going to get a monkey? When the solution appears on screen, I found myself laughing not so much because it was funny, but because the solution is so clever.

They just used a beagle mutt to play the monkey. When Marion is trying to get the monkey off of her shoulder, it's just a dog trying to figure out why they woman is shaking him around. The dog, named Snickers, rides around on the shoulder of the Arab with a look of disinterest and whenever he gets put down, he immediately curls up and goes to sleep. The shot of him on the floor after eating bad dates is just him sleeping in an odd position.

The plane at the end of the first scene is replaced with a boat in a swamp. The natives that chase him there are 11 year old boys in grass skirts. Time after time they just pull it off in an obvious but tremendously clever way.

In the question and answer after the movie, someone actually had the audacity to point out what scenes and shots were missed. What an ass. For a second I thought the audience was going to collectively hit him in the back of the head. Chris Stromopolis, the co-director and Indiana, shushed the crowd and started to explain. You see, he said, for the first few years, we could only see the movie at the theater. There were no video stores and it wasn't on TV. They worked from memory and a Marvel Comic adaptation. It wasn't until 84 or 85 that they actually could compare what they'd filmed to the actual movie. At one point, they went into the theater with a tape recorder taped to their chests in the hopes of being able to get something, ANYTHING, that they could use. The first time, they were caught. The second time, they got a good tape with dialog.

The most touching moment for me was when Chris said that scene where Marion kisses Indy in the ship's cabin is his actual first kiss from a girl captured on film. Which makes me think that what started as an attempt to duplicate an action adventure movie turned into an elaborate plot to get a kiss from a girl.

He told a story about how in the blooper real, there's a shot of a kid that they set on fire with gasoline rolling around on the floor asking if they got the shot while someone is standing off to the side trying to quickly read the instructions on a fire extinguisher.

Or when they tried to make a plaster cast of the kid who played the Nazi Toht's head for the melting scene at the end. You know, the weird looking torture Nazi whose face melts, well in this version he's played by a kid who looks like Ernie from My Three Sons only skinnier and nerdier. Turns out they accidently used construction plaster instead of plain plaster, so when they put it on his head, it started to head up to about 107 degrees. They had given him a pad of paper to write on and he wrote the word "hot." Then, they realized that they hadn't properly soaped his eyes and they were plastered shut. He reached for the pad again and wrote the word "hospital." They called an ambulance, but the police got there first. The policeman looked at the plaster coated boy, shook his head and said, "What in the hell are you kids doing?"

One store owner called the police and told them that they were filming child pornography.

He's now trying to turn all this attention into a career of some kind. He's been in LA for 12 years with no luck, but they might be the thing that pushes him over the edge. Their story has been sold and is going to be a movie and a documentary. Hopefully, by the grace of Lucas, this will be released on DVD so every nerd in the world can see it.

In the credits, the movie is dedicated to the memory of Snickers. He was hit by a car before the movie was complete. When an audience member asked about Snickers, Chris almost teared up and said, "Good old Snicks."

It's like watching someone's home movies, but it's really everyone's home movies because every nerd has acted out these scenes in their head. These guys managed to pull it off. Amazing.
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