Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most iconic adventure films in cinema history, and Indiana Jones is one of its most beloved characters. The case for making a new instalment to the franchise is, nowadays, a safe bet that Disney are looking towards just in time for blockbuster season. But there was a time when the thought of a film about a whip-slinging archaeologist with a penchant for punching Nazis sent studios running.
It’s hard to imagine now that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg would ever face such a difficulty, but we came very close to living in a universe where Indiana Jones never existed at all. The two of them had a hard time convincing any studio to back the project because anyone they approached insisted on a low budget and a high percentage of the profits. The scope and ambition of the project meant they were rejected by almost every major studio in Hollywood until they finally struck a deal with Paramount Pictures, who agreed to give them $18 million and 40% of the gross. Just what they needed to make the film we all love today.
READ MORE: SubOrbital7 (John Shirley) – Book Review
But perhaps there’s a timeline somewhere out there in the multiverse where Lucas and Spielberg made it anyway, just without any money. And maybe, it looks something like Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation is not your typical fan film. It’s a shot-for-shot remake of Indiana Jones’ original 1981 debut, made by three Mississippi teenagers over a period of seven years. It is a labour of love, a testament to the power of cinema, and a tribute to a classic. They may not have had the resources, budget, or experience of Lucas and Spielberg, but the thing that they all had in common is a drive to tell Indy’s story in any way they could.
The making of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation is a remarkable feat of perseverance and ingenuity. Being teenagers, the filmmakers had to overcome many obstacles and limitations, with a lack of funds, equipment, and professional assistance being the least of their problems. With the added difficulty of having never done anything like this before, they had to improvise and innovate, using whatever resources they had at hand to recreate big, expensive set pieces as faithfully as possible.
It follows the exact same plot as the original: Indiana Jones (Chris Strompolos) is a daring archaeologist who travels the world in search of ancient artefacts and faces various dangers and villains. In this film, he must find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do, while reuniting with his former lover Marion Ravenwood (Angela Rodriguez).
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation was made by Eric Zala (who also played Belloq), Chris Strompolos, and Jayson Lamb, who were 12 years old when they started filming in 1982. They used the original film’s screenplay and score, as well as magazine articles, photographs, and an illicit recording of the film’s audio as references. They shot the film out of sequence, using their backyards, basements, school grounds, and local locations as sets. They also used homemade props, costumes, and special effects, such as firecrackers, fireworks, and model aeroplanes.
When the film was finally finished it premiered in 1989 at a local Coca-Cola plant in Gulfport, Mississippi. It was largely forgotten until 2002 when it was accidentally discovered by Eli Roth and Harry Knowles, who screened it at that year’s Butt-Numb-A-Thon Film Festival to fill time before a screening of something which is now considered a modern classic. It went down so well that when festival programmers stopped it early to make way for Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, audiences booed and demanded that Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaption continued in full.
Raiders of the Lost Ark and Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation are both classics in their own rights, but for different reasons. The former is widely regarded as one of the greatest adventure films of all time, as well as being one of the most inspiring. It has been praised for its thrilling and inventive action sequences, its charismatic and iconic hero, its memorable score, and its homage to the serials of the 1930s and 1940s.
It has also been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. The latter is widely regarded as one of the greatest fan films of all time, and one of the most impressive examples of resilience in filmmaking. It has been praised for its faithful and detailed recreation of the original film, its resourcefulness and ingenuity in overcoming budgetary and technical limitations, and its tribute to the film that inspired it. It has also been endorsed by Spielberg himself, who sent a letter to the filmmakers congratulating them on their achievement.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation is a remarkable example of how passion and creativity can overcome any obstacle. It is a homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark, but also to filmmaking itself. It shows what George Lucas and Steven Spielberg might have done if they continued to be knocked by back studios: they could have made the film anyway, with whatever they had. It is a film that celebrates the magic of cinema and the power of imagination.