Review: Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

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PLOT: The true story of childhood friends Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb, the trio behind the now famous shot-for-shot RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK remake they made as teens growing up in the eighties. Twenty-five years after their last shoot, the now-grown men reunite to shoot one last, ambitious scene to finally complete their film.

REVIEW: I first heard about the shot-by-shot RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK remake by reading Harry Knowles’s recap of a BUTT-NUMB-ATHON way back in 2002, where a video tape of the film first surfaced. You see kids, back in those pre-YouTube days, everything wasn’t already on the net, and VHS dubs used to get passed from person to person. If you were lucky, you could buy them (illegally) at conventions, but hand-to-hand trades was where it was at. Everyone always tried to one-up their friends on trades, and after that first screening, the legend of the RAIDERS remake grew, to the point that writer Alan Eisenstock wrote a well-received book about it four years ago.

Raiders The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

With YouTube, this fan-film has become something of a viral sensation, so it’s logical that the fellas behind the tape would want to reunite to film the scene that was always beyond their means, the Airplane hangar fight. In essence, this doc aims to give the guys access to the filmmaking resources they lacked as kids to do a really polished take on this famous sequence, complete with explosions, models and more.

Yet, there’s a whole lot more to this story. It turns out that two of the original guys, Strompolos and Zala, are still tight, but they’re totally estranged from Lamb, with the gulf between the two men and him too large for the prospect of more filming to bridge. That’s why RAIDERS is more than just fan wish-fulfillment, as the guys have all definitely had their ups and downs, with Strompolos detailing a horrible cocaine addiction that kept him sidelined for years, while Zala’s become a family man who jeopardizes his solid job at Microsoft to go finish the movie. It’s here that the film is the most interesting, with both guys coming off as stubborn, if committed, and you truly fear for Zala as he skates perilously close to losing his hard-won career for a project that will likely never be lucrative in a financial sense. Lucky for him he has an adoring wife who’s willing to put her life on hold for him to do what he has to do to achieve his dream.

Raiders The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

The movie crisscrosses between the new shoot and the story of how the original came to be, and it’s hard not to see some of yourself in these kids, who truly had their minds blown by RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, something most of us children of the eighties can relate to. The stories about how these kids risked life and limb to put together a surprisingly solid little remake is pretty intriguing, with many on-hand noting that their shot-for-shot redux is far superior to the Gus Van Sant version of PSYCHO, due to their obvious passion for the project. You also get to hear about how Knowles and Eli Roth helped put the movie out there in the first place, with cool feedback from original audience members who remember a near riot when the film was cut-off after an hour to allow for the world premiere of THE TWO TOWERS!

If RAIDERS has a failing; it’s that it drags a lot when the guys get into the minutia of their new shoot, with the final scene being almost too polished to really fit in with the home-made vibe of the other parts of the film. Maybe that in itself proves something about how hard it is to be a kid again or recapture the magic from that era. All in all, this is pretty fascinating stuff and a must see for any real film fanatic.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.