ARL3: Raiders! By Alan Eisenstock

Raiders by Alan EisenstockLike a lot of people, I heard about the Raiders Of The Lost Ark fan film made by a bunch of kids in the 80s. I don’t remember the exact details, but it would have been sometime in college. I even wrote a little bit about it for a huge never-published article my pal Rickey Purdin and I put together for a Wizard movie issue (I should check my files and see if I have a copy of it anywhere). I thought it was cool, but never saw it or thought much more about it. Then I saw Son Of Rambow, a British film that seems to take many of the ideas of the true story, switched the movie to First Blood — which I  incidentally just watched again recently — and made a film I fell in love with. There’s something so amazing about the youthful drive to make something, especially when it took so many years and involved so much work. Again, the Raiders fan film left my consciousness again for a while.

Until I got an email a few months back about a book documenting the making of the movie. Would I like a copy? Hell yes, send it over! I wanted to jump into it right away, but a lot of things got in the way. I wish it hadn’t because Alan Eisenstock’s Raiders! is a fantastic, magical book. Knowing the broad strokes of this story really isn’t enough, it deserves the intense level of research that Eisenstock surely did to get such amazing results.

The Raiders fan film was created by director Eric Zala and star Chris Stromopolos, two kids from Mississippi who loved a movie and decided to remake it. They banded together with several friends and friends of friends and over the course of seven years, shot and edited the film. It was amazing reading how they figured out every shot of the movie, developed storyboards (which I’d like to see, actually), scrounged allowance to buy props, raised local awareness and struggled to find locations to match the film. All that makes the story epic, but that’s only half the story.

In addition to being a story about the making of a film, Raiders is also the story of a pair of kids who become friends, dedicate themselves to a project, both falter, grow up and hit a rough spot before SPOILER rekindling their relationship several times and eventually having their movie discovered and loved by people all over the country. There’s a few chapters in the book after they finish filming the movie. At that point I was like, “What more could happen?” And then, bam, you’re hit with some intense, real world drama, the kind that hits a lot of people. These guys went through a lot of crap, lived together, went their separate ways, built families and eventually became creative partners again. Chris especially had it tough, while Eric used his steadfastness to excel in the video game industry.

The beauty of this story is how theatrical it is. Just when everything seems lost at one point, the boys get word that they can shoot a scene on a dry-docked submarine. Boom, they’re back in it. There’s so many ups and downs like that that you almost forget your reading a biography and have drifted into fiction territory. Eisenstock does a wonderful job of weaving these tales together, taking Chris and Eric’s detailed memories and putting together a narrative that might hold a few things back for dramatic purposes, but always pays off. Well, almost always pays off.

arl3My only complaint about this book is that it didn’t finish one important storyline: Eric and Chris’ in-the-works screenplay. The last section of the book makes a point of the two reuniting to work on something creatively, but then leaves off in 2005.  What happened?! Did they write a screenplay? My quick IMDb search shows that Zala doesn’t have any more credits past his student film, so I’m guessing it never got made, but did they at least finish writing it? Not following up on that one thread seemed odd, especially considering the book came out last year and could have done some kind of follow-up in the eight years between the end of the book and it’s publication. I had a similar problem with Laurie Lindeen’s Petal Pusher which didn’t go into detail when it came to the band’s break-up. If you’re going to go into huge detail about this story, you’ve got to deliver on the important final moments or at the very least,  catch us up on what they’re currently up to.

But, that’s a small complaint. There’s so much goodness in this book, so much that got me fired up both as a fan of things and a wannabe creator of things, that it’s really a minor quibble. I really can’t express how much I loved this book. It made me want to create things, it made me want to be a bigger fan of things and it made me wish I had had more of a creative spark when I was younger. I can’t recommend this book any higher, it’s amazing and deserves to be read by anyone even remotely interested in film or fandom. Read it!

As far as the latest Ambitious Reading List, I’ve definitely stalled out a bit. I started reading Elmore Leonard’s Riding The Rap, but it really didn’t grab me. I think I’ll read something else and then maybe go back to it and see if I find something in there. I’ve got another book sent to me by PR folks that’s not on the list, but should be read pretty quickly. Seems like the right thing to do.

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