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.

Ambitious Reading List III

 

Long before I finished Please Kill Me, I was working on creating my next Ambitious Reading List. As I said at the end of that review, I’m a big fan of this much-smaller version of my larger to-read pile. Helps me stay focused while also keeping my interest not only in reading, but in crossing one book off the list and moving on to the next. Most of the books in this pile are newer to that pile, but there are a few that have been sitting around for a while too.

From the top, I picked up Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Identity at a flea market out of sheer interest based on the Matt Damon movies. I can’t keep the straight, but I’m curious to see how this book compares to the movies as well as an audiobook version of The Bourne Legacy that we finished recently and will review soon. I’ve also got an Elmore Leonard book called Riding The Rap in there. I bought this for $2 at a used book store based solely on Leonard’s name. Love that dude’s books. After that is Hunger Games, which my wife read and liked. My last ARL got in the way of me reading this over the summer, so I included it this time. I hope to compare it to the movie somewhere down the line too.

I actually started reading Michael Chabon’s Manhood For Amateurs around the time our daughter was born, or maybe just before. It’s a great book of essays I’m looking forward to finishing. I’ve been living a lie with Wizard of Oz, keeping it on my shelf since high school without every reading the whole thing. I plan on remedying that and also telling a pretty great story about the signature I have in that book. After that it’s Patton Oswalt’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland which I got from the library for a list I was working on before my pal Rob Bricken moved from Topless Robot to io9. I have no idea where that list will lie, but that’s the first book on the pile I’m reading because I’m lousy at getting books back on time.

From there I’ve got the illustrated version of the unfilmed Harlan Ellison script based on Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot,Marc Eliot’s book about Cary Grant which I got because George Hamilton made him sound really interesting in his book and Peter Ackroyd’s retelling of Geoffry Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. I read parts of the original in college, but could barely get through it, man.

I got Raiders! thanks to a PR email letting me know about this book about the guys that made the 80s Raiders of the Lost Ark fan film. Then I’ve got It Happened In Manhattan, an oral history about the Big Apple by Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer and finally Harvey Pekar’s graphic novel adaptation of Studs Terkel’s classic look at careers, jobs and Americans Working. As you can see, it’s another eclectic mix. I’m pretty jazzed to be adding a few different formats (screenplays, essays, graphic novels) and also think that this one might go a little bit quicker than the previous one, assuming I still have time to read. The next few months are going to be pretty busy/crazy.

The Chronological Spielberg: Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

Like many children of the 80s, I am a huge fan of the Indiana Jones movies. I actually like them all (yes all) and have a special affinity for Temple of Doom that I’ll get to after making my way through a few more Spielberg movies. As a young kid I didn’t have a ton of movies on VHS and yet I remember seeing the Indy movies as well as the Star Wars trilogy a lot on cable back then. I eventually got the box set form my grandparents while in college but haven’t really watched them a lot since then. Still, I like having my favorite movies in my possession so I can watch them whenever I do feel like it.

A few years ago, my wife and I did watch one of the Indy movies, I can’t remember exactly which one, but I think it was Raiders. Anyway, I was struck by how damn good the movie is. It should haven’t been a surprise, but I wasn’t sure if it was one of those things where the movie basically lived in an awesome space in my brain because I saw when I was young. I was glad to find that it really is an expertly put together film that not only pays homage to old adventure films, but also reinvented the genre using Spielberg’s ridiculous knowledge of film and film making.

Take the introduction of Indiana Jones for instance. We keep getting glances of him in bits and pieces, but never the full look until we’re granted something epic showing how cool and brave he is. But, the point of the film isn’t to show a perfect hero, so we see him get screwed over a few times and then in his school environment where, even though he’s handsome and the ladies love him, he’s still kind of awkward. This is not his true environment and it shows. And of course, not long after this he gets ANOTHER awesome reveal when he shows up at Marion’s bar as a gigantic, looming, context-filled shadow. Boom.

Which brings me to another wonderful aspect of this movie: Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood. She’s brave and powerful and vulnerable and resourceful and can drink like a damn champion, all qualities that don’t just appeal to me but make her incredibly human and real. She’s not one of these one-not female characters who either plays the damsel or needs no man to help her, she’s a rounded, full character, one that I’m drawn to. I was really excited when I found out she was involved in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and enjoy how that story ended up.

I also want to talk about something I almost never do when writing about movies: sound effects. I realized while watching this movie again that the effects for certain things in this movie are ingrained in my thinking. When I think of someone punching someone, I think of Indy punching a guy. Of course, the crack of the whip is in there too, but so is the sound of that propeller plane. That’s a pretty incredible impact the more I think about it.

All of this is even more impressive when you think about how uneven and mark-missing 1941 was (at least in my opinion). While I barely cared about anyone in that film, I don’t think there was a character in this movie that I didn’t love or hate or feel something in between for. This is the Spielberg who made the incredible Close Encounters and Jaws, this is a Spielberg who understands his strengths and weaknesses and use that knowledge to create a hero that has proven to stand the test of time, something most people dream of. I wonder how much of that came from screenwriters George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan and how much was Spielberg, but regardless of the breakdown, it shows wonderfully on screen.

For what it’s worth Lucy seemed to get pretty caught up in the story as well, so that’s something.