Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, by Alan Eisenstock, with Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos.
With only a few props gathered, no costumes - thanks to Chris's fedora and leather jacket spray-paint disaster - the boulder demolished, and hundreds of storyboards to go, the boys decide to concentrate on the one area they know they can handle: stunts. Chris, showing off his practiced Indiana Jones swagger, approaches each day as if it's the day that they might somehow get hold of a camera and actually film this thing. He vows to be ready. He sets his sights on the pit scene, where Indy leaps over and open pit to escape the collapsing temple cave by swinging from tree branch to tree branch. The boys find the perfect tree right outside Gus and Irene's house - a sturdy white pine in a neighbor's front yard - climb it, and prepare to "rehearse." That's the word they use. Because every thought, every action, every play date, every trip to the mall, every conversation, every nickel they save or spend goes into what will be their Raiders.
I had never heard of this movie before reading this book, but apparently it's quite famous - Spielberg himself even wrote the filmmakers a letter when he did eventually see it. The book focuses on two kids who, in the 1980s, decided to make an adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark, scene for scene. They didn't anticipate at the time that it would take them seven years to finish, or that during the process their friendship would eventually destruct; however, they continued to work at the movie until it was completely finished: editing, music, and all.
In 1981, in a small town in Mississippi, ten-year-old Chris Strompolos and eleven-year-old Eric Zala met on a school bus. They discovered they shared a passion for comic books and the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, and a friendship was born. They decided to re-make Raiders - every scene, every shot, every stunt - even though they had no camera, no money, and no clue how to make a movie. But what they did have was a vision, sheer will, limitless imagination, and each other.
Incredibly, they realized their dream, though it took them a staggering seven years to complete their movie. By then, they had grown up - and almost burned down the family home, nearly killed Eric, and stopped speaking to each other. Twenty-nine years later, today Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation has an obsessive and devoted following of millions and is considered the best and most successful fan film ever created.
What I really loved about this book is that by the end of it, you felt like you knew both Eric and Chris - almost like they were friends of yours - since the novel follows them from early childhood until 2005, when Katrina hits Mississippi and Chris comes home to help Eric and his family. I've watched a clip from the beginning of the film, too (see below), and it's pretty good for kids on a "shoestring" budget. The novel shows how much love and work they put into this movie, too, and how they were obsessive about capturing every last detail from the original, as well as how a twist of fate put a copy of their film into the "right hands" and how it eventually ended up becoming a cult favorite.
Raiders! will be in bookstores on November 13th. 4 stars out of 5.
*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.