Anyone who grew up loving movies undoubtedly has memories of the one film that inspired them to pluck the story from the screen and keep it going. I remember having an urgent need to play Goonies the day after I saw the movie for the first time, but maybe you were struck by Star Wars or, say, Coma starring Michael Douglas and Genevieve Bujold. This particular brand of movie obsession is captured beatifully in the film Son of Rambow, and I felt that Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made would resonate similarly. It took me two months to understand why I just wasn’t connecting with the book.
In 1981 Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala bonded over their love for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Though only eleven and ten years old respectively, they decided to remake the film scene by scene and resolved not to stop until they were done. The journey would span seven years, involve countless mishaps, and nearly destroy the friendship, only to take on a second life years later when the film finally made its way into the world and the hands of filmmaker Eli Roth who would go on to SHOW IT TO STEVEN SPIELBERG. From there, the magic would only snowball as Spielberg himself reached out and audiences across the country embraced their version of Raiders as a cult favorite.
The saga itself is inherently funny and touching, particularly when you consider how one movie and one childhood project became a through-line in the lives of Strompolos and Zala. Simply put, this is a fabulous story, but one told by the wrong person. Everything about it screams memoir, but it’s told (admittedly quite well) by Alan Eisenstock. Though his research is thorough and his narrative eloquent, it seems utterly bizarre that the story is unfolding in third person. As he recreates scenes and dialogue that occurred between two boys over thirty years ago, you can’t help feeling an element of fiction – he simply wasn’t there. It’s like reading a remake of the time these kids tried to remake Raiders or like watching a movie with the director standing in full view of the camera. I was never able to suspend disbelief long enough to connect to the story, but it serves as a decent placeholder as we wait for Chris or Eric to write their own book.