On Thursday, June 16th- you will have a chance to see the remake of the Steven Spielberg-Harrison Ford classic- The Raiders of the Lost Ark!
Many American boys watching Raiders Of The Lost Ark upon it’s 1981 release, wished they could be the whip-cracking Dr. Indiana Jones. Eleven-year-old Eric Zala of Gulfport, Mississippi, and his young friends loved the film so much, they produced a feature length shot-for-shot remake of the Spielberg smash-hit. They used whatever funds were available to this handful of pre-teens (Weekly allowances, etc.) to bankroll this film shot on consumer video equipment. (This was over a decade before digital video came out, so we are talking about big old cameras that recorded onto VHS.)
Home Video was just beginning to enter America’s living rooms in 1981, and it would take nearly a decade for Paramount to finally release Raiders to home video. How were Zala and gang going to copy a film for that they could only rarely see? “We got everything Raiders that we could get our hands on – magazines, photos, the published screenplay (Zala and the boys made sure RAIDERS screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan got proper screen credit), storybooks, making-of publications, action figures, and an illicit recording of the soundtrack from smuggling a tape recorder into movie theatres showing Raiders. With the amassed material, and from memory of watching RAIDERS in the theatre, we cobbled together a composite shot-by-shot reconstruction of the film. I hand-drew 602 individual detailed storyboards that became our blueprint.”
For the famous rolling boulder chasing Dr. Jones, Eric and his buddies first made a giant bamboo cardboard and duct tape monster that they couldn’t get out of co-producer and star Chris Strompolos’ bedroom. Later attempts at the big ball included a chicken wire prop that blew away in a hurricane and an experiment with a weather balloon. Finally through massive toil, Eric got his boulder.
Even on a big budget film starring adult actors, a kissing scene can bring about some tension. But what if your smooching actor is a teen experiencing his first ever kiss. One can imagine what went through Chris Strompolos’ (as Indy) head when he had to rescue and kiss his leading lady. “While I don’t recall Chris letting on at the time, I know now he was nervous as hell. He was later to name this as the scariest scene to shoot– not dragging underneath a moving truck, nor riding a giant home-made jackal statue through a breakaway wall. Kissing a girl! For the first time! In front of a crew, videotaping it all!” recalls Eric.
After seven years of on and off production, Zala’s Raiders was completed. (At about the time he and his friends were entering college.) It got some local showings, but one thread leads to another and finally, the big man himself, Steven Spielberg, found out about the remake, and was able to catch up to a copy of the film. Spielberg was pleased with the film, even taking the opportunity to meet up with Eric Zala and chat film talk. To date it is not known if Spielberg’s cast (Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, etc.) have seen it. “We hear through a friend who knew Alfred Molina (a Spielberg cast member) said that he really wanted to see it.”
I told Eric Zala his film actually has some improvements over the Spielberg original. At times, it seemed more focused on characters than setting (Settings cost money, and they need to be plastered on the screen) I asked Eric if he felt his film has improvements over Spielberg‘s. “Oh geez, I couldn’t say. I can’t be objective about my own work. And I’ve admired the original Raiders from such a young age that in all likelihood I can’t be objective about that film either. As an adult now, I’m able to perceive flaws in films that I absolutely love — but not the original Raiders. My awe at its craftsmanship is too hard-wired.”
“We were invited to screen our Raiders at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, in Rochester, New York. They kindly offered to allow us private screenings of any film in their considerable collection. We chose The Secret Of The Incas (A 1954 action thriller starring Charlton Heston), which more than any other single film, Spielberg and Lucas drew upon for inspiration. Spielberg and Lucas screened it for the Raiders crew during pre-production.”
This coming Thursday at 7:30pm, you can see this remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark at Huntington, Long Island’s Cinema Arts Centre. Re-makers Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos will be at the Cinema talking with the audience about the thrills and joys of making this unique film. You can get more information about the screening here- http://www.cinemaartscentre.org/011/Junio/RaidersTheAdaptation.html#RaidersTheAdaptation
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