Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation

When I was not yet a teenager, I shot a movie on my old PXL 2000 called Arcadia: the Movie.  Unfortunately, plans to transfer it to video met with the death of my dad’s VCR, putting that ambitious move on hiatus until I visit my parents’ home again.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: the Adaptation, is on an entirely different level from my movie.  Whereas mine involved a cast of two (plus an appearance by My Pet Monster) and a running time of about 45 minutes, RLAA is almost two hours long, and while created by three friends, includes many other people in the film.  Plus, it took seven years to finish their film (at a cost estimated at about $5,000), whereas my film cost only as much as the tapes cost, and was finished within a summer.

First off, one scene that was not covered in the adaptation is the plane sequence with the muscular German.  Though it was originally intended to be in the film, the three friends (Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos, and Jayson Lamb) decided it would be too difficult to blow up a real plane, and they didn’t want to use miniatures because it would look fake (which, as Chris Strompolos told the SIFF Cinema audience on Sunday, sounds ridiculous, due to the low budget nature of the adaptation).

Eric Zala directed the movie and played the part of Dr. Rene Belloq, Chris Strompolos produced and played the part of Indiana Jones, and Jayson Lamb edited and did the cinematography.  All of them work for major film studios now, and yet this film may be more memorable than any project they ever work on.  Yes, it looks like an amateur production of Raiders.  Yes, the actors change in size and voice range as they age.  But the ambition and imagination they employed in recreating scenes on a shoe-string budget is impressive.  And while the shots don’t line up exactly with their counterparts (and are sometimes taken from different angles), most of the action sequences play out as they did in the more professional film version.  You have fires, explosions, car chases, fist fights, and shoot-outs, and most of the smaller details in the film (like Marion drinking beer out of the barrel that gets shot) are recreated here.

In fact, it is such a loyal adaptation that getting it released to DVD has been a challenge.  Though Spielberg, Lucas, and Paramount pictures have all been very supportive of the film, proceeds from screenings cannot go to Zala, Strompolos, or Lamb, which is why they usually have the proceeds donated to charity.  Besides using the same script and characters, this film uses the same music, scene-for-scene, as the movie does.  Still, one hopes that it could be released as an extra along with a special 30th anniversary edition of the movie.  What do you think, Mr. Spielberg?

Before the adaptation began, the same theater ran the original movie (you could see both as a double feature–who does that anymore?).  What struck me about the original film was how great the action sequences still were, and how threadbare the characters are.  The dialogue is witty, but not deep, which means that we get personalities instead of people (despite being written by Lawrence Kasdan, who had just written The Empire Strikes Back–a much deeper film).  In King Kong, you feel for the people in the movie because it’s given you forty minutes in which to know them.  In Raiders, there’s so much action that, when Marion is believed dead, the audience is not as sad as Indy is, because the movie hasn’t invested the same amount of time in introducing her to us as Indy has had in getting to know her.  Likewise when she reappears.  We aren’t suddenly happy because we never missed her.

On the other hand, famous shots litter this picture like works of art litter a museum.  The Paramount sign turning into a real mountain.  The first appearance of Indy’s face.  The golden idol sequence, where he stares at it and tries to guess its weight.  The boulder.  The master swordsman getting shot by Indy (possible the most famous scene in the film).  What happens when the Ark is opened.  Just to name a few.  And, like I said, the action sequences hold up to the best in the genre, even after thirty years.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is more about spectacle than substance, but in this, Spielberg elevates spectacle to an art form, and gives cinema some of its most iconic characters, even if it’s left to the sequels to flesh them out.  In making a movie for the senses, he shows himself to be a master movie maker for the child within.  It makes sense, then, that children were responsible for the adaptation, which contains all the joy one feels upon seeing the original for the first time.

More information on Raiders of the Lost Ark: the Adaptation can be found here.