Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

Year 9, Day 221 - 8/9/17 - Movie #2,710

BEFORE: I shuffled these films around at the last second, this was originally supposed to come right after "Jodorowsky's Dune" but then I saw a way that I could add two more films to Geek Week if I just moved the films around just a little bit.  Of course, I already had my line-up set for the rest of the year, so adding two films means I have to delete one films from the 2017 line-up, and move another into next year's schedule.  The first was just a fill-in, anyway, I found an animated film on Netflix that I also had on DVD, and I'm pretty sure I've seen it, so off it goes.

Now if I've done this right, I've improved the linking, and interview subject Harry Jay Knowles carries over from yesterday's film, "Fanarchy".

THE PLOT: The story behind "Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation".

AFTER: All right, let's untangle this knotty fan film thing - in 1982, three Mississippi pre-teens began shooting a shot-for-shot remake, or cover version, of the famous 1981 film "Raiders of the Lost Ark".  It took them seven years to ALMOST finish this, except for one scene, the fist-fight Indiana Jones has with the mechanic and then the large German guy in front of the plane, which leads to the plane exploding.    Now, I'm not reviewing this fan-made film tonight, but rather a documentary about these kids, and how they reunited 25 years later to film the final missing scene and complete their adaptation.

There are several reasons why the three kids couldn't finish their film, the main one being the extreme danger of working with explosives and around airplane propellers, plus they were working with a budget of only $5,000 and building a full-size plane to stage a fight around was therefore not possible.  But in 2014 they raised money on Kickstarter to finally get a full-scale plane built, hire an explosives expert to blow it up after the fight scene was filmed, and close the books on their project.

Another reason for the break-up of this amateur filmmaking team seems to be an explosion of a more personal nature, something involving the relationship between one of the filmmakers and the actress in the Marion Ravenwood role - it's always over a girl, isn't it?  Hey, maybe these kids were more Hollywood than they thought...

On one hand, I have to applaud their efforts.  I don't think I could work on any project for that long, even with a 25-year gap built in.  I also can't look at anything that I wrote or drew when I was 12 or 13 and think highly of it at all - I can barely stand to read anything that I wrote last year, which is one reason I've had many unsuccessful attempts at writing my own screenplay.  I cringe whenever I even see a photo of myself from the high-school years - did I really comb my hair like that, and what is that, a vest with corduroy pants?  What the hell was I thinking?

And if you want to get started making movies, copying a great movie is an interesting way to learn about the craft, it's kind of "fake it till you make it", which works especially if you don't have any original ideas of your own.  The kid in charge of special effects had to come up with some very innovative ways to re-create the special effects from "Raiders" on a shoestring budget.  And if you can do the near-impossible on a daily basis and do it all that cheaply, you probably learn a lot along the way about being self-sufficient, and that can help you in future endeavors, no matter what they are.

But there's another part of me that's more cynical and doesn't see the point of wasting so much time on this.  Why bother re-creating something that already exists, especially when you know deep down that you will NEVER be able to do it as well as Spielberg and company, with their budget of what, $20 million dollars?  And that's in 1980 money...  Look, I've been in school plays and community theater, I know what's possible to re-create on stage and what isn't, and no matter how much pocket change you sink into something like that, a rinky-dink stage production is always going to look inferior.  It's only the fact that the cast's friends and relatives love them so much that allows them to overlook the obvious flaws of bad costuming, cheesy sets and off-pitch voices.  I fooled myself during those years into thinking that what I was doing matters, the only value I take from that now is that I can hold my own when doing voice-over work from time to time.

Maybe I'm just old and jaded now, instead of young and foolish, but now I think that if a project is never going to be spectacular, then there's no point in even starting it - because anything worth doing is worth doing well, and life's just too short to waste 7 summers of your life to end up with basically a copy of someone else's work.  What if these kids had devoted the same amount of time making a film that was their own original idea?  Or a story that continued Indiana Jones' tale by making their own sequel?  There are tons of fan-films now that feature Batman or Star Wars characters without obtaining permission - of course there's the obvious risk of being sued by DC Comics or Lucasfilm, but many people are ignorant about such things and just forge ahead anyway.

A trio of 12-year old kids certainly wouldn't be expected to be aware of copyright laws, or have any fear of being sued for infringing on Paramount's intellectual property, but still, rules are rules.  When the three were called in to see Steven Spielberg, who ended up congratulating them on their remake, there was probably just as much of a chance that Spielberg would have asked for all the master tapes so these now-adults couldn't possibly profit from ripping off his film.  Like I deal all the time with people who post my boss's animated shorts on YouTube, with the intention of "sharing them with the world", but I've got to file a DMCA copyright complaint to get those films removed.  I used to e-mail the posters directly and request they take the films down themselves, but honestly, that's too much bother - now I just report them to YouTube and if that means their account gets suspended, well now that's what we call a life lesson.  I bet they'll think twice next time before posting material that they don't own the rights to.

So, I'm torn here - since the kids shot their remake out of sequence, the end result is a film where the main character's age is constantly changing, from 12 to 19, and from what I've seen of the film in this documentary, the acting is extremely amateuristic, and the special effects even worse.  Should I cut them some slack, just because they were teenagers at the time?  Heck, no, bad filmmaking is bad filmmaking, even if their intent was good and their hearts were in the right place.  But instead of people treating this like the hack production that it obviously was, their adaptation made the rounds among Hollywood insiders, was screened at Harry Jay Knowles' infamous "Butt-Numb-a-Thon" event, and they were hailed as child prodigies, 23 or so years later.

I don't get it, I just think we have to hold all filmmakers to the same standard, even teen ones.  I mean, these kids used a DOG in place of a monkey, did they think no one would notice?  Yeah, I understand there may not have been a lot of monkeys in Mississippi, but as I said, do it right or don't do it at all.

Also starring Chris Strompolos (also carrying over from "Fanarchy"), Eric Zala, Jayson Lamb, Angela Rodriguez, John Rhys-Davies (last seen in "The Great White Hype"), and interview footage of Chris Gore, Eli Roth (last seen in "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"), Ernest Cline, Tim League, with archive footage of Harrison Ford (also carrying over from "Fanarchy"), Karen Allen (last seen in "Starman").

RATING: 4 out of 10 rubber snakes

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