Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989, Eric Zala)

screened Friday July 6 2007 at Anthology Film Archives, NYC IMDb

It was a sold-out screening at AFA for this legendary video remake of Steven Spielberg's epic (TSPDT #247), made by director Eric Zala, actor Chris Strompolos and cameraman/FX wizard Jayson Lamb when they were twelve years old and finished seven years later. I think you have to be a fan of the original to appreciate just how much knowledge, meticulousness and sheer enthusiasm these three kids put into their version. And the big revelation for me (other than reaffirming what wonders can be wrought by the largely untapped potential of youth) was just how much appreciation I had for Spielberg's Raiders. I haven't seen the film in at least ten years but every single shot in this low-res Betamax remake rang clear as a bell with visual memories that were burned into my memory as surely as that crystal medallion burned into the hand of evil Nazi Toht.

The original Raiders is the second film that I saw on the TSPDT 1000, back in 1981 with my father. I saw it repeatedly on television after that and for years Indiana Jones was my favorite movie character (only to be supplanted upon adolescence by Holly Martins and T.E. Lawrence). My first directing experience was in third grade when I choreographed the opening jungle sequence with three classmates (who I recall eventually mutinied from the production once they realized that I was playing Indiana Jones). When I started taking flights to college, as I packed my luggage I would flash to the image of Indiana tossing his bullwhip and pistol on top of his open suitcase.

What's beautiful about the adaptation is how in paying tribute to all the little touches, and archetypal images and moments packed into the Spielberg version, it really raises one's esteem of the original, the intricacy of its construction and the sheer ebullience of its storytelling. Of course the film suffers in its condescending stereotypes towards Middle East culture, which, as much as the film relishes the familiarity of these cliches and playfully tweaks them, makes it a problematic film to regard in today's context. But it was just great to be reminded of a time when all that you wanted of a movie was to be entertained; on that score the film is overwhelming in its effort to do so.

Ed Halter wrote a great feature on the Raiders Adaptation for the Village Voice.