Indiana Jones and the child prodigies

Back in 1982, three 12-year-olds decided to remake Raiders of the Lost Ark. The result, premiering tonight, has even impressed Steven Spielberg. By Geoffrey Macnab

It's 8.30am on Monday morning at the Vue Cinema in Leicester Square and the projectionist is about to start the "technical" screening for a film that arrives in Britain for a one-off showing with Steven Spielberg's blessing. "Wanted to let you know how impressed I was with your very loving and detailed tribute to our Raiders of the Lost Ark," Spielberg wrote to the film's director, Eric Zala, and its producer, Chris Strompolos, after seeing their tribute version of the first Indiana Jones feature.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: the Adaptation may be movie geek heaven, but it's a disconcerting film to watch in a near-empty cinema first thing on a Monday morning. The technical quality is patchy and fluctuates enormously. Some of the old video footage has taken on a blurred, greenish hue. Dialogue is muffled. There is a droning sound that seems to come from the camera. At first, the film's home-movie credentials are painfully evident. Slowly, however, the yarn draws you in. Whether we are in South America in 1936 and Indiana Jones is escaping bow and arrow wielding savages, or we're in a bazaar in Nepal, the action sequences are staged with plenty of youthful gusto.

Strompolos and Zala, working on a reported budget of $5000 as opposed to the $26m that Spielberg and co. had, haven't skimped on the snakes. There's a lot of fire, too, as well as plenty of fake beards and detailed Nazi uniforms.

Perhaps the piece de resistance is the recreation of the famous sequence in which the rugged-jawed Indy (played by Strompolos) gets hold of a Nazi truck with the Ark inside it. The young film-makers show him fighting for the steering wheel, hurling German soldiers on to the open road and even sliding under the truck himself, recreating a part of the famous Stagecoach-style stunt. What makes it all the more impressive is the suspicion that the film-makers were probably too young to have a driving licence at the time they shot it.

There are some very strange continuity lurches. The main characters' hairstyles and even body shapes change in the course of the movie. They began making the film as kids but were young adults by the time it was completed. Angela Rodriguez's Marion is – depending on which scene you happen to be watching – a squeaky girl on the cusp of adolescence or a mature young woman. Indiana, meanwhile, fill outs as if he has taken some growth hormone.

Even so, it seems churlish to complain about the film's rough edges and idiosyncrasies given just how much passion the young would-be Spielberg's brought to making it over so many years. You find yourself rooting for Indy all over again. Somehow, the revelation that the film almost ground to a halt because Zala and Strompolos fell out over a girl only adds to the appeal.

"Because of that, they weren't talking to each other. There was a time, five years in, when they might never have finished the film," confides Chris Tilly, entertainment editor at the gaming and entertainment outfit IGN, who are behind the British premiere.

The story of how the film was rediscovered and has made its way to Leicester Square is startling in its own right. Tilly had become friendly with horror-meister Eli Roth (of Hostel notoriety) and Roth had told him about the Raiders of the Lost Ark adaptation. Roth, it turned out, had somehow received a bootleg copy of the film and had been won over by its naive enthusiasm. "Eli is a geek at heart and he had been making films since he was a little kid with his brothers," Tilly explains. "It captured his imagination. He would have loved to have put seven years' work into an Indiana Jones remake when he was a kid."

Thanks to Roth, the film was also seen by Ain't It Cool News film critic Harry Knowles, who was similarly won over. Raiders of the Lost Ark: the Adaptation was shown in a partial version at Knowles's Butt-Numb-A-Thon, a 24-hour festival at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Texas, in 2002. Like Roth, Knowles had seen the original Raiders of the Lost Ark when he was nine. Like other children, he had fantasies of being Indy. What he admired about Strompolos and co. was that they had made these fantasies a reality.

Somehow this adolescent movie homage became a full-blown cult phenomenon. Spielberg liked it so much that he watched it twice, sent the film-makers a letter expressing his approval and invited them to meet him. Quentin Tarantino was likewise enthusiastic.

Now the film has finally reached Britain. "We decided to put our resources together, have a red carpet premiere and fly the guys over," Tilly explains. Special guests have been invited to the screening, including Paul Freeman, who played the dastardly villain René Belloq in the original Raiders of the Lost Ark. Spectators will also have the chance to sample some special Indy food fare – sheep's eyeball soup, a platter of snakes, chilled monkey brains and the like.

The enthusiasm of heavyweight directors like Spielberg for the Mississippi schoolkids' mischievous remake of the movie comes with one important caveat – the film is not allowed to be distributed commercially. Nobody can make money from it. That is why it has never been released on DVD and why the London premiere is for charity.

Still, Zala and Strompolos might become movie heroes in their own right. In 2004, heavyweight Hollywood producer Scott Rudin and Paramount Pictures bought the rights to the life stories of Zala, Strompolos and their cinematographer, Jayson Lamb, with a view to making a Son of Rambow-style film about their Indiana Jones obsession.

Whether or not this biopic ever makes it into production, the Mississippi kids who spent their adolescence on their very own Raiders of the Lost Ark already have legions of admirers. After all, whatever its formal deficiencies, this is one of the most lovingly crafted "fan" movies ever made.



'Raiders of the Lost Ark: the Adaptation' screens tonight at the Vue West End, Leicester Square ( www.myvue.com/raiders )

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam