"Raiders of the Lost Ark" is one of my favourite movies - in fact, to watch it with an audience 32 years later, it plays as perfectly today as when I saw it on a late June matinée at the Vancouver Centre theatre as a 12 year old in 1981.
Steven Spielberg's action masterpiece inspired me, and every one of my friends. We LOVED this movie. I saw it so many times in the theatre as a kid, and when it arrived on VHS in 1983, the film became so imprinted on my brain that I know the screenplay, the action and the music cues backwards and forwards as well as anything, even to this day. As much as I forget many, many things daily now, I still know "Raiders of the Lost Ark".
Along with "Back to the Future", Raiders remains a truly perfect modern-day film - perfectly written, directed, scored, and realized as a piece of exceptional movie entertainment - one that makes people happy, and they leave the theatre talking about it.
Spielberg was the guy. His movies constantly inspired my friends and I to make our own home-made movies (we erred on the side of James Bond pictures, sci-fi, and SCTV-style parodies - with a dash of John Landis anarchy) and we actually wrote screenplays, went out and shot footage, created special effects and worked to create a movie(s) of our own. This was all based on the fact that we were a TV generation - we saw all types of movies, from KVOS 8pm nightly movies, BCTV & CHEK 6 late shows, CKVU special stereo simulcasts with CFMI, everything. We absorbed the new VHS format and watched practically anything that was rentable. Pay TV was brand-new to Canada, too - and between the unedited and commercial-free "A" Hollywood titles, you ended up seeing classics and B-pictures and crappy Canadian tax-shelter dreck. And we studied the movies we saw, even the bad ones. Instead of sitting and just watching them though, with the advent of consumer-quality video cameras (thanks to the high school AV Club), we saw an opening: wanted to make some movies ourselves.
For me and my friends, it was a golden-age of movie making (the 1980s) and there were plenty of directors, ideas and plots to draw from. We put an awful lot of effort into creating pictures, but we never completed one from beginning to end - instead dropping one genre trope and moving on to the next in the excitement of seeing a cool new movie that wowed us. But boy, it was FUN. I learned an awful lot about real movie-making by actually doing it on the fly with my friends, working with a group of people who were all totally inspired by movies too. Even when I'm (rarely) shooting video today, I still use the things I learned working with my friends - editing inside the camera, framing, music, the cheats for shots, creating tension and emotion - stuff we all learned by endlessly studying movies, watching making-of documentaries and actually (sort-of) making short films with big picture ideas.
So, years ago I read an article in Entertainment Weekly or Premiere or somewhere on this thing that a group of friends in the U.S. south that had made a VHS shot-for-shot fan film re-creation of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" over many, many summers in the 1980s. They used the actual Lawrence Kasdan script, used the legendary John Williams underscore, and aped Spielberg's shots to make a kid-centric version of Raiders. Not only that, but they did stunts, created sets, even lit their parents' basement on fire to duplicate Marion Ravenwood's Nepalese bar set-piece where Indy fights the Nazi bad guy and his thugs.
Watching their ersatz movie adaptation simply blew me away. This was my early teenage dream played out on glitchy videotape: my experience as a kid who was crazy about movies, and who loved movies so much that to make a full-length movie inspired by the world's best movie (at the time) and as a way to be a part of making the same kind of entertainment that made audiences happy, excited and connected - just like the way I felt at the Vancouver Centre at that 2pm screening in 1981.
This is really a special film. It is entirely ingenious in its use of substitution, it nails the optimistic spirit of the original film and more over, you end up caring for the kids. I was particularly concerned for them when they actually lit each other on fire.
Their movie recreates in ultra-ultra-shoestring low-budget detail virtually every plot and action beat in the 1981 film so creatively, it's absolutely impossible to find any fault. The Adaptation is endlessly watchable - and as a viewer, you can't wait to see how they creatively tackle the next Spielberg multi-million dollar set-piece.
Just watch their version of the iconic desert truck chase: for my money, it is just as rip-roaringly good as Spielberg's version. And that's a REAL kid being dragged along that real gravel road. A kid that really, truly loves Raiders of the Lost Ark.
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