Shot-for-shot remake rolls in cult cache

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation

on February 15, 2008 by Sara Schieron

Sure it’s mired with poor (Betamax) image quality and the sound is sometimes completely inaudible, but as most know the basic outline of Steven Spielberg’s 1981 serial throwback Raiders of the Lost Ark, not understanding what’s going on isn’t much of an impediment here.

Zala’s 1989 remake is a love letter of grand proportions. The filmmakers began their shot-for-shot remake at the age of 12, and through the course of the film you see them literally develop. As it took them years to procure a submarine, in the submarine sequence the squeaky voiced boys are magically 18 and then magically revert to 13 or 14 in reverse shot. It’s possibly the most poignant laugh riot ever captured on film—it’s a coming-of-age story found only in the subtext.

The audience for this isn’t as niche or trendy as you might expect. The highlight of the San Francisco Indiefest screening I attended was the loud applause and commentary provided by a 6-year-old audience member perched on the lap of his shushing father. In one moment of particularly effective intensity, he whispered loudly, “Don’t you wish I was there to help? I’d say, ‘Be careful!’”

The brilliance and the joy of this travelogue through adolescence comes from the filmmakers’ creative problem solving. Stop-motion animation, a red marker and a map trace the route of Indy’s trip from Nepal to Cairo. At a loss for a spider monkey, the boys cast their dog Snickers as the “exotic animal” that follows Indy about and finally saves his life by dying from a bowl of poisoned foodstuff before said foodstuffs can meet Indy’s lips. Pipe cleaner spiders stand in for tarantulas in the opening cave scene and instead of a golden birthing statuette, the kids used a golden, coconut-shell monkey. You know, like the kind you find in souvenir shops. I could have sworn it said “Hawaii” on the back of it.

Reportedly, the film reached Spielberg by way of Eli Roth, who was its first big fan (well, outside of Mr. Zala, the director’s father), and the result was a big thank-you note from Spielberg to the kids, who only recently were hosted at Skywalker Ranch for an employees-only screening of the film.

You don’t have to be a lifelong fan of Indy Jones to appreciate this re-enactment. Nor do you have to be sober, a lesson I learned from the excited co-ed sitting in front of me. The Adaptation, which his due for a feature re-telling to be penned by Daniel Clowes, is the sort of film, like the one which inspired it, that easily worms it’s way into your heart. The love isn’t just on the screen, it’s all around.

Distributor: TBD
Cast: Chris Strompolos, Angela Rodriguez, Eric Zala, Ted Ross and Kurt Zala
Director: Eric Zala
Screenwriters: Lawrence Kasdan and Phillip Kaufman
Producer: Chris Strompolos
Genre: Action/Adventure
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 87 min
Release date: Unknown

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