PHOTO ESSAY

Indy Spirit

Raiders of the Lost Ark: the remake

By Katrina Onstad
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Left to right: Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb.
Left to right: Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb.

In 1981, Chris Strompolos, aged 10, was very attached to his Raiders of the Lost Ark comic book. He felt certain that only one boy on his school bus to Christ Episcopal Day School, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, could truly understand the magic of Indiana Jones, the fedora-wearing hero of the George Lucas-Steven Spielberg blockbuster action film. That boy was Eric Zala, a skinny kid a year older than Chris — a sixth grader — known around school for his own hand-drawn comics. Eric dug the book when Chris shared it with him, and Chris, ever confident, said: "Let’s take a meeting." Chris told Eric he wanted to make a movie, a shot-by-shot recreation of Raiders. From the pitch, Eric thought the sets and costumes were ready to go, but in fact, Chris had decided only two things: he would play Indy, and Eric would direct.

The boys eventually enlisted a third friend, Jayson Lamb, who did camera work and special effects Jayson had impressed Chris with a haunted house he’d designed for the school the year before — and for the next seven and a half years, mostly on summer breaks, the three made Raiders: The Adaptation, with help from friends and parents. The uncannily accurate reproduction, initially shot on a Sony Betamax rented by Chris’s mom, is replete with a massive fiberglass boulder and Chris’s dog, Snickers, in the part of Indiana’s sidekick monkey.

As they got older, Eric and Chris fought over girls and stopped filming, eventually becoming friends again long enough to finish the film. After one screening in 1989, all three forgot about it. Chris ended up in L.A., trying to break into entertainment. Eric lives in Orlando, Florida, where he works at Electronic Arts, the video and computer game company. Jayson became a multimedia artist in California.

In 2002, a copy of the film fell into the hands of director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever), who loved its whimsy and ingenuity, and brought it to the attention of Steven Spielberg. A much-read piece in Vanity Fair ensued, and a Hollywood bidding war broke out. The three signed their life rights to producer Scott Rudin for a reported mid-six figures, and a feature film about these boys’ lives is due in 2006.

Next month, Torontonians will get a rare chance to see Indiana as he gets taller and his voice breaks when Raiders: The Adaptation plays at the Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children. Though there has never been a cease and desist order, the three filmmakers have agreed that they will not financially benefit from showing the film. Instead, Raiders: The Adaptation plays only at non-profit festivals or fundraisers. Piracy is a huge concern, and one of the three travels with the film to all locations. Advance copies are not made available to the press. "Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Lucas have given us a strange and silent endorsement and we’re not going to exploit it," says Strompolos on the phone from L.A. He will accompany the movie to Toronto. "We want to stay true to the spirit in which it was created." They want it to remain pure.

In his own words and pictures, the story of Raiders: The Adaptation, by Chris Strompolos.
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