Studio shot of the making of the fan film "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Clockwise from left: Chris Strompolos as Indiana Jones, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb. (Rolling Boulder Films)
December 21, 2012

We are children of the 1970s. We had action figures. (We still might.) We dressed as Han Solo for Halloween. (We still might.) We had Indiana Jones lunchboxes and played Indiana Jones videogames. (We still might.)

We are men of a certain age — that is, between 30 and 45 — and we love Harrison Ford.

Of course, not all of us spent seven years in the 1980s filming a low-budget, shot-by-shot remake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with a camcorder. Unless IMDb.com is a liar, that is the signature accomplishment of Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala, two Mississippians who spent way too much of their teens making “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation” (hereafter, “ROTLATA”). With co-author Alan Eisenstock (see: “Cancer on $5 a Day” and “Just a Guy: Notes on a Blue Collar Life”), Strompolos and Zala memorialize their salad days in “Raiders!”, the nostalgic tale of two young men so obsessed with a movie that they decided to make it again.

In recalling those days, the auteurs-turned-authors had an opportunity. What did they learn by revisiting their childhood fetish? Did “ROTLATA” prefigure the Internet’s deep ocean of fan fiction, such as tribute and parody videos? Why did their meager $5,000 movie, championed by “Grindhouse” director Eli Roth, find an audience? And why is the 30-to-45 set so obsessed with Indy — a colonialist grave robber?

This melodramatic bromance doesn’t swim in such deep waters. The book opens after Hurricane Katrina, when Zala enlists Strompolos to help clean up his family’s home, where much of “ROTLATA” was filmed. Their friendship has been less than steady, but they go way back, man. “Leaning on their shovels, blinking into the dark of the basement, a maze of hidden rooms where they spent so much of their childhood, so much of their lives,” they write, they “stand shoulder to shoulder and peer into their past.”


"Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made" by Alan Eisenstock. (Thomas Dunne )

Unfortunately, this past is largely a recounting of the substantial technical hurdles tweens face when adapting a blockbuster. Steven Spielberg’s film has submarines, underground tombs, a prewar German airplane with propellers that chop off a bad guy’s head and Nazis whose faces melt when they open the Ark of the Covenant, unleashing Jehovah’s wrath. Although “ROTLATA” dispenses with the plane, everything else is there — even the huge boulder that threatens to squish Indy in the film’s opening sequence. Not bad for kids whose main soundstage is one of their parents’ basements.

The novelty wears off quickly, though. “ROTLATA” may be the greatest fan film ever made, but it’s just a fan film. Does anyone care whether its faux boulder was made of duct tape, a cable spool, chicken wire, a weather balloon or fiberglass? Meanwhile, Strompolos and Zala’s offscreen troubles are strictly “Dawson’s Creek.” One goes to boarding school, leaving the other behind. A woman comes between them. One of them loses interest in the project. Wouldn’t you?

And while “Raiders” isn’t investigative journalism, its sourcing would make a reporter blanch. Eisenstock et al quote liberally from unrecorded conversations about storyboards and special effects that took place during the Reagan and Bush I administrations.

At least the filmmakers are persistent. Even police called to their “sets” by suspicious neighbors think so. “I got a kid your age,” a cop tells the crew in an alley in Gulfport, Miss., that doubles as Cairo. “Can’t get him out of the house. He just watches TV, eats junk food and lies like a lump on the couch. Least you’re doing something.”

If only they had done something original. Spielberg made 8mm movies as a teenager (and recently produced “Super 8,” the J.J. Abrams-directed flick that pays tribute to underage filmmakers). But Zala, after attending film school at NYU, abandoned a career in movies to work in the videogame industry. Strompolos cultivated a meth habit before becoming a rock-and-roll singer. Yet they still travel together, screening their 20-year-old movie. Sure, maybe they should be dining out on something else by now, but “ROTLATA” is a testament to their continued devotion to their early work.

Spoiler alert: In the end, Strompolos and Zala get to meet Spielberg. Sadly, Ford doesn’t show.

Moyer is an editorial aide for The Post’s Outlook section.

Raiders

The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

By Alan Eisenstock with Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala

Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s. 306 pp. $25.99

Justin Moyer is the deputy editor of the Morning Mix.