Imagining yourself as Indiana Jones in the thick of adventure wasn't difficult to accomplish during the 1980s. He was a fixture of screen heroism and pre-teen cool; a surrogate father for adolescent boys with unfathomable imaginations. However, what would happen if the adoration, that pure impulse of cinematic love, turned into extensive homespun flattery? What of three boys from Alabama, still tipsy from their "Raiders" theatrical experience, decided to create their very own backyard version of the Steven Spielberg pearl armed only with sky-high intentions, collective allowances, and a Betamax camera?
"Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation" is the fruit of this inconceivable labor and a cartwheel of a viewing experience. In the summer of 1982, Chris Strompolos (playing Indy), Eric Zala (playing Belloq and directing), and Jayson Lamb (cinematographer and FX mastermind) hatched a plan to create a shot-for-shot remake of "Raiders" as a way to pay tribute to the picture that rocked their world. The next seven years of their lives would be devoted to this monster endeavor, taking them on a joyride of unique growing pains.
Judge "Adaptation" by its cover, and the embarrassments are too numerous to list. For starters, the pimpled creature called puberty is all over the picture. Since "Adaptation" was shot hilariously out of sequence over a seven-year time period, Strompolos ages up and down during the course of the film. At times he plays Indy like a nervous 12 year-old child, while other moments reveal a much more confident young man with a deep voice and a boost in acting abilities. Keep in mind that some of these whiplash changes occur mid-scene. Once you hear the classic line, "It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage" coming from an actor likely sans pubic hair, it's hard not to feel a least a little dizzy from the wallop of misplaced intention.
Another stain on the production is the camerawork, which jumps in quality depending on the year of the shoot and the superiority of the format. It's no surprise that many of the finest shots in "Adaptation" were achieved during the production's twilight in 1988, when the world of VHS was hitting its prime and Zala was at his most confident as a director/enthusiast.
One could easy frown at the limitations of "Adaptation," but that's missing the point by a country mile. It's a big wet smooch to Spielberg, youthful ambition, and suburban stuntwork; every single moment a triumph of construction-paper integrity and geeky exuberance. Even for those who refuse comfort at the altar of "Raiders," it's still an enthralling, undeniably uproarious odyssey of children who spent their entire formative years pretending they were big screen men, even if they had to spread ash on their cheeks to pull off thirtysomething stubble.
Impressive is Zala and Strompolos's craving to match their film to Spielberg's most crackerjack creation. Staging complex action recreations in family basements, back alleys, or wherever they could find even the slightest permission, "Adaptation" pushes the boundaries of childhood innocence with bountiful amounts of fire-drenched, gunshot-wild action beats (more scary than funny), a rolling fiberglass boulder, and limb-testing stunts that would've just killed their mothers, had they known what the boys were truly up to.
The invention is most of the fun here, observing the production dream up ways to reconstruct iconic moments from "Raiders." Most of the action is incredibly faithful, the boys giving their top effort to preserve what they adored about the source material. To spy stop-motion animated map sequences and iffy-looking set recreation (pine trees in Cairo?) is a thing of homespun beauty; the boys' enthusiasm only matched by their limitations and the cruel passage of time. Hearing pinched sound effects from muddy "Raiders" audio sources is also a gas, adding monumentally to the fandom angle of the whole shebang. I especially loved the detailed costume work juxtaposed with cheapy fake beards, used to convince the audience that a 10-year-old white kid is Indy's homeboy, Sallah.
The list of "Adaptation" delights is without end: watching Strompolos engage in his first kiss with a very game Angela Rodriguez, taking top honors as the most identifiable timecode in her role as Marion; the six year-olds in grass skirts portraying angry Hovitos; the use of local pet store snakes for the Well of Souls sequence; hiring Snickers the dog to replace the date-lovin' monkey from the original film (complete with a fishing-line-enhanced paw "Sieg Heil"); the askew detail of the props; drinking in the makeshift rolling thunder of the Ark finale, which actually attempts to mimic the face-melting-and-ghostbusting of the original film. Does it pull it off? Well, the boys certainly get an A for effort.
Shamefully, the line of homage stops abruptly before the airfield fight between Indy and the beefy German mechanic. The action jumps right to the truck chase, which is executed with head-slapping bravery and delicious little regard for personal safety, but to lose such a bravura sequence when every other possible angle of the picture is attended to? It's like Christmas without the presents.
"The Adaptation" works primarily as a time capsule of innocence that was gently nursed into obsession. This stitched-together masterpiece of low-fi execution is a chilling testament to the indefatigable persistence of boyhood, bolted to an amateur cinematic expression of bliss that's gone unintentionally supernova. "Adaptation" is a treasure of comedy, marvel, and accomplishment that fails to surface much these days, and I cheer Zala, Strompolos, and Lamb's determination to keep their efforts afloat in the face of what must've been unholy odds against success or, at the very least, completion.
For further online adventure, please visit brianorndorf.com