Action! Adventure! Escape! If you were an 11-year-old boy in 1981 you longed to be Indiana Jones and the summer of 1981 was spent closing your eyes pretending the frayed jump-rope in your hand was a bullwhip, reimagining your flat, faceless, suburban surroundings as a forbidden, exotic jungle and that an abandoned 7-11 Slurpee cup was an ancient religious artifact as the soaring John Williams "Raiders" score ping-ponged from the back of your mind to the front of it.
And then the summer of 1981 ended, the makeshift jump-rope bullwhip got retired and casually tossed behind a clothes hamper as the John Williams theme music slowly faded and the school year began.
If you were an 11-year-old misfit boy from a recently broken home living in Mississippi in 1981 that grip on the bullwhip never lessened. The grip tightened as if it were clinging to a lifeline. Turned out it was a lifeline. The adventure and romance of Harrison Ford brandishing a bullwhip and a smirk as he raced, battled and escaped bloodthirsty Nazis by the brim of his dusty Fedora was all good but the promise of a last second Indy-style escape from a stifling home life and dead end future was even better.
"Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made" is a documentary that chronicles the stirring saga of three 11-year-old outcasts who chose to devote all 7 summers of their adolescence fixated on creating a shot-by-shot remake of "Raiders of the Lost Ark". While their peers go through the adolescent cycle of attending proms, getting their drivers licenses and diligently preparing their futures the boys remain fully committed summer after summer to their would-be masterpiece.
While their finished product is not a masterpiece by conventional cinematic standards (acting, special effects, production budget etc.) their triumph lies in the steadfast endurance and reckless ingenuity they show in bringing their re-creation to life as they strictly adhere to their hero's mantra of "making it up as you go" over the years-long course of their production. This "making it up as they go" includes repurposing the basement of your mother's house as the primary shooting location, sacrificing one's eyebrows for your craft, and using a family dog, Snickers, as a stand-in for the Capuchin monkey from "Raiders".
What distinguishes their remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark from the other major studio, star studded big-budgeted, "re-imaginings" such as "Pete's Dragon", "Ben-Hur" and "Ghostbusters" that moviegoers have been bludgeoned to death with this summer is far easier to uncover than a long, lost hidden artifact. It is as easy to find as a black velvet Day-Glo Easter egg hidden beneath a fluorescent spotlight: the teen's "Raiders!" remake was pushed into existence not by some clueless studio bean counters looking to relaunch an "established brand" with marketing synchronicity but by three passionate adolescent outcasts on a quest for a holy grail.
"Raiders!" is a charming coming-of-age movie about three adolescents trying to recreate their favorite film. But it is ultimately about the existential heartbreaks and growing pains that mark the winding, sometimes wounding, path that leads from boyhood to adulthood. It is a path filled with far more frightening and painful things than the slithering, hissing pythons found at the bottom of the Well of Souls - abusive stepparents, first heartbreaks and the bittersweet distance that slowly develops between childhood friends as each begins to round the corner into adulthood.
There may not be second acts in American lives as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously opined but there are remakes, sequels and special editions. The second part of "Raiders!" focuses on the friends regrouping decades later as grown adults who have endured divorces, addictions and assorted personal failures to finish the one missing scene from their "Raiders" adaptation that they were too young, overwhelmed and penniless to reconstruct - the classic scene where Indy battles a shirtless, mustachioed, shaved head Incredible Hulk-looking Nazi in the shadows the dicing blades of a plane (spoiler alert-Indy wins the battle as the Nazi goon ends up getting pureed like a ripe tomato in the blades of the plane's propeller).
Continuity questions of reshooting a scene with a cast that has considerably aged since the rest of the initial footage was shot are of no concern and never addressed. And why should they be? Holy grails once discovered deliver the promise of eternal youth. And in waiting until middle age to capture the final shot of their adolescence for all eternity that is exactly what these filmmakers have done.
They have unknowingly and without irony created their own future artifact.
They have both persevered and preserved. Held on. Refused to defer their dreams to a VHS tape tucked in tightly at the bottom of a bedroom drawer. Their meeting with Spielberg near the film's end feels as triumphant as Rocky Balboa reaching the top of the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and iconically pumping both fists up in slow motion toward the heavens.