Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made Movie Poster Image
Story of kids' labor-of-love Indy remake is fun, moving.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 95 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

While some of the boys' decisions are certainly iffy (especially in retrospect), there's no denying the film's strong messages about perseverance, creativity, and ingenuity. And, of course, there's the idea that it's important to hang on to your dreams.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Childhood friends Chris, Eric, and Jayson have their ups and downs, but ultimately they manage to work together to produce something amazing. Their achievement is a testament to their shared passion and willingness to put in long hours on a project that was important to all of them. Some of their adult role models were iffy (the "chaperone" hired after the fire incident, for example), and some of their parents were criticized for lax supervision, but most of those parents proved to be supportive champions in the end.

Violence

Kids accidentally light each other on fire, use moving vehicles to drag each other over the ground, and get hit by any number of props -- all in the name of creative moviemaking. A key part of the film is recreating Raiders of the Lost Ark's famous airplane fight scene. It ends when the villain has an unpleasant encounter with a moving propeller, and it isn't pretty (either in clips from the real movie or in the re-creation). One actor suffers a nasty injury during filming, and there are some anxious moments (but he's OK).

Sex

Brief talk about teens dating/flirting/kissing.

Language

Infrequent swearing includes a use of "s--t," plus "goddamn," "sucks," "son of a bitch," middle-finger gestures, and one bleeped-out word.

Consumerism

The Alamo Drafthouse theater chain and its event programming are promoted.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Talk of people drinking beer. One of the men talks about a period in his life when he was an addict who used pot, cocaine, methamphetamines, and other drugs. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is a documentary about a group of Mississippi tweens who, in the early 1980s, decided to film a shot-for-shot remake of the blockbuster adventure film Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark -- a project that ultimately took several years and has stayed with them into their adult lives. The movie's structure is driven by the friends' reunion to film the one scene they were never able to complete, but much of it examines their friendship and movie-making activities in the '80s. Despite some iffy choices in the name of artistic creativity (they accidentally set each other on fire, as well as drag each other from vehicles, whack each other with props, etc.), brief references to drug use, and infrequent swearing ("goddamn," one us of "s--t," etc.), Raiders! is a testament to perseverance. While it may have the most appeal for adults who remember their own early Raiders experiences -- and understand the power of a childhood dream fulfilled -- the stories of the boys' ingenuity and hard work are bound to inspire today's tweens and teens, too.

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What's the story?

For most people, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is a fun -- and, sure, probably memorable -- night at the movies. But for Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos, and Jayson Lamb, the 1981 release of Steven Spielberg's classic film was life-changing. The three friends, then 11 years old, set out to make their own version of the movie, painstakingly recreating every shot over the next seven years in a project that took over the rest of their childhood. They filmed in and around their Mississippi homes, recruiting siblings, friends, and classmates to help out, eventually producing a surprisingly impressive homage to the adventure masterpiece; there was only one scene they were unable to film. RAIDERS!: THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE picks up the story three decades later when the guys, now adults with careers and families and responsibilities, again come together to finish their project.

 

Is it any good?

This documentary is a behind-the-scenes story of a film production, but it ultimately succeeds because it's so much more than that. Yes, an action-adventure movie made by and starring children is an impressive feat, but Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is mostly about relationships. It delves into the the bonds between Eric, Chris, and Jayson, and how those bonds frayed as they grew older and apart. It shows how their shared project helped shape them into adults -- and why finishing it is so important to them.

In interviews, the boys' mothers recall the film's haphazard production values and the kids' near-total lack of adult supervision (leading to several creative stunts involving fire that fortunately didn't get out control) -- and they also provide valuable insights into their sons' emotional development. When watching Raiders!, you root for the men to finally accomplish their goal, but, even more tellingly, you're happy to see how the kids who took on such an ambitious, interesting project grew up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what Raiders! means to Chris, Eric, and the others who worked on the project. Was it ever "just for fun," or did it always mean more? Has its significance changed decades later? How do the guys' friendships change as they get older?

  • How does the story of Raiders! illustrate perseverance? Why is that an important character strength? Do you think Chris and Eric were right to stick with the project as long as they did?

  • How have childhood and media changed since the 1980s, when the friends first began filming their movie? How would you go about a similar project today? What resources are available now that weren't then? How does that impact the way you view what the boys accomplished?

  • From the footage included in the movie, how does the remake compare to the original film? What do you think about the kids' filmmaking skills and techniques? What do they learn between the '80s and when they finish the film?

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