April 25, 2008

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation

We're getting close to go time for the new Indiana Jones movie so I've been nosing around refreshing myself on Indie lore and came across something that I was completely unaware of -  Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark:  The Adaptation.  Its a shot-by-shot remake of the original Indiana Jones movie made by three teenagers in Mississippi from 1982-1989 and it is freaking brilliant on so many levels, or at least what I've been able to track down makes me think so.  The best source is this great (very long) 2004 article from Vanity Fair detailing the making of the film and its emergence on the cult/underground movie scene.  It is SO worth reading, here's a bit:
The show went on. Eric began transforming his basement into a Nepalese bar. His father may have drunk too much, but all those empty green wine jugs made nice props for this sequence, which required two scary elements: (1) fire, which engulfs the bar after a gunfight, and (2) a girl to play Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s love interest. A classmate named Stephanie Ewing got the part, because she had the right hair color and said yes. Jayson checked a magic book to find the ratio of isopropyl alcohol to water necessary for creating flames that would burn out quickly.

Eric figured it might be a good idea to film the bar sequence when his mom was out, since he’d be setting the basement on fire, not to mention himself. To play the bit part known in the Raiders of the Lost Ark credits as Ratty Nepalese—probably the most dangerous role in the film, since the character seemingly burns to death—Eric wore a turban, a fake mustache, and a long purple robe with clothes underneath as protection. Action. Enter the Himalayan henchmen, led by Toht the Nazi torturer, played with evil glee by a baby-faced kid named Ted Ross. Ted held a flaming poker close to Stephanie, who delivered her lines in a Mississippi drawl. Chris, as Indy, cracked the bullwhip, and the poker fell from Ted’s hand.

The flames rose and died quickly, as planned. Then came Eric’s big moment as the Ratty Nepalese. For a reason no one recalls, he asked that the back of his robe be doused not with isopropyl but with gasoline. The gas was lit. Eric screamed. Jayson got the shot. Two kids were supposed to put Eric out by smothering him in a blanket, but in a panic they fanned him. The flames rose. The smell of singed hair filled the room. Chris grabbed a fire extinguisher they had on hand and blasted his friend with the powdery spray. “No!” screamed Eric—not because he was on fire but because he wanted the extinguisher emptied only in an emergency, and this, in his opinion, didn’t qualify. It costs real money to refill a fire extinguisher. One month into filming, Eric was already thinking of the budget.

Back at WLOX, the boys really liked what they saw. It was cool. But a tech worker was not so thrilled by footage of a screaming 13-year-old kid with a burning back in a room full of flames. He told a colleague—Chris’s mother. She watched it, horrified, and called Eric’s mother to tell her what had been going on in her house while she was out. By order of the moms, production was shut down, at least for the rest of the summer of ’83.
Next, you can get a taste of their dedication in making the film by watching the first ten minutes on YouTube:

The film is still popping up at festivals and several sources I saw mentioned that Paramount had purchased the rights to make a film based on the story of the remake.  For a kid growing up a few hours north of Ocean Springs/Biloxi who had a similar love affair with comic books, Indiana Jones, and tramping through imaginary worlds with his friends this is just about the best thing I've read in quite a while.

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