Picks and Pans Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark

updated 07/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

An inspired, all-star collaboration of director Steven (Jaws) Spielberg, producer George (Star Wars) Lucas and screenwriter Lawrence (The Empire Strikes Back) Kasdan, this film is a volcano of creative ideas in full eruption—the modern high action adventure against which all others must now be measured. Lucas wanted to do a film about a daredevil archeologist set in the 1930s and modeled on that era's cliff-hanger serials. With the help of Philip Kaufman, who directed 1978's The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he sketched a plot that pits his hero, Harrison Ford, against the Nazis. They're searching for the Ark of the Covenant—a golden chest, lost since 980 B.C. and said to contain the broken tablets of the Ten Commandments. Since biblical lore suggests the Ark will be recovered at the true Messiah's coming, Hitler is hot to have it. "He's a nut on the subject," a U.S. government agent announces. Ford, armed only with a bullwhip and his sharp-tongued ladylove (Karen Allen), sets out to save the Ark for democracy. Historical fact does not figure prominently in these proceedings, but fun does. Spielberg has staged the most exultantly good-humored, head-on, rousing series of traps and escapes since Pauline was eluding her perils. Cheers, too, for Ford's satirical approach to macho, Allen's Jean Arthur-ish zest and the venomous villainy of Paul Freeman and Ronald Lacey. But the show actually belongs to Lucas and Spielberg. They lavish mint-fresh inventiveness on every frame and raise movie escapism very near the level of art. (PG)

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