STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984)
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock had the deck stacked against it from the moment it was green-lit by Paramount Pictures. First, and most obviously, it had a tough act to follow and big shoes to fill after Wrath Of Khan was hailed by many as an instant classic and some of the finest moments of Star Trek yet seen. They also painted themselves into a corner by killing off Spock and now wanting to continue the cinematic series and thus needing to bring him back. Khan was supposed to be the last film but, now Trek was big again and to continue, our favorite Vulcan had to be part of it. And on top of all that, Khan director Nicholas Meyer was unhappy with the added epilogue to ST II that showed Spock’s burial tube on Genesis implying his death may not be final, and chose not to return. So, in essence they needed a sequel to hold it’s own against it’s predecessor, somehow bring back Spock and replace the director that put Star Trek back on the map after the universal disappointment with the stuffy and bloated ST:TMP. Which brings me to the big question… does ST III get a bit of a bum rap with all that was expected from it?
Well, yes and no…
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock picks up with the Enterprise limping home after it’s devastating battle with Khan and The Reliant. Kirk (William Shatner) is equally devastated by the death of his longtime friend, Spock and Dr. McCoy (Deforest Kelley) is also showing signs of odd behavior possibly brought on by grief. Kirk’s son (Merritt Butrick) and Lt. Saavik (now Robin Curtis) are headed to the Genesis planet for study and unknown to any of them, an ambitious Klingon Captain (Christopher Lloyd) has intercepted transmissions concerning Genesis and sees it’s uses as a weapon of power for the Klingon Empire. As the Klingons head for the restricted Genesis planet to steal it’s secrets, Kirk is visited by Spock’s father Sarek (Mark Leonard) and informed that Vulcans can transfer their essence and there is a chance Spock’s “Katra” has been transferred to another before death. It soon becomes apparent that McCoy now hosts Spock’s soul and Kirk must get to Genesis in the hopes his body is still within his burial tube and Spock can be restored. But, Starfleet forbids Kirk’s return there and now he must sacrifice everything he’s accomplished by stealing the Enterprise and going to the restricted planet against orders. And as the outlaw Kirk and his loyal crew race to Genesis, they are headed not only towards a confrontation with the Klingons but, a race against time as the Genesis planet has a dark secret that could spell doom for Kirk’s mission and all their lives. I like Trek III and despite it’s intrusive flaws, it’s a fun flick especially if you are a Trek fan but, it’s certainly far from a Wrath Of Khan. First problem is obvious from the story description, there is an overabundance of plot and it takes a long time before the plot elements and characters come together. The film starts to take off with the theft of The Enterprise but, it’s not till Kirk and company arrive on Genesis, wrecking the Enterprise in the process, that the film really starts to hit it’s stride. The film needed to address the return of Spock, yet also have some kind of conflict for entertainment purposes, and find a way to remove Genesis from the mix if the series was to continue without having to continually deal with it’s effects on the Star Trek world. And the film actually gets all this done but, at the cost of a more streamlined plot and a good degree of fun as the film can get heavy handed when dealing with the life and death issues that surround Spock and the Genesis device and it’s theme of how far will you go to help the ones you love. Taking advantage of Paramount’s desire to have Spock return, Nimoy landed himself the directing gig replacing Meyer. And while I don’t think he did a bad job, his lack of experience does show with the film resembling a TV episode in tone and look, where the story could have used a more epic feel with it’s disintegrating planets and starship confrontations. The pacing and tone are uneven with the first half moving rather slowly and picking up speed once Kirk and company leave Earth and going from dead serious one minute to borderline goofy the next such as some humor involving the Klingons who needed to remain fierce. But, Nimoy also creates some wonderfully Star Trek moments… the theft of The Enterprise being my favorite… and the camaraderie between the characters is as endearing as always. There is some nice action in the second half and the climactic scenes on Vulcan do carry the emotional weight intended. The SPFX are really good from ILM again and this time no stock footage. The sets once again look cheesy but, being that the whole thing reminds one of a TV episode, it’s not as intrusive as one might expect. And there is some very weak dialog too but, again, Star Trek has always had it’s own way of phrasing things and it’s own jargon so, this isn’t as damaging as it could be. As for the cast, everyone recreates their beloved characters just fine though, Nimoy isn’t as adept at restraining Shatner as Meyer and Shat does fall back into some of the hamminess he’s famous for yet, does have some very strong scenes too. Newcomers range between good to outright bad, such as Phillip R. Allen who is dreadful as Grissom Captain Esteban. Christopher Lloyd is a good villain but, every time he speaks you hear Reverend Jim from Taxi which was fresh in everyone’s mind when this was released. The effect has warn off over time but, was very noticeable back then. Robin Curtis replaces Kirstie Alley as Saavik and is a bit wooden even for a Vulcan, which might explain why the character sadly disappeared after a brief appearance in ST IV. Fans really loved Saavik and it was odd they introduced new characters like her and Kirk’s son and then did away with them. David is especially wasted in this as he doesn’t do much but look wide eyed at the Genesis planet and then pouts when he discovers his device is flawed. Luckily composer James Horner returned and gives another epic score to enhance the flick and the cameo from Mark Leonard is a pleasure as he brings a power and dignity to Ambassador Sarek that the series made good use of with his return in IV and VI. But, flaws aside, ST III is still enjoyable and contains some fun lines and classic Star Trek moments giving each cast member a memorable scene to punctuate their appearances. It is certainly nowhere near the train wreck that Shatner’s ST V is or the mind numbingly dull Insurrection. To a degree Search For Spock had too much to measure up to in the eyes of fans, especially with a first time director, but, the fact that it did have so much to accomplish and actually does get as much done despite it’s flaws, earns the film a bit more credit then it is given. And despite all that was stacked up against it, it still is a fun romp especially once it gets going and it does return some of the TV episode level charm whether that was the intention or not. It’s a flawed but, still entertaining entry in the series and Nimoy would grow as a director with the following and very entertaining Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home that became the series biggest hit till J.J. Abrams took Trek mainstream.
3 stolen starships!