Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was a runaway success and left the ultimate fate of Spock uncertain. Leonard Nimoy was not interested in playing the character anymore in order to focus on other more varied film roles, but when the offer came for him to reprise the iconic Vulcan he took full advantage of the corner he had unintentionally backed the producers into – if they wanted him to play Spock again he was going to take on the directorial duties of the third installment. He left them with no choice but to accept.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock begins right after the previous film ended; Spock is dead, his body left behind on the newly formed Genesis Planet. Kirk (William Shatner) is ordered to return to Earth so that the Enterprise can be decommissioned from service. He disobeys his orders when he learns that Spock transferred his consciousness into McCoy (DeForest Kelley) before sacrificing himself, and along with the crew steals the Enterprise to return to Genesis to hopefully resurrect his friend. Unbeknownst to them a murderous Klingon (Christopher Lloyd) is hungry to unlock the secrets of Genesis and plans to kill anyone who gets in the way of his conquest.
If Star Trek II had a dark, yet somewhat uplifting arc to its story, it’s safe to say that the mood of Star Trek III is downright grim. Kirk essentially spits on his military career, his son is murdered and the Enterprise is destroyed. There is a point in the film where we see Kirk hit rock bottom and nearly gives up (“You Klingon bastard, you killed my son!”), a first for the character. It’s all done in the traditional Trek way; even in the darkest of moments there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

William Shatner gives the performance of his career as Kirk in this installment, no doubt attempting to impress his co-star-turned-director. Basically Kirk has lost everything he holds dear and must, quite literally, fight to the death to get them back. Shatner proves that he’s up to the task regardless of his usual overblown melodrama moments (“I…have had…enough of YOU!”).
DeForest Kelley gets a few moments to shine even though he’s still relegated to the role of comic relief (“That green-blooded son of a bitch. It’s his revenge for all the arguments he lost.”). His heart to heart with the unconscious Spock near the end shows that he has the dramatic chops when required. Everyone gets something pretty cool to do, be it Sulu’s jailbreak assist (“Don’t call me tiny.”), Scotty sabotaging the Excelsior (“The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.”), Chekov pulling both tactical and science duty and Uhura’s giving a what for to an eager young Ensign (“Now get in the closet!”). Although I don’t know exactly what was up with Uhura disappearing for the entire second act, but whatever.

Kirstie Alley chose not to reprise her role as Saavik, so Robin Curtis was brought in to take her place. She doesn’t quite have the stoic Vulcan thing down as well as her predecessor, but she does a decent job. Merritt Butrick returns as Kirk’s son David Marcus. He gets to do some of the adventuring himself along with Saavik instead of standing around and whining like an asshole like he did in the last flick, and his character’s death (another sacrifice… I’m seeing a pattern here) is a horrifically sad moment. Christopher Lloyd is yet another great villain as Kruge, the uncompromising Klingon ship captain. He can snarl and scowl like no other. While he does tend to go overboard once in a while (“KILL THOSE BASTARDS!”) he never comes close to Montalban’s turn as Khan.
There’s not much action in this installment, but there is a short Enterprise vs. Klingon Bird of Prey dogfight. Don’t forget, this was the first appearance of the Bird of Prey which became a staple of all the following Star Trek films and television spin-offs. There’s an exciting scene where Kirk and crew steal the Enterprise out of an orbital starbase and a brutal fistfight between Kirk and Kruge.

Leonard Nimoy managed to not screw up his first feature length film like I remember most people thinking he would. He has an eye for detail, isn’t afraid to go to dark places to tell the story and apparently has a knack for getting his actors to give their all (duh!). This movie not only made him a sought after director during the 80s, but kept the franchise on track.
There are some issues I have to bring up because this flick is far from the masterpiece that The Wrath of Khan was. Pacing is a definite issue. The film sags in the middle with most of the Genesis stuff since the idea of the planet itself being linked to Spock returning to life is kind of dumb and hokey. Also, David is made to look like a massive hypocrite after revealing that he “cheated” while creating the Genesis Device. A lot of the plot developments seem ultra-convenient, especially when Kirk and crew show up on the Genesis planet just as Spock reaches the age he was when he died. The mega histrionic finale is a little overdone as well.

I also have to mention that James Horner turned in another fantastically epic score here. I remember being extremely disappointed that he didn’t return for the following film, especially since it closes out the “trilogy”. Some musical continuity through all three films would have been amazing.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock isn’t as awesome as Star Trek II, but it’s not too shabby on its own. There are some great character moments and a lot of developments reminded me of the original series. It’s a moody and flawed sci-fi yarn that is entertaining and fun, but it could have been a whole lot better. Still, I like it a whole lot.

4 out of 5

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