Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Starring: William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, Christopher Lloyd, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Merritt Butrick, Robin Curtis
(out of 4)
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Wow, you mean Star Trek 2 was a rousing critical and commercial success? We need to continue the movie line? We shouldn’t have killed Spock? The hell, you say. Well, you know that the good of the many outweigh the good of the one. The “many” being Paramount employees and the “one” being Spock’s character arc. Okay, that’s not a completely fair statement – Spock as a character would do just fine in the Star Trek universe from here on out. But first things first – we gotta bring him back.
And with that in mind, Star Trek 3 begins with Kirk and crew returning to Earth in a beat up Enterprise only to learn that the ship will be decommissioned. “Jim, the enterprise is 20 years old. We feel her day is over.” While still in mourning over Spock’s death, Kirk’s life becomes more complicated as Dr. McCoy is inexplicably going insane, and Spock’s dad Sarek (Mark Lenard) shows up to berate him for not taking Spock to Vulcan like he was supposed to do (getting yelled at by a Vulcan must be worse then being scolded by your parents). The admiral is understandably confused – why bring Spock’s body to Vulcan? Well, he’s not the only one confused – I have the same question. We learn that Spock’s little mind meld with McCoy in the last movie was actually a transference of his “Katra” (consciousness, or soul, if you are religious) into McCoy just before death. This is about as close as Star Trek ever gets to discussing the metaphysical or the spiritual – the great bird of the galaxy Gene Roddenberry being an atheist. This doesn’t mean he wasn’t “spiritual”, of course, but I don’t recall issues of the soul ever being discussed on the show (if this is wrong, somebody let me know). I might also wonder, if there are people who believe in the soul, why they wouldn’t raise a stink about the transporters, which effectively kill you and reassemble you at the other end (I sympathize with Dr. McCoy on this – you’ll never get me onto a transporter pad).
But the issue at the center of my confusion is never addressed by Star Trek III, and it’s kind-of important. If Spock’s Katra is to be transmitted from McCoy to the Vulcan population (or maybe a particular Vulcan or perhaps some kind of storage device), why is Spock’s dead body required? What is the point of Kirk and company stealing the Enterprise to go to the Genesis planet (quarantined at this point) when all they had to do was just hire a ship to take them to Vulcan? Honestly, there is no point – it’s only necessary because the plot requires it, because the writers of the film, probably in a rush to meet studio demands and deadline dates, did not think this story through. What’s funny is that I have seen Trek 3 many times and I never really thought about this illogical plot point until recently, which probably speaks well for Leonard Nimoy’s direction and the film’s fast paced script.
Yes, I like Trek 3, despite the fact that it is a rushed film that never really slows down except for two scenes – one involving Sarek’s mind meld with Kirk, and the ending ceremony which takes place on Vulcan. The movie is very plot driven, and despite the cheesy effects (it looks like a similar budget to Trek 2; IMDB says it was actually more) it is an enjoyable space adventure. This is probably because we know all of the classic characters and care about what happens to them, but still, there are scenes that are a lot of fun for non-Trekkies. The sequence where our crew kidnaps McCoy and hijacks the Enterprise is done right, containing the proper mix of action, suspense, and humor. The movie has the elements of a Greek tragedy and plays that way for much of the running time (Kirk’s son’s death and the death of the Enterprise alongside Spock’s rebirth). It has a good performance by Christopher Lloyd as the Klingon baddie Kruge, who is an even bigger asshole than Khan. There’s amusing dialogue throughout – I liked it when Kruge got political (in response to a Klingon warrior in awe of the Genesis device’s ability to make planets, he says “Oh yes. New cities, homes in the country. Your woman at your side, children playing at your feet, and overhead, fluttering in the breeze, the flag of the Federation. Charming.”) Shatner gives a performance just as good as the last one – playing Kirk with a subdued demeanor but giving the needed range when the plot calls for it (his reaction at his son’s death is well played). The one time the old TV show Kirk shows up is during the fight with Kruge, which works there too as it is understandably born of frustration at how irrational Kruge is (“I… have had… enough of.. you!”).
Not everything works – Robin Curtis’s portrayal as Lt. Saavik, while attempting to approximate a Vulcan, is still too wooden (granted, Kirstie Alley wasn’t that great either). She grills David in a strange manner (“How many have paid the price for your impatience? How many have died? How much damage have you done, and what is yet to come?”). Well as far as I can tell, nobody has died because of anything David has done. Also, what’s with the disappearance of Carol Marcus? This movie (and Star Trek 4) not only forgets her but strips her of credit for the Genesis device and puts it all on David. Minor quibbles, really – these two characters are given limited screen time (along with Nicols) – they are used only to help propel the plot forward. I will address a philosophical issue here while discussing criticism of Star Trek III – many people are put off by the “reversing” of Trek 2‘s mantra – they say that Trek 3 is telling us that the good of the one is more important than the good of the many (Spocks mother will actually say this in the next movie). I don’t agree with this criticism, and I don’t even feel that utilitarianism was the point of the last movie either. Treks 2 and 3 are about sacrifice, friendship, and family – Spock sacrifices himself for his crew, so now his crew are sacrificing themselves for him. It’s that simple – there is no moral or ethical dilemma involved here, even though the writers want to tell us so. Everybody in Trek 3 makes an individual choice and accepts the consequences; Kirk forces nobody to do his bidding.
What we are left with is a film not as good as The Motion Picture or The Wrath of Khan but worthy of Trek all the same. I am still bewildered by those who believe in the odd-numbered curse. What curse? Three films in; so far, so good.
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