Paramount // 1984 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // April 19th, 2000
That green-blooded son of a bitch. This is his revenge for all those arguments he lost.
Picking up right where Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan ended, Trek 3 opens with Kirk bringing crew and ship back to Earth. Things are not happy aboard the Enterprise, Kirk is still grieving over the death of Spock and Dr. McCoy is acting very strangely, almost like a man possessed.
Eager to return to the Genesis Planet created in the previous film, Kirk receives more bad news. Starfleet command feels, that at over 20 years old, the Enterprise has seen her day and is to be decommissioned. His crew dispersed and without a ship to command, Kirk is a man alone.
In other parts of the galaxy a black market exchange of information leads a renegade Klingon Commander to discover what Genesis and its device is. Thinking that to possess Genesis is to possess ultimate power, Commander Kruge cloaks his Bird of Prey and heads to the Genesis Planet to discover its secrets.
Meanwhile on the Genesis Planet itself, Lt. Saavik and Kirk's son, Dr. David Marcus have made a startling discovery. Life exists where there should be none. But what or who is this mystery lifeform?
At a gathering to honor their fallen comrade Kirk is visited by Spock's father, Sarek. Sarek demands to know why Kirk left his son's soul or katra behind. It is the Vulcan way to mindmeld with someone close when he knows the end of the body is near. Kirk explains that he was unable to touch Spock for the mindmeld to take place. Fearing everything his son was is lost, Sarek begins to leave. Kirk wonders if perhaps Spock would have found someone else to meld with. After viewing the Enterprise flight recorder, Kirk and Sarek discover who was on the receiving end of the mindmeld: the troubled Dr. McCoy.
Back on the Genesis Planet, Saavik discovers that the planet is unstable because Dr. Marcus used a dangerous substance in the matrix of the Genesis device. They also find the mysterious lifeform. It is the regenerated form of Captain Spock. It turns out that as the planet ages in spurts, so does Spock. While attempting to beam up to the science vessel in orbit, that ship is attacked and destroyed by its Klingon counterpart. Alone and stranded with an enemy in pursuit of them on the ground, Saavik, Marcus and a teenage Spock would appear to be doomed.
On Earth, Kirk has made his plea to get the Enterprise back for the mission to save Spock's soul. He is soundly rebuffed, so he does what any other strong willed Admiral would do. In the film's best sequence, he and crew steal the Enterprise.
With hostile Klingons willing to kill for the information they want and a planet surging out of control, will the Enterprise and its crew make it in time to save the day? Will Spock be saved, his body and mind once more made whole? What do you think?
When looking at the six films that featured the original crew, it is important to do a couple of things. First off, throw away the first and fifth movies in the series. Then take the sixth and final movie, Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country and place it to the side. What you have left, Star Trek 2, 3 and 4 make up the meat of the film series. These three films make up one big story told in three parts.
Why Paramount decided to release the series ass backwards, I can't tell you. But what we have here is the middle chapter in the Trek trilogy. As a middle chapter, or middle child if you will, it tends to be judged in light of what came before it and what would follow. Not as exciting or poignant as Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan nor as funny or socially conscious as Ster Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Search for Spock is not without its charms. It does have its action sequences down pat and the sense of family between the actors is always present. It does, however, have the darkest tone of the three movies and in many ways feels more like an episode of the TV series than any of the others. But those are not necessarily negatives.
Part of what made Wrath of Khan a good movie and what made The Motion Picture a bad one was that writer/director Nicholas Meyer let the characters grow old. Part of growing old is, of course, feeling ones own mortality and grieving for friends that have passed on. So in many ways the first act of Search for Spock is an elegy for a fallen friend. Not cheery material, by any stretch of the imagination, but material well worth mining. It's to the film's credit and the way the actors inhabit their characters that as an audience we buy into it. Once the second act kicks in we get the heroics usually thought of as "Star Trekian." It is also at this point that the movie loses some of it steam and originality.
It seems somewhat redundant to discuss the acting in a Star Trek movie. Shatner is Kirk just like Doohan is Scotty. What we want to see are the characters that we have been following and caring about for over 30 years now. None of the "regulars" disappoint.
It must be said though that in the movies, Shatner, more than any of the others, let his character grow. For someone who was already a cultural icon and nowadays a stereotype, he was able to grow as an actor in the trilogy. The funeral scene at the end of Trek 2 and the scene where he reacts to the death of his son in Trek 3 is probably the best acting he has ever done. I still remember being moved by both scenes when I saw them in the movie theatre, oh so many years ago.
The guest stars this time out are unusually lame. Christopher Lloyd (The Addams Family, Addams Family Values) has the evil, ambitious thing down but he sounds too much like Reverend Jim from his "Taxi" days. I kept expecting Danny DeVito to call down from the cage telling him to shut the hell up. Robin Curtis as the screen's second Lt. Saavik is barely passable and Merritt Butrick is just "okay" as Kirk's doomed son. Dame Judith Anderson (The Ten Commandments, Rebecca) brings a great sense of royalty to her role as the Vulcan High Priestess, but she seems strangely out of place. It's as if she walked in from another movie, someone threw some pointed ears on her and told her to sound grave. But who expects great acting in a Star Trek movie anyway?
As part of the deal with Paramount to put on the pointy ears once again, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock was the directorial debut of Leonard Nimoy. For a first effort it's not too bad. He certainly knew the material and what was required. I think because it was his first time out of the box, that Search for Spock has such a TV feel. Again, for a film with a built in following, that is not such a bad thing. While nothing in the film is groundbreaking, he does tell a quick, well-paced story. Never letting the camera get in the way, Nimoy wisely lets Kirk and company do their stuff.
On the technical side Paramount gives Star Trek III: The Search for Spock the red carpet treatment. The film is seen in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and it is given an anamorphic transfer. It's no surprise that the picture blows away what has been seen on VHS for years. With the exception of some film grain, the picture is just about perfect. Colors are beautifully rendered, blacks have a gorgeous amount of depth and detail and I could find no traces of edge enhancement. For a film that is 16 years old, this is one trek that looks great.
On the sound front Paramount has given Search for Spock an exciting 5.1 mix. Directional efforts are well utilized and dialogue comes across clear and easy to understand. The .1 LFE is not used a great deal but when it is, well, you will know it. The best part of the mix for me was how well James Horner's score came through. Jerry Goldsmith may have given Trek films a musical personality, but Horner's work cannot be discounted. It is rousing and engaging music that pushes the film along. Hearing it again makes me long for a disc of Star Trek music released in 5.1.
Then there are the extras, or rather, the lack thereof. Every time I have put my money down for a Trek disc something bothers me about it. I buy the disc knowing, in the back of my mind, that someday Paramount is going to release some kind of super-duper deluxe Trek film box set with commentary tracks, deleted scenes, documentaries, the works. I also know, like the fool they are counting on, I'm going to buy that one as well. I won't be happy about it but it's Trek! After seeing what Paramount has done for The General's Daughter and reading what they have planned for Sleepy Hollow, I know they can do special editions. I just hope that, they will start doing Trek special editions with Wrath of Khan. Also if you are watching Search for Spock for the first time, don't watch the theatrical trailer included. It is only Paramount's support for multiple language tracks and subtitles that save my extras score from being a zero.
If you do approach Treks II, III, and IV as a trilogy and look at Trek 6 as an epilogue, there is one name missing on Trek 3: Nicholas Meyer. Meyer pretty much saved the Trek film franchise and by extension, Trek as a whole. If he had not come along and remolded Trek in movie number 2, I can't imagine "Next Generation" ever getting started. Without "Next Generation," well...
As a writer/director, Meyer's style is very elegant, very literate, yet robust and physical at the same time. The movie misses his presence a great deal. I do think that the filmmakers knew Trek 3 was a middle child, as the running time on it is just over an hour and half. Off the top of my head I think it is the shortest of all the Trek movies. Again, this kind of plays into my mindset of this being the most TV-like of all the films.
Is Star Trek III: The Search for Spock a great movie? No, it is not. It is, however, the best of all the odd numbered movies and it does have its moments. If you are looking for a good time with characters that you love and care about, the movie will not let you down. If you are even a mild Star Trek fan you already have this disc on your shelf. If you are not a fan, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Do yourself a favor, don't watch this and look for the answers. Wait a couple of months for Wrath of Khan and then we can talk.
I'm not going to argue with 35 years of success. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock is free to explore space at its discretion. Paramount is implored by the court, once again, to give its releases as much effort on the extras front as they do on the technical side.
The adventure continues indeed. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Official Site