Jammer's Review

"Star Trek III: The Search for Spock"

***

Theatrical release: 6/1/1984
DVD special edition release: 10/22/2002
PG; 1 hr. 45 min.
Written and produced by Harve Bennett
Directed by Leonard Nimoy

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

November 13, 2002

"My father says that you have been my friend. You came back for me."
"You would've done the same for me."
"Why would you do this?"
"Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many."

And there you have the underlying message of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Star Trek III is like a parallel, mirrored version of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Both films are about life and death, sacrifice and renewal. If Spock made the ultimate sacrifice in Star Trek II, then Star Trek III is about how Kirk and his crew — making their own sacrifices — try to repay that debt in order to save Spock.

The Search for Spock is the companion to but not the equal of The Wrath of Khan. It grows logically, emotionally, even philosophically from the events and themes of the previous film, so much so that the themes and the way they line up with the previous film are almost more respectable than this film in and by itself. That's not to say The Search for Spock isn't a good film. It is a good film, although it does not strike us in the way its predecessor did, perhaps because the underlying events are not always quite so immediate, convincing, or unexpected.

Although Trek III's storyline wasn't planned at the time of Trek II's conclusion, there was a single, brief, vague seed intentionally planted near the end of Trek II — where Spock mind-melds with McCoy and says only, "Remember." Crafty filmmakers keep their options open, and screenwriter/producer Harve Bennett did exactly that with the conclusion of Trek II. He picks right up from there to tell the story of Trek III, which takes place only a matter of weeks (I believe) after the previous film, as Enterprise limps home with a skeleton crew. Kirk's personal log is marvelous in setting an initial somber tone — establishing the quiet following the storm that was Trek II's costly showdown with Khan. Says Kirk's narration: "The Enterprise feels like a house with all the children gone. No — more empty even than that. The death of Spock is like an open wound."

The death of Spock will not for one minute be lost upon the audience, and the filmmakers make it clear to us that life aboard the Enterprise is anything but normal. The early scenes reveal that the Enterprise itself has apparently reached the end of its life; the wheels of Starfleet's bureaucracy are in full motion, having reached not only the conclusion that Genesis is an off-limits place and forbidden topic of discussion, but that the Enterprise herself is no longer worth refitting and should be decommissioned. "Jim, the Enterprise is 20 years old," says Admiral Morrow. "We feel her day is over."

And then a somewhat emotional Sarek appears and reveals to Kirk that Spock's knowledge and experience, his "living spirit" — his Katra — is at risk of being lost forever since Spock's body has been abandoned on Genesis. McCoy is now carrying Spock's Katra in his mind, which explains his new mental problems. Says Sarek of Spock's essence floating around in Bones' head: "One alive, one not, yet both in pain." Bones' reaction upon hearing this news is much funnier, in the spirit of classic Spock/Bones verbal sparring, even now that Spock is absent: "That green-blooded son of a bitch. It's his revenge for all those arguments he lost."

And hence begins the search for Spock, to retrieve his body from the recently quarantined Genesis Planet — against Starfleet's explicit directives to the contrary — and return it to Vulcan for final resting and to remove Spock's Katra from McCoy's mind. Kirk relays to his crew Admiral Morrow's non-granted permission: "The word is no. I am therefore going anyway." In saving Spock, Kirk and his crew will have to defy Starfleet, risk their careers, and put themselves in the middle of a dangerous showdown with a Klingon crew, who see the Genesis experiment as a test of a new weapon of mass destruction.

As a matter of premise, I sometimes wonder about the suspense issue, and what audiences in 1984 really thought about all this; could any Star Trek film be called The Search for Spock and not end with the crew of the Enterprise finding and saving Spock? I somehow think not.

Of course, success in capturing an audience is often a matter of timing and execution even more so than subject. In that regard, I've often thought of this film as the set-piece Trek film. There's certainly a story being told here, both on and below the surface, but for me the film lives and is remembered more for its big moments — the theft of the Enterprise, the space battle with the Klingons, the trickery and destruction of the Enterprise, the fistfight against the apocalyptic background, and ultimately the mystical resurrection of Spock on Vulcan.

On the new DVD commentary track, Leonard Nimoy says one of his goals in directing the picture was to make grand, "operatic" emotional gestures throughout the film. Even before having heard that on the commentary track, that's exactly how I had planned to describe the sequence where Kirk and his crew steal the Enterprise.

The theft of the Enterprise is one of my favorite sequences in the Trek canon. The theater for this caper is a huge orbital space station, still one of the most striking images of futuristic human construction the franchise has brought us. The music and the visuals say about everything that needs to be said. The dialog, while useful in adding some detail, is minimal and in many ways unnecessary. This is a sequence sold on special effects that are grand yet simple, slow and elegant, telling an exciting story in a peaceful way. James Horner's score is unforgettable, and the whole scene becomes, yes, operatic. It's a virtuoso sequence that communicates the joyful aspects of Kirk's renegade-like escape while also showing the lengths he and his crew are going and the risks they are taking. And while the Excelsior is bigger and better and faster than the Enterprise, in the end it simply comes down to our crew's ingenuity.

I've always enjoyed how the supporting characters get their little highlight moments in the Enterprise theft sequence. Working as a team, everyone is essential, whether it's Uhura making sure "Mr. Adventure" stays out of the way, Sulu getting the upper hand on the big guard that calls him "Tiny," or Scotty sabotaging the Excelsior's new and much-ballyhooed transwarp drive.

In between the big moments is perhaps where the film occasionally stalls. There is much time spent following David and Saavik around on the Genesis Planet, and sometimes these scenes grow repetitive. Such scenes communicate the information they need to get across, but not always with great fascination or insight. David and Saavik are not inherently interesting characters and serve mostly to advance the plot. (It's hard in particular to make much of Saavik; Robin Curtis performs the Vulcan dispassion to a dour, flat extreme.)

The pseudo-science involving Spock's body's resurrection and how he's linked to the Genesis Planet falls probably just outside the realm of conventional sci-fi wisdom; we must simply accept the device at face value. (To hope for some sort of revelation regarding life and death would, I concede, be an absurd expectation on the viewer's behalf.) We learn that David's research to develop the Genesis experiment included use of protomatter — dangerous and unstable — in order to cut scientific corners. This is causing the planet's own self-destruction. The movie seems only as convinced about its science as it absolutely has to be, and no more. It works because the film is not about science but about characters and what they have at stake. Much of the blame for Genesis' deterioration falls at David's feet and the story sets him up for a moment where he must redeem himself.

That moment is, of course, the moment where he puts his life on the line to save Spock and Saavik from the Klingons, while Kirk and his crew, after an orbital battle with the Klingons (which the Enterprise was not equipped to fight), find themselves in a tragic stalemate. David is killed. It's at this moment in the film (as Kirk collapses to the floor before then pulling himself together) that we realize this is the mirrored version of Trek II. In Trek II Kirk regained his son alongside the loss of Spock. Here he can regain Spock but only after losing his son.

And, on top of that, also his ship.

The film's next noteworthy action set-piece is Kirk's clever plan to trap the Klingons and set the Enterprise's auto-destruct, to "give death a fighting chance to live," as Bones eloquently phrases it. It's a visceral moment as the Enterprise is violently blown to bits, and then a moment of mourning as the ship burns in the planet's atmosphere, leaving a fiery trail behind it as our characters watch from the planet surface. This cinematic gesture is the conclusion of a trap that is a cross between the hugely satisfying and the patently absurd. These Klingons, let's face it, are slow-witted fools. As delicious as Kirk's trap to blow up the Klingons is, these guys must be pretty close to brain dead to watch a countdown to zero with such complete and utter cluelessness.

The sole exception is Christopher Lloyd's commanding Klingon villain, Kruge. He's not exactly the smartest Klingon ever to live, either, but Kruge provides a reasonable adversary for Kirk that's usually watchable. He's in absolutely no danger of outdoing Khan in the effective-villain category, but as Trek villains go, he's not bad. He's motivated by an unbending desire to get his hands on the Genesis secret ("Genesis! I want it!"), and at the very least he's content to die trying.

The final fistfight between Kirk and Kruge is in the old tradition of Westerns and, for that matter, the original Star Trek TV episodes. It greatly benefits by being set against an apocalyptic background of noise, fire, wind, volcanoes, lightning, and other assorted furies. Everything that takes place on the Genesis Planet, up to and including the final fight, was shot on a single massive soundstage set rigged for artificial weather, crumbling rocks, and flames. This is a marvelously versatile set that I'd say the producers got their money's worth out of, even if the cacti in the snow look fake. (But then, how could cacti in snow not look fake?)

The film's final sequence, in which the Katra is transferred from McCoy back into Spock's reincarnated body, involves much Vulcan mysticism, depicted with a great deal of gravity and conviction. Vulcan mysticism can come off as conveniently magical, but it's a part of the Star Trek universe we accept. That the film takes this all so seriously is a crucial fact; it carries us along through Spock's revival, where we're reassured that the universe has in some way been set right.

The last conversation between Kirk and Spock, right down to its dialog about the needs of the one outweighing the needs of the many, is an appropriate mirror image of the scene where Spock dies in the previous film; it's all about people making sacrifices to set things right. Spock's decision in Trek II grew out of perfectly reasoned logic, whereas Kirk and his crew in Trek III are motivated by needs that are essentially contrary to logic and yet no less valid.

There's also something reassuring about The Search for Spock because, like Star Trek II before it (as well as Star Trek IV after it), it buys into the concept of an ongoing arc for the characters of the Enterprise. It is not simply an episodic movie adventure, but also a piece of a larger canvas. And most importantly, just like its predecessor, it realizes that in real drama you do not get something without paying the price.

Previous: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Next: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

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27 comments on this review

Jake - Wed, Dec 5, 2007 - 1:33pm (USA Central)
What I've always loved about this film, even when I first saw it in the theater at age 8, was that, even though our heroes accomplish their main objective of bringing Spock back, the film still ends of the same bittersweet note as number 2.
Think about it, Kirk has lost both his son and his starship, and, on top of that, he and his crew are now wanted fugitives by the Federation.
I suspected they'd get a new ship in the next one, but, for the next two years, whenever I came across an episode or one of the previous 2 films, I was always a bit saddened knowing that they'd eventually be forced to hide on their pal's home planet, having basically become persona non grata with their employers.
Alex - Fri, Mar 7, 2008 - 12:02pm (USA Central)
Kruge was a great Klingon.
robgnow - Sun, Aug 3, 2008 - 7:08pm (USA Central)
I have a love-hate relationship with this movie. I think the ambivalence mostly comes from the hang-over of feeling betrayed when Spock was magically resurrected. After sitting in a theatre and crying that he died, it really struck me as a slap in the face that he'd be brought back (especially as himself... maybe if they'd rescued a young Spock from the Genesis planet it would have felt less 'Conveeeenient').
With time, I've been able to appreciate the movie divorced from those feelings however. I still find the movie somewhat lacking in emotional involvement (David was too new a character for us to be wrapped up in and the death of Enterprise, while powerful, is still about a ship and not a person), I find much about it to enjoy. Number One among the good things is Lloyd's Kruge. He's an enjoyably hiss-able villain.
And I think I'm in the minority, but I like Curtis' restrained Vulcan far more than Alley's weepy one.
I also like Shatner's performance when he finds out David is dead. You can tell he's taken a cruel hit, but he also responds as a Starfleet officer by quickly pushing his sorrow (and guilt?) away to focus on rescuing the other hostages and getting away alive.
Will Grigg - Wed, Jul 8, 2009 - 11:56pm (USA Central)
I might be alone in this opinion, but I honestly think that Shatner's performance in TSFS was the best he ever gave in the role of Kirk - even better than the one in TWOK, for which he quite properly received numerous accolades (and even a Saturn award).

There wasn't a single moment in this film in which Shatner could be accused of chewing scenery, or going all Virginia-cured on the audience. Two or three deeply emotional scenes were played with remarkable restraint that really underscored the moments far better than histrionics would have.

I think Nimoy deserves credit for directing his friend and co-star very effectively. But, hey -- let's give Shatner some credit, too: When he works with a director he knows and trusts, he's capable of turning in remarkably good work.
robgnow - Fri, Jul 10, 2009 - 5:20pm (USA Central)
I agree Will. I think Shatner's body of work will point to the fact that he tends to - uh - over-emote. But if he has a director who know exactly how he wants a scene played out and restrains him, then Bill can actually act without chewing the scenery too much.
Nic - Wed, Sep 23, 2009 - 3:37pm (USA Central)
In response to your comment about the stupid Klingons, remember that they DON'T USE ARABIC NUMERALS! If you beamed aboard a Klingon ship and heard a computer voice speaking, with Klingon characters changing on the screen, would you be able to guess it was a countdown?

I do think bringing Spock back to life is cheating the audience. As Nicholas Meyer said when he refused to direct this picture "I know how to kill people. I don't know how to bring people back to life." But then again, I understand why they did it. Thanks to III, we got IV and VI, not to mention "Unification" and 2009's "Star Trek."
David - Tue, Mar 9, 2010 - 8:14am (USA Central)
Never really like this movie -- I always thought it was merely a segway. I wish they had not killed Spock at the end of TWOK -- and had done The Voyage Home on another basis. To me, this movie was unnecessary, and nothing more than a way of saying, "Oh, I guess we are going to do more Star Trek movies, so we'd better bring Spock back to life."
Eric - Fri, Feb 4, 2011 - 8:33pm (USA Central)
I actually prefer this movie over The Voyage Home because, like Trek II, it had huge repercussions for the characters, especially Kirk. I agree with your assessment of the film's flaws. It makes both the Klingons and the burocratic starfleet (and the Grissom commander) very unlikable, but it tells a good story and my opinion of it has improved with time.
Latex Zebra - Wed, May 4, 2011 - 6:30am (USA Central)
Always loved this. Clearly not the equal of TWOK, but equal in terms of enjoyment to TVH in my opinion, though obviously played very different.
I loved Kruge, thought he was a right bastard.
Like the below exchange when Kirk is trying to get Spock released.

'Why not?'
'Because you wish it.'

That is a great line for a baddie.

Trying to remember my cinema experience of this but I'm pretty sure I cried when the Enterprise exploded, as much as I cried when Spock carked it in the previous movie.
I think this is on Film4 soon so I will check it out again.
Jay - Sat, Oct 1, 2011 - 7:38pm (USA Central)
Very convenient that they were beamed off the Genesis Planet right at the time Spock had aged back into Leonard Nimoy.
Nico - Sun, Oct 16, 2011 - 3:42am (USA Central)
My favourite of the feature films. The music is just grand! As are the performances of all actors.
It is quiet simply epic, only a lack of a love story - which could easily have been written for Saavik and David (an so being a metaphore for the love (friendship) between Spock and Kirk).
Latex Zebra - Wed, Jun 20, 2012 - 5:27am (USA Central)
This film does raise an interesting question about how humanity has evolved and now works to better itself.
You have Captain Kirk, Captain of a Starship and on a constant mission to seek out new life yadda yadda yadda.
Boothby, keen gardener and grounds keeper, a fine fulfilling job.
On the other hand you have the guy doing the hoovering as they steal the Enterprise.
At which point in a Utopian society does someone say 'I know, cleaning up after everyone is the way I will better humanity and myself'

Not seeing it myself and also can't understand why they wouldn't have an automaton to do that kind of crap.


I did watch this again recently and apart from making me question the cleaner I did love the film and Kruge is such a badd ass.
Rosario - Sat, Nov 10, 2012 - 11:15pm (USA Central)
Nice to see so see much Kluge appreciation. I've always thought Christopher Lloyd did an excellent job in this role.

On rewatching I enjoy this movie much more. The stealing of the Enterprise is definitely a classic and a secret joy of mine is the scene where Kluge crushes the evolved worm with his bare hand.

But the end with all the pomp surrounding the Vulcan ceremonies was quite a bit draggy. I didn't really enjoy Saavik either. I much prefered Kirstie Alley who played a Vulcan with range, just like Spock. Too many other Vulcans have portrayed them as wooden robots - this woman is just flat. It also helps that at this time Kirstie Alley was just absolutely gorgeous. Especially with pointed ears.
Jack - Mon, Dec 24, 2012 - 12:16pm (USA Central)
It was weird that Kirk rerecorded word for word Carol's Genesis pitch to Starfleet when the Klingons reviewed it here...were they not allowed to use Bibi Besch's voice in this film?
Jay - Mon, Dec 24, 2012 - 1:27pm (USA Central)
Sarek seemed sure that Spock would deposit his katra into somebody, as if it were standard procedure, but then the Vulcan priestess says this hasn't been done in like forever...
Paul - Mon, Jan 21, 2013 - 3:28pm (USA Central)
I've always thought ST3 didn't get enough love. The movie's biggest conceit is that Spock's death would be undone, but by the time I saw this -- probably at around 10 years old in the early '90s -- that was a given, anyway.

I have wondered, though: Why didn't Starfleet send another ship after the Enterprise -- and how did the Klingon ship get all the way to Vulcan without encountering Starfleet? It doesn't appear that they used the cloaking device.
Latex Zebra - Sun, Feb 24, 2013 - 6:58am (USA Central)
Erm, I do seem to comment on this rather a lot. Watched it again last night.

I think this film disproves the whole odd number film bullshit because this is an excellent film. As I said previously to match TWOK is impossible as the original series crew never could again.
I think I rate this of TVH, which is still very good. This is 3.5 for me.
T'Paul - Tue, Sep 10, 2013 - 5:13pm (USA Central)
I agree with Nic's comment above... this isn't Voyager or DS9 Star Trek... the Klingons wouldn't necessarily know that they were hearing and listening to a countdown.

I think this movie is great. When I watched it when I was younger I thought it was boring, but now I think it is fantastic. Loved Lloyd as a Klingon, and the Klingon language as it is here... For me this was one of the heights of Klingon culture on Trek (along with STVI of course), before all it got too self righteous with the honour-based culture.

Plus I don't really get the complaints about Spock's rebirth... I mean were on a terraformed planet for Pete's sake, we're talking about Vulcans, not humans, it really doesn't require that much suspension of belief that Spock could regenerate. Plus that was set up in STII with Spock's remember comment. Finally, who could complain about Spock being reborn? Did anyone really want him to stay dead forever? What would old-school Trek be without Spock? I find it difficult to believe that anyone could feel betrayed by this.
Moonie - Sun, Sep 15, 2013 - 9:49am (USA Central)
This is maybe my favorite of all the movies because it contains my favorite scene - the theft of the Enterprise. And then having to sacrifice it. Two outstandingly fantastic scenes.
Latex Zebra - Wed, Mar 19, 2014 - 10:24am (USA Central)
Me again!

The security guard who called Sulu 'Tiny' just in response to a bit of banter was a prick. Obviously done just so Sulu could beat him up and come out looking good, but you wouldn't expect that kind of behaviour from a member of Federation security.
Could have easily had Sulu beat the guy up and just be apologetic at the end.
dgalvan - Tue, Jul 22, 2014 - 1:18pm (USA Central)
Christopher Lloyd was awesome in this.

Also, what was his dog/pet on the bridge of the bird of prey? It was not a Targ, was it?
Grumpy - Fri, Oct 10, 2014 - 4:17pm (USA Central)
Apart from the "Mr. Adventure" scene, what did Uhura do in any of the movies? That didn't make her look foolish, that is. Even in this movie, she's sidelined from the action, unlike the male characters. In 1 & 2, she has little to say except how communications are broken and she can't do her job. In 4 she's paired with Chekov, but he gets all the interesting business. In 5, she has the embarrassing dance scene and the demeaning seduction scene (demeaning because she was, like the others, so easily brainwashed). And 6 has the final indignity of giving her an actual communications-related task... but shows her as incompetent. No wonder the reboot beefed up her character.
Gordon, Edinburgh - Tue, Oct 28, 2014 - 5:18am (USA Central)
With regard to Jay's comment, my understanding was that the katra would be temporarily stored in a host so it could be taken to the repository on Vulcan - this was standard procedure. The process that the priestess was talking about, which hadn't been done in ages, was reuniting it with the physical body.
William B - Fri, Mar 13, 2015 - 5:23pm (USA Central)
To start with, the reversal of “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one,” to “the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many,” is the main theme running through the film, in which self-sacrifice for individuals rather than communities motivates our heroes, most obviously with Spock but also in miniature with Saavik recognizing Spock’s physical pon farr needs and David’s saving Saavik’s life. The key is that while individuals can and should be willing to self-sacrifice for the greater number of people, it is still essential to remember that individuals need to be protected and honoured. The individual and the group both matter, and the group of Enterprise crew members here come together to save one man (well, two -- since McCoy is also tortured), and are willing to risk all for it.

I think the film’s other main strength is in having Kirk actually follow up on what he learned in STII and demonstrate his growth. It’s not perfectly in continuity with STII, since Kirk’s “I feel young” statement is followed up, only a few hours later, by his indicating that he feels a deep depression and emptiness come over him. Kirk's willingness to sacrifice everything for Spock may read partly as Kirk being unwilling to accept the finality of Spock's death, but I think of it much more as Kirk making a value decision that his devotion to Spock is ultimately worth more than his life or his ship. If he didn't go, as he says at the end, he would sacrifice his soul. And if Kirk's central, fatal flaw in STII was that he had simply ignored the consequences of his adventures (either professional or personal), especially if they might pose risks to his self-image as one who solves all problems, out of a fear of facing death, in this film he essentially gives up his career for what he initially believes will *just* give his friend a deeper rest. He goes from ignoring death entirely, and only mouthing platitudes about it to Saavik and others, in STII to recognizing that the state of death is incredibly important. I had forgotten until rewatching that Kirk et al. went to Genesis with no intention of resurrecting Spock, but merely with finding his body to allow for Spock to follow Vulcan rituals; in that sense, they are able to save Spock because they show respect both for Spock's Vulcan half (the logical man who made the sacrifice) and for the possibility of meaning in death.

I have always liked that it is McCoy, not Kirk, who houses Spock's katra -- it solidifies the connection between the Big Three, and it also keeps Kirk just SLIGHTLY more distant from the proceedings and intensifies the meaning of his actions for his friend. Kirk is acting on faith that he is getting accurate information from Sarek about how Vulcan minds work and McCoy about what is going on inside him. If Kirk had the katra and the burning need to reunite with Spock, then his actions would be more clearly self-motivated, whereas here Kirk is risking everything to save his friends. I like also that the glass barrier that separated Spock and Kirk in STII, which kept the two in separate compartments, comes into play and has a direct impact on the plot. In a literal sense, the barrier was because Kirk couldn't go in because of the radiation, and symbolically I think they were separated already because Spock was, essentially, already "dead," already well on his way to the other side.

(Incidentally, I do find the details of the katra being stored in McCoy confusing. If Spock transferred his katra, was Spock just an empty shell when he was in the engineering room, and in his glass-barrier conversation with Kirk? Obviously not. This is probably just a detail that was either overlooked, or that Bennett and Nimoy et al. just figured was something they could fudge. I guess I would attribute it to Vulcan telepathy, which is not just touch-based, somehow -- as long as Spock was alive, the katra would stay in him, but the "remember" trick meant that when he died his katra would pass on to McCoy.)

So the strength of the movie relies in the fact of Kirk coming to recognize that life has no-win scenarios, and then making deliberate choices on how he will deal with it. What is he willing to sacrifice, and what does he need to protect? The two big losses he suffers -- his son and his ship -- are worth talking about in detail, and I will in a moment. The other function of the movie is to buy back Spock's death in a way that satisfies a certain number of expected stipulations. In order for a death in a long-running serial to mean something, it can't be bought back easily. That we're in a SF film with fantasy/mythic elements means that it can be bought back, and I think it's reasonable to do so -- the Genesis device was clearly established in STII, even if its properties were always foggy, and in general on an SF level it is certainly possible that many injuries or losses that we would certainly consider fatal will eventually be cured with miraculous new medicine, which would seem as odd and unbelievable as the Genesis device does. The function of death/resurrection cycles in myth has to do with the Hero's Journey, the ability to embrace death and yet live, and that is what Spock goes through here, with this film the Difficult Return phase. A friend of mine who is into a lot of ancient myths and modern SF/fantasy insists that this type of story of resurrection requires some sort of blood sacrifice as a balancing of sorts, and so David's death balances Spock's being brought back from death. I am not so sure if that's necessary for the SF aspects of the story, but I do think it makes sense for the myth and for storytelling reasons, particularly because the message is at least partially that death can't be ESCAPED entirely. Without a major loss, one could simply say that any character could die and be resurrected and that death would lose all meaning in-universe, and thus all resonance. So that aspect works fine for me. That STIII and STIV both show Spock's difficult reintegration into life makes me feel like the emotional hit of STII still works for me -- though I can't say how hard it would hit if I knew that his death was really the end; I can't remember a time when I actually believed that STII was the end. I do sort of admire how much thought was put into how to make the resurrection difficult but achievable, over the course of a whole film. That Spock's body starts back at birth and ages would be totally inconsistent with Spock retaining any of his memories, which is why the script has his memories and identity be displaced via katra onto McCoy.

Still, while the film's attempt to demonstrate the difficulties of Spock's return is appreciated, and probably required for this to be a good story, most of the Genesis Planet scenes with Spock simply feel like bookkeeping. The contortions of the script to get Spock back to Leonard Nimoy's age, with the idea that he starts as a baby and rapidly ages in tune with the Genesis Planet but which stop right when he leaves the planet, strike me as silly. It's probably pointless to complain about the mechanics themselves, since STII pretty much demonstrates that ANYTHING GOES with the Genesis Device (which is, yes, not a good thing), but it feels so blatantly reverse-engineered to get to the end stage, but while having some sort of intermediate stages to show things being difficult. The planet's crazy, unpredictable properties are meant to create a sense of danger and peril, and to call back to jungle/river/adventure stories (like The African Queen or the first half of King Kong or something from Kipling) the way STII was based in part on naval battle stories. But I found it mostly unmemorable, and even a few days later can't recall much of anything of the environment before Kirk and Kruge's big final battle, besides that weird snake thing that tries to kill Kruge.

Onto Kirk's losses: one loss which doesn't come up until STIV is the loss of Kirk's admiralty, which isn't such a big loss for him anyway. Still, the betrayal of his starfleet commission is a major moment for him and for the crew, and it leads to the stealing of the Enterprise, which is the best sequence in the movie. I was thinking throughout how the first few TNG movies in some senses actually connect directly to the first few TOS movies -- Generations was Moore & Braga's attempts to talk about Big Themes somewhat ala TMP, though I gather they largely failed (I will rewatch soon), First Contact was the past trauma/Moby Dick picture ala TWOK, and Star Trek III really *could* have been titled Insurrection. The contrast between Kirk's rebellion and Picard's in Insurrection is very stark. With the notable exception that I can't believe Starfleet Command wouldn't consider changing policy around the Genesis planet for the combined efforts of Admiral Kirk and Ambassador Sarek, the basic idea of having Genesis Planet quarantined makes sense. And Kirk's rebellion against Starfleet orders makes perfect sense and is personal for his ship and crew. My one problem with the sequence is that it does seem to depict Starfleet people as a bit more thuggish than I'd expect (that guy calling Sulu "Tiny") but overall, it's a great sequence that gives the major players something to do and is very exciting.

Next up: Kirk's son. One problem I have with David's death, and the way the script somewhat tries to pin this death on Kirk, is that I have a very hard time imagining that Kruge would have let David live in the absence of the Enterprise's arrival. Kruge was taking the Genesis planet anyway, had already destroyed the Grissom, etc. It is true that he wanted someone alive to explain the Genesis Device to him, and David is the most sensible candidate of him, Saavik, and nonvocal, katraless Spock. Still, David and Saavik were clear on not speaking. How long would Kruge have really waited before going to executions? I guess what the movie implies is that David actually dies more directly as a result of the failure of Kirk's ploy; Kirk pretends that the Enterprise is all powerful, which pushes Kruge into executing prisoners as his way of maintaining/demonstrating power. While I'm still not sure that David would have survived if the Enterprise hadn't come by (and I suspect Saavik would have died also, to say nothing of Spock), this sort of works, because Kirk's trick was clever but the same type of trickery that Kirk thought he could get away with ad infinitum in the last movie. While he's willing abstractly to sacrifice, in the moment he is still trying to think of ways to act without any big losses. And it's immediately after David's death that Kirk comes up with the plan to destroy the Enterprise. Notably, had Kirk OPENED with that self-destruct plan, David would probably be alive, and I think that's part of what we're supposed to recognize.

The other way in which David's death sort of falls on Kirk's shoulders is that David is a Kirk mirror. That David used "protomatter" is another cheat, of sorts, to emphasize why the Genesis Device will not be used in the future in spite of its remarkable properties here. It is a bit of a weird kind of revisionism, particularly with Carol going largely unmentioned: did David do this whole protomatter thing without his mother's consent OR notice, even though it was her project? If it's actually Carol who did it, it hardly is David's fault. But let's take the film's voice, as replicated by Saavik, as being that David introduced protomatter, took big chances and broke the rules, "like your father." So the reason Genesis works at all (and the reason Spock can be saved) is because of David's Kirklike qualities; and later on, David explicitly sacrifices himself to save Saavik and Spock, in what basically mirrors Kirk's WILLINGNESS to sacrifice himself for Spock and for his crew. David is a younger version of Kirk and repeats in miniature Kirk's story. It's a shame that it's not more compelling, and I'm not quite sure why; I didn't have a problem with Merritt Butrick's performance in STII, but here he seems particularly flat, making me wonder if a lot of the work was Bibi Besch in those Marcuses scenes. His death both is and mirrors Kirk's sacrifice, and also in some ways represents the death of Kirk's "youth," in terms of his utterly reckless impetuosity and naivete that he can get away with it.

(While I’m talking about the acting in the planet scenes, I similarly felt that Robin Curtis’ performance as Saavik was flat and unconvincing, especially in comparison to the way Kirstie Alley imbued her character with what seemed like a lot of inner strength and tightly-controlled frustration and ambition, which made for an interesting interpretation of Vulcan-ness that also seemed to fit her status as cadet in training for command. Curtis’ Saavik seems somewhat devoid of inner life -- which is a common problem in playing Vulcans, and only a few actors have entirely escaped it, largely Nimoy, Mark Lenard, and Tim Russ.)

The destruction of the Enterprise is a particularly strong sequence. I appreciate the nod to continuity with Let That Be Your Last Battlefield in the codes to activate the destruct sequence, but I also rather wish that they had changed it because those codes just sound especially silly. I also think that the Klingons do behave stupidly; while I agree with other commenters above that the Klingons don't recognize the countdown because they don't have universal translators, I still think they could have been smart enough to think that the absence of any crew at all might be bad news. Still, it’s a pretty clever ploy, and the finality to the destruction of the Enterprise and the years of memories associated with it hits pretty hard, especially when the ship goes burning through the sky.

It is worth noting that, like David, the Enterprise's destruction is not actually fully on Kirk; the ship was about to be decommissioned anyway. However, there's a difference between going out in a blaze of glory while saving lives, and remaining locked away in a museum doing nothing. Kirk's commitment to action and doing good continues moving him away from that stuffy apartment (and admiralty he doesn't want) and back to active duty, even if that means he has to face death as he never has before. For the Enterprise to fulfill its purpose, it has to be possible for it to be destroyed.

As Trek villains go, Kruge is...okay; Christopher Lloyd is pretty fun in the role, though it’s not a vehicle for his full range of comedic talents like Taxi or the Back to the Future series. I think that Kruge sort of mirrors Kirk, in that he has some of Kirk's joie de vivre, which in his case is unleavened by any maturity or concern at all; the typical moment for this is Kruge yelling that the destruction of Genesis at the end is exhilarating. Broadly, the role of Klingons in this film is to provide the obstacles for the narrative, but it also amps up the Kirk/Klingon animosity which plays out through the next few films and culminates in STVI.

The last scene on Vulcan makes clear that Spock is “better,” but it is going to be a long road forward; the conversation between them repeats the death in STII before Spock attempts to incorporate the personal, emotional “needs of the one” argument Kirk makes. Arguably, while Spock was at the point of accepting his friendship for Kirk as real in STII, his totally logical, non-egoistical behaviour there means that he might not quite have understood his friends’ willingness, to a person, to sacrifice for him, and the ending here, in which he just starts to grasp it as he rebuilds himself from the ground up, sets up probably the main emotional arc of the next movie.

I find the movie overall somewhat rote in execution, and a lot of it comes down almost to a checklist of what is necessary to buy back Spock’s death for the audience without quite the level of inspiration of the previous film. The repetition of Spock’s death scene, both early on in the film, and at the very end, eventually grows tiresome. Some details -- like Leonard Nimoy’s voice coming out of McCoy’s mouth when he is in Spock mode – strike me as too silly. The planet scenes drag on for me. Still, I think that it’s a good picture, which succeeds at a difficult task of buying back a major loss without undermining the integrity of that loss. A low 3 stars.
Grumpy - Fri, Mar 13, 2015 - 7:50pm (USA Central)
William B: "I do find the details of the katra being stored in McCoy confusing."

Seems to operate like a backup copy. If I had that power, though, I wouldn't save it for "when the body's end is near." It'd be part of my daily routine!

More importantly, if McCoy had a copy of Spock's mind up to the point when he entered the energizer chamber, why was revived Spock's first memory a dialogue he had with Kirk *after* uploading his katra? I hope somebody was fired for that blunder.
Captain Jon - Mon, Mar 30, 2015 - 11:41pm (USA Central)
Here's my review. The full experience (including pictures) can be found at my review blog "captainjonreviews.blogspot.com"

Summary
The U.S.S. Enterprise heads home, damaged from its battle with Khan, and still mourning the death of Spock. When Ambassador Sarek informs Kirk that Spock's soul is being carried by Dr. McCoy and can be restored to his body, Kirk and his crew steal the Enterprise to return to Genesis to save their friend. But when a Klingon bird-of-prey learns of the Genesis planet, its commander sets out to capture the secret of Genesis for the Klingon Empire.

Review
Following the critical and commercial success of The Wrath of Khan, Paramount Pictures was eager to quickly release a sequel and turned to producer Harvey Bennett to make it happen. Though he'd wanted his character to be killed off, Leonard Nimoy's experience making Star Trek II had been extremely positive prompting him to ask to not only return for Star Trek III but to direct as well. Paramount head Michael Eisner agreed, making Nimoy the first Star Trek cast member to serve as director.

Harvey Bennett began work on the script with the intent of bringing Spock back to life using a little opening that had been slipped in at the end of The Wrath of Khan. Bennett started with the end of the movie and worked his way forward. The smartest thing that Bennett did was to not write off Spock's death with a first act resurrection, but instead center the film's entire plot around bringing him back. More importantly, the film's story centers not just on the actions of the Enterprise crew (Kirk especially) but also the price that must be paid to bring back Spock. It grounds The Search for Spock on an emotional level and delivers some of the movie franchise's best performances.

From its opening moments, Nimoy successfully establishes the somber tone that would hold throughout the rest of the movie. Spock may not be there physically but his presence is always felt. It's this tone that sets The Search for Spock apart from the rest of the franchise and adds to the emotional drama that takes place.

The strongest element is the work that's done with Kirk and McCoy and the performances subsequently brought forth by William Shatner and DeForest Kelley. Kirk is not only agonizing over the loss of his best friend but at the early revelation that he is about to lose his "greatest love", the Enterprise, which is set to be decommissioned. McCoy, meanwhile, is not himself. He's behaving strangely and going to bars in an effort to book illegal passage to the Genesis planet. In one of the movie's most amusing scenes, McCoy angrily spouts logic to a Federation security officer before attempting a Vulcan neck pinch. It turns out that Spock's mind-meld at the end of The Wrath of Khan transferred his katra, or soul, to McCoy. This "Vulcan mystism" is a departure for Star Trek from Science-Fiction based storytelling into a borderline straddling of Fantasy elements, yet it's a necessary component of the story in order to bring back Spock that mostly succeeds. Kelley is fantastic in his depiction of a tormented McCoy but his best scene comes at the end as he opens up to an unconscious Spock and admits how much he's missed his friend. It's a touching standout scene.

Once Spock's father, Sarek (a nearly emotional Mark Lenard in his best performance) reveals what's going on, all bets are off for Kirk as he sets out to return Spock and McCoy to Vulcan in order for the katra to be returned. To do so, Kirk tries to get a starship to take him to Genesis to retrieve Spock's body. His request is denied as Genesis is a galactic controversy which with the Federation is grappling. Despite warnings from Starfleet, Kirk jeopardizes his career by both breaking McCoy out of jail, stealing the Enterprise and sabotaging the state-of-the-art Excelsior with the help of his crew in a sequence that mixes humor and suspense. Each character gets a great moment in the sequence, especially George Takei as Sulu and Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, who both relish their rare moment in the spotlight and make the most of it. Mixed with a great cue from James Horner, the sequence is a highlight for the entire franchise.

Offsetting the crew's actions at Earth are the less-successful scenes on Genesis where Saavik (a rather dull and uninteresting Robin Curtis) and David Marcus are exploring the new planet with the Starship Grissom. They discover that the planet is unstable because a David "cheated" in designing the Genesis Device by using an unstable element known as protomatter. Thus, the planet is on it's way to it's own destruction. They also discover a Vulcan child on the planet, a young Spock who has been resurrected by the Genesis Wave and is aging rapidly with the planet. In addition to Curtis's stiff and unconvincing performance, the crew of the Grissom are rather lame. The captain goes purely by the book and can't make his own decision without consulting Starfleet first. Thus, when the Grissom falls at the hands of a Klingon bird-of-prey, it's a rather welcome moment. Saavik, David and Spock must flee the Klingons, led by Kruge who want the secret of Genesis so that they can manipulate it into a weapon. This storyline is not as engrossing and drags down the pace as it frequently cuts back and forth with the superior story involving the Enterprise crew.

These scenes play out in a rather pedestrian and businesslike manner without much inspiration. They're also diminished by a Genesis planet that looks a lot like a soundstage at Paramount Studios. The scenes set in a snowy climate are especially unconvincing. Genesis fails to provide a sense of wonder because it seems to be anything more than indoor sets. It's rather disappointing.

Christopher Lloyd is great a Kruge, bringing a sense of theatricality to a role that's not very well-written and a step back from Khan. Still, Lloyd gives it his all and is a worthy adversary for Kirk as the plot has the two parallel storylines come together in a head on collision. The Enterprise is only manned by a crew of five and is no match for the Klingons, leading to a short exchange of fire between the two ships which leaves the Enterprise crippled and helpless. The standoff between Kirk and Kruge is good, but Kruge has the upper-hand as he holds Saavik, David and Spock hostage. In the first of two of The Search for Spock's big surprises, David is killed by the Klingons in an attempt to prevent them from executing Saavik. In a bit of wonderful acting by William Shatner, Kirk breaks down.

This leads to the next big surprise of the movie; in order to save Saavik and Spock from execution, Kirk surrenders the Enterprise. But, in true Kirk fashion, he sets the auto-destruct. While he and his crew beam down to Genesis, the Klingons beam to the Enterprise and are killed as the starship, in the film's best example of special effects, blows up. The conflict with the Klingons then culminates in a hand-to-hand battle between Kirk and Kruge as the Genesis planet goes up in flames around them. The old-fashioned fist fight is a nice throwback to Kirk's regular brawls on the 60's series and is enhanced by good pyrotechnic work on the collapsing set.

The film's emotional climax comes with the return to Vulcan where Spock's katra is returned to him as Leonard Nimoy reprises his iconic role for the film's final scene. The closing conversation between Kirk and Spock is simple yet powerful and the perfect way to cap Star Trek's most emotional entry.

All of this wouldn't work, however, if not for the pitch perfect performance of William Shatner. The Search for Spock belongs to him from beginning to end and he delivers the goods. He's never over-the-top or too sentimental, giving a very somber and tortured turn as Kirk. His portrayal of Kirk's sacrifice is touching. In order to regain his friend, he must sacrifice everything. Not only does he sacrifice his career but ultimately the Enterprise and his son. When the price paid is questioned by Sarek who just regained his own son, Kirk replies that if he hadn't done what he did, the price would've been his own soul. The writing successfully tackles the emotional consequences and Shatner doesn't miss a beat. It's definitely his best performance as Kirk.

The visuals are mixed. Though the look of the Klingon ship is great and the space shots are all well executed, especially those involving the space dock at Earth, the planet sets are far less convincing. The exception to this is the scenes taking place on Vulcan. If the Genesis sets were as vast and open as the Vulcan scenes, perhaps The Search for Spock would've felt a little more epic in scope.

James Horner's score is a strong entry, using many of his themes from The Wrath of Khan with the melodic "Spock theme" taking the forefront here. His Klingon theme doesn't match that of Jerry Goldsmith and is a little obnoxious at points but still entertaining.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock doesn't try to outdo The Wrath of Khan, nor does it succeed at doing so, but instead proves itself as a strong companion. Though there are some flaws, particularly with the Genesis storyline, the emotional side of the story delivers and makes The Search for Spock an admirable space opera journey.

Writing: 1.25 / 2.0
Characters: 1.5 / 2.0
Acting: 1.75 / 2.0
Entertainment: 1.25 / 2.0
Music: .75 / 1.0
Visuals: .75 / 1.0


TOTAL: 7.25 / 10
NCC-1701-Z - Wed, Jul 1, 2015 - 5:43pm (USA Central)
Why would the Klingons send their boarding party through the Starfleet transporter rather than just transport them straight into a corridor or something? If I were Kirk, I would just arrange for a convenient little malfunction a la poor Commander Sonak in The Motion Picture. "Oops!"

Kidding, kidding. This is still a great Trek movie, and it's pretty amazing that they are able to bring Spock back to life without it feeling like a push of the reset button. That's no small feat.

The scene where Enterprise is stolen is a classic. Jammer is right, operatic is the best way one can possibly describe it.

James Horner does a terrific job with the music, although the TWOK soundtrack is still his best work within the Trek world. He was a man of incredible talent and will be deeply missed.

High 3 out of 4.

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