Friday, September 25, 2009

The Star Trek Film Series Reviews: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984)
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Starring: William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koening, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Christopher Lloyd, Robin Curtis, and Leonard Nimoy
8 out of 10 Stars.

     It’s rare that a sequel can match, or exceed, the impact of the original, but history also shows that a three-peat is damn near impossible.  From Superman III to Spider-Man 3, it seems no one can make lightning strike a third time.  The Star Trek franchise, though, plays by its own rules.  The first film in the series was a rather lukewarm affair, while Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan went on to dazzle fans and critics.  It was inevitable that Paramount would quickly ask for a follow-up after that movie, out of nowhere, defied expectations.  There has been a long-standing belief among fans that the odd-numbered Star Trek films are the weakest entries.  However, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is the only case before the J.J. Abrams picture where that doesn’t apply, and that’s due to the efforts of its director, Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy.

     This chapter picks up where the last film left off, as the starship Enterprise and crew, led by Admiral Kirk (William Shatner), return to Earth after their epic battle with Khan and the creation of The Genesis Planet.  It’s an empty victory, as the crew are still dealing with the loss of their comrade, Mr. Spock (Nimoy).  They also discover upon their return that everyone is being re-assigned and that the Enterprise herself is heading to the scrap heap.  And then there’s Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), who’s been exhibiting unusually strange behavior since Spock’s demise.  A visit by Spock’s father, Sarek (Mark Lenard) reveals that McCoy is in fact harboring Spock’s soul, and that the doctor and Spock’s body must both be returned to the planet Vulcan.  However, Spock’s tomb is located on Genesis, and the Federation has put the planet in quarantine, save for a science team led by Lt. Saavik (now played by Robin Curtis) and Kirk‘s son/Genesis creator, David Marcus.  Nonetheless, Kirk, Scotty, Sulu, Checkov, and Uhura conspire to take McCoy, steal the Enterprise, and head to the forbidden planet to recover their fallen friend.  Christopher Lloyd joins the cast as Kruge, a commander for a race of aliens known as Klingons (the most well-known of Star Trek aliens other than Vulcans).  The Klingons are the sworn enemies of the Federation, and Kruge sees the conquer of the Genesis Planet as a major victory for his people.

     Appointing a cast member as the director of a Star Trek movie could have been a disaster or a brilliant idea, and in the case of The Search for Spock, it proves to be the latter.  Nimoy clearly shows he’s in command of filmmaking, and his imagination results in classic additions to the mythology.  The movie does feel like a brother picture to The Wrath of Khan (tightly-paced, exciting, tempered with moments of character) while at the same time building on the groundwork that that film laid.  The visual effects, courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic, are greatly improved this time, opening up the world of Star Trek without slowing the picture down.  In addition, Nimoy doesn’t sacrifice the theme, as the film offers an interesting take on the Frankenstein concept and offers an obvious allegory of the Cold War.  The Search for Spock though will be best remembered for re-introducing the Klingons, solidifying the characters as we know them today, and for introducing the coolest outer space warship ever: the Klingon Bird of Prey.

     The Search for Spock is not without some faults, preventing it from reaching the greatness of The Wrath of Khan.  Some of the movie’s concepts aren’t as fully realized as those presented in the last installment, the most neglected of which was McCoy’s dealing with his mind housing two different souls and I saw that as an opportunity of ideas passed by.  The cast as a whole is just fine this time around, with some performances shining more than others.  The original actors look like they have settled a little too well into their cinematic alter-egos, leaving no room for any surprises.  The loss of Kirstie Ally in the role of Saavik is too hard to ignore, as Robin Curtis feels more like a stand-in.  The real standout performance for me, and one that needs to be better remembered, is Christopher Lloyd as Kruge.  Lloyd delightfully creates a character so ruthless and cold that he proves a more deadly adversary than the passionate Khan!  It’s a portrayal that should prove once and for all that Christopher Lloyd is more than just Professor Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy.

     Star Trek III: The Search for Spock may not be as mythic or as cerebral as The Wrath of Khan, but that should not deter from the fact that it is still a very enjoyable journey into the 23rd Century.  Leonard Nimoy proves he’s an imaginative director, and The Search for Spock is a worthwhile test-run for what he has in store next.

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