“The death of Spock is like an open wound. It seems that I have left the noblest part of myself back there …on that newborn planet…..”
June 1st, 1984: Spock was dead, but he was about to get better.
Celebrating 35 years since its release to movie screens far and wide, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, as its title explains, was the third theatrical film featuring Captain (nay, “Admiral”) Kirk and his merry band of senior officers from the U.S.S. Enterprise. Picking up soon after the chaotic and tragic events of the prior movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the film opens with the Enterprise, still wounded from its encounter with the maniacal Khan Noonien Singh, on its way back to Earth. Once there, Kirk and his gang learn that all of that business with the Genesis planet and torpedoes which can create entire planets–and destroy them, too–has become something of a political hot potato.
That might well have been the end of it, making for a pretty short movie and all that, except that Spock’s father, Sarek, shows up at Kirk’s apartment and basically tells the admiral that he done gone and dicked up, big time. He shouldn’t have left Spock’s body in a burial tube on Genesis, you see. Also, Kirk and Sarek learn that Spock, prior to his untimely demise, mind-melded with Doctor McCoy and transferred his katra–sort of like a flashdrive backup of his living spirit–from himself to the doctor.
This, of course, explains why McCoy has been acting like three flavors of crazy since the Enterprise‘s return to Earth. Now armed with a mission to retrieve their friend’s body and return it and his katra to Vulcan, Kirk and his posse steal the Enterprise and make for the Genesis planet. And, as they often do in these sorts of movies, things get seriously weird and Kirk’s plan goes right out the window when it’s discovered that Spock is alive. You know…again.
Directed by the OG Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, and working from a script by the great Harve Bennett, Star Trek III is a tight little flick. While not the best the franchise has offered us over the years, it’s definitely not the worst, either. Its modest budget betrays the production in a few spots, particularly in the scenes spent on the “Genesis planet” (in reality a studio soundstage), and the cringe-worthiness of a few wardrobe choices only worsens with the passage of time (lookin’ at you, Chekov).
While unspooling their story as Kirk and company race to Genesis to retrieve their friend, Nimoy and Bennett do a nice job lacing the film with nods, callbacks and affectionate hat tips to various bits and bobs from the original Star Trek series. Like Star Trek II and very much unlike Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the script features a healthy dose of humor to balance out the otherwise heavy story, and the onscreen chemistry between the actors is as good as the best of the original series episodes. The movie’s ending leaves Kirk and his crew at something of a crossroads, of course, and fans would have to wait more than two years until lingering questions were answered by the next film in the series, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Mark Lenard’s brief appearance as Sarek is a highlight, with the actor reprising the role he helped create 17 years earlier in the original series episode “Journey to Babel.” It’s the second of six occasions Lenard would return to the role, after providing the voice for his cartoon doppelganger in the animated Star Trek episode “Yesteryear.” Fans know to look for him in Star Trek IV and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country as well as guest turns on the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes “Sarek” and “Unification, Part I.” He also provided an oh-so short voice snippet for a younger version of the character in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Christopher Lloyd seems an odd choice to play the Klingon captain, Kruge, and there are times when you’re sure he’s channeling Reverend Jim from Taxi but he manages to pull it off, especially in some of the higher-tension scenes. He also gives William Shatner a run for his money in the scenery-chewing department when the two finally face off as the Genesis planet comes apart around them.
Wrapping up everything in a neat little package is another solid score from composer James Horner. For years, it was criticized as being little more than a knock-off of his previous work for Star Trek II. It’s a perception strengthened by the release of a truncated soundtrack which, for reasons surpassing understanding, was limited largely to those pieces which evoked the previous movie. However, I think his efforts were more than redeemed upon the 2010 release of the complete score from Screen Archives Entertainment.
So, with all that, I guess I’ll spin this up and let it run today as I work. Join the search, y’all, and celebrate. Happy Anniversary, Star Trek III.