Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
So, onto the third Star Trek film. Search for Spock. As I write this in Aug of 2020, I can’t recall my exact thoughts going into this one. I mean I obviously would have been excited after Wrath of Khan. But I knew a few things going in. They changed Savvik to a new woman (more on that later), and I was pretty positive Spock was coming back. Again, I can’t recall now if I knew that beforehand. So I can’t say how I felt going into it, other than “more Star Trek”, cuz again, we haven’t had Next Generation yet, so this was the only Star Trek there was.
Given the sheer number of times I saw Wrath of Khan in the theaters, it was a no doubter that I was seeing Search for Spock. Movies 2, 3, & 4 are pretty tied together, despite being movies that can stand on their own. Search for Spock has several great moments, I think, but most people tend to think it’s “bad” for some reason. I never understood that. It’s obviously not as good a movie as WOK, but I still had a lot of fun with it. There’s a lot of bits I really liked and some I thought didn’t work so well, but that’s really going to be any movie is it? It was around this movie that we started getting the “Odd number movie theory”. That being of the Star Trek movies, if it was an odd number (1, 3, 5, etc) they weren’t good, that only good ones were the even numbers (2, 4, 6). While it’s generally accepted that the even numbered movies are better, that doesn’t mean the odd numbered ones are bad. Is Search for Spock a bad movie? Not at all. But there’s SOMETHING about it that doesn’t click, and I can never quite put my finger on it – 30+ years later, either. Still, there’s a lot I enjoyed, and I’ll get into that.
I’m gonna handle this one a little differently, and run through the plot all together. The movie starts off not immediately after Wrath of Khan, but a little bit after it based on events we see. The planet created at the end of the last movie is now had a science vessel assigned to it, and on that ship are Savvik & David from the last film. The Enterprise limps home from its battle with Khan, and pretty quickly on we get the news that the Enterprise is to be decommissioned. Anyway, once docked, the crew scatters, and we find McCoy’s erratic behavior was due to Spock’s mimd meld. After a meeting at Kirk’s apartment, Spock’s father arrives and berates Kirk for leaving Spock at the Genesis planet. After a fun sequence where the entire crew helps out, Kirk, McCoy, Chekov, & Scotty steal the Enterprise and head off to get Spock’s body, and return it and McCoy to Vulcan. While at the planet, they discover that the same thing that created the planet, revived Spock, but since his mind is in McCoy, he’s a non speaking child, basically. Eventually after the destruction of the Enterprise, Kirk and crew steal the Klingon ship that fired on them, and head to Vulcan where Spock is revived properly.
That’s basically the entire movie in a paragraph. But this movie works for me not so much for it’s plot line, but for many small moments that occur during the plot lines. There’s so much fun in the movie that gets overlooked, because it’s not “Wrath of Khan”. That’s where I wanted to talk mostly, not about the plot itself.
First, I should probably talk about the change in Savviks. No longer is Savvik played by Kirstie Alley, she’s now played by Robin Curtis. At the time, I had a major problem with that. Not that I disliked Curtis – she was fine. She simply wasn’t what I had in my head as Savvik. I spent a lot of my initial viewings of Search for Spock thinking “How would this be if Alley was still here?” That’s totally unfair to Robin Curtis, and I don’t think that anymore, but it still to some extent feels like Kirstie’s character. Savvik had a lot to do in this movie, it’s not like she was a sidelined character (that was the next movie). But it never clicked for me, despite liking her look, liking her performance, and well, thinking she was cute. That’s all on me, I admit, and I wish those thoughts weren’t in my head, because as I said, it’s a disservice to Ms. Curtis. On the flip side, her version of Savvik did have sex with Spock, so there is that. :)
There’s also Christopher Lloyd as a Klingon. He was the Klingon Captain, Kruge. At the time this came out, Lloyd was most well known for “Reverend Jim” from the TV series Taxi. That was a comedy, and Jim played a stoner Taxi driver. That was a show I liked, and Reverend Jim was still fresh in my mind, so I suppose I had a second issue with a character – I didn’t see him as a major threat, due to his comedic past. I wonder if I would feel differently if the Klingon was played by an actor I didn’t know, or someone less known for comedy. Again, this is on me, there’s nothing really wrong with his performance here, but I always felt Lloyd was “Klingon lite”. One positive thing though – and it’s not so much about Lloyd. His Klingon captain towered above the rest of his crew in where his seat was. I always loved that layout, and thought that should have been used more.
One last thing about the Klingons. There were really only two major speaking roles for the Klingons. More than two spoke, but beyond Kruge & Maltz, the words said by the other Klingons were very minimal. However, Maltz is another actor known elsewhere. That’s John Laroquette – who is most known for the TV series Night Court, and the movie Stripes. You can see Laroquette as Maltz by clicking here.
When the Enterprise is docking, we get a shot of a Starfleet officer watching the ship. That’s Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand, one of the original crew of the ship back in 1966. She hadn’t been seen on screen since the middle of the first season, I thought it was a nice touch to bring her back, even if it was a non speaking cameo. She didn’t have anything to do here except stand up and gawk at the Enterprise passing by the window she was at, but it was a nice touch to have her here.
After a time, Spock’s father shows up at Kirk’s apartment, and there’s a heated exchange about the fate of Spock. It was a good one on one scene that I enjoyed then, and do now. One of the other reasons I liked it is once they got to the Vulcan mind meld portion of this scene, the directorial style changed. There were a lot of extreme closeups, of just the mouth, or Kirk’s single eye. It was definitely noticeable, and I really enjoyed it. This was of course the first theatrical movie directed by Leonard Nimoy. I think the overall comedy in the piece was down to him. Also, I always felt the Enterprise crew related to each other much better here than in a lot of places – I suspect that’s down to Nimoy knowing the characters really well. He also directed the next movie too, which expounded on a lot of this stuff. I remember thinking at the time it would be quite nice if Nimoy directed all of the Star Trek movies. :)
The next bit is probably the best comedic stuff. As I said earlier, one thing that was done well here was crew interaction. This extended to giving each of the secondary cast their moment to shine. In the leadup to stealing the Enterprise, just about all the characters were given a moment. Uhura got to deal with “Mr. Adventure” in a transporter chamber, Sulu got to deal with security guys (“Don’t call me Tiny”), and Scotty had some funny interactions with the crew of the Excelsior, a ship introduced to be the “new thing” in starships. This entire sequence even including the stealing of the Enterprise was a good mix of drama and comedy, I loved the tone here. Was both funny and serious at the same time. We’re set up to believe the new Excelsior ship will quickly overtake the Enterprise, but Scotty managed to sabotage the ship into not working. There’s a sound effect when the Excelsior stops, and I’ve read where people don’t like the funny sound effect, but I loved it – the whole scene worked for me. Great stuff, I think.
Once they got to the Genesis planet, they’re attacked by the Klingon ship. Since the ship was run by just a couple of people (mostly Scotty), it was quickly overwhelmed. In negotiations between Kirk and Kruge, only Spock, David, & Savvik are alive on the planet. Their science vessel was blown up earlier. To be threatening, Kruge has his men kill one of the prisoners – “I don’t care which”. They were going to kill Savvik, but David jumped in at the last second and saved her, having been killed himself. I remember being surprised at this, because I thought they were setting up Kirk’s son to be an on going character, but nope, he’s killed. The reaction from Kirk is some of my favorite acting of his – “You Klingon bastard – you killed my son!” The look of loss is something I always got even back in 1986, and now in 2020 I certainly get it having kids of my own. I knew I had to mention this scene when I wrote about the movie. It still gets me – even his other crew members watching him sink to the floor.
The next big moment after this was the destruction of the Enterprise. The ship was in bad shape, and it wasn’t going to destroy the Klingon vessel, so Kirk got them to beam on the Enterprise (save for just Kruge and Maltz, another Klingon). Kirk set off the self destruct sequence on the Enterprise, which was a cool dramatic scene, as it is played the other two officers (Chekov & Scotty) didn’t realize what he was doing right away – the audience and the other characters got it at more or less the same time. What I liked is the destruct codes were the same that were used once before in the TOS episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield“. Nice throwback for those of us who remember these things.
The ship being destroyed itself was an “oh crap” moment, because despite knowing it was coming (thank you 80’s trailers), it still got me. For a Star Trek fan, the Enterprise is as much of a character as Kirk, Spock, & McCoy were. So seeing it destroyed was a bit of a bummer. So much so that this teenage dork called into a random overnight talk show in Philadelphia once to talk about the movie, and in particular the destruction of the ship. We of course ended up with another ship in the next movie, but for now, the old Enterprise I grew up with as a kid was gone. I was sad.
One minor thing that always bugged me. For a ship to self destruct, it involves intentionally causing the engines to explode, and the fire/explosion we got was dramatically cool, but technically inaccurate. The bridge wouldn’t be the first thing to explode, the engines would, taking everything out. :)
After the ship exploded, and Kirk’s crew was on the planet, it becomes “How are they going to get off”, since their ship is gone. That leaves just the Klingon ship. The plant itself was on the verge of self destructing due to some technobabble about proto-matter, so they all had to get off. Kirk fought the Kruge on the planet while everything was blowing up, and it wasn’t the most satisfying Kirk fight we’ve ever seen.
Reverend Jim er, Kruge is killed off, the one remaining Klingon is tricked into beaming them up because Kirk repeats what he heard Kruge say to beam up. I always felt a Klingon would know the voice of his commander, but never mind. It was a fairly unsatisfying fight between the two of them I thought.
We get back to the ship, and the one remaining Klingon is thrown in the brig, and they take the ship to go to Vulcan with both Spock and Spock’s “katra” (what is inside McCoy’s head). There’s less scientific mumbo jumbo about putting the two back together. Usually it’s techno babble, but this isn’t a tech thing, it’s Vulcan mysticism. This is the only part where I felt the movie really dragged. You pretty much knew at this point Spock was coming back, and even if you didn’t “know”, you suspected it. There were several draggy scenes, several of which were in all Vulcan language. In the end, Spock is saved, and there’s a really nice emotional scene with all the crew around Spock when he realizes who his friends/shipmates are. That part is nice, but the lead up to it is kind of draggy. That probably could have been condensed a bit, but then if they did, people would complain there wasn’t enough there to justify Spock being “back”. I’m not sure how to resolve that, to be honest.
That’s where the movie ends – on Vulcan with Spock being revived. It’s an obvious lead in to the next film, which I’ll talk about shortly in another entry. But at the time I thought it was weird that they didn’t have an consequences of all their actions in stealing the Enterprise. Surely the Federation knew where they were going – why didn’t they send a ship out there, or have one there guarding the planet, too? It’s not enough to make me dislike the movie, but a few bits that could have easily been worked out. Also, if Excelsior was as fast as they say, it shouldn’t have been that hard to fix it, and they could have shown up as well. I know, it doesn’t fit the movie’s narrative, but I always had a bit of a “Mr. Spock raised eyebrow” over these points.
- Biggest Problem: Something I can’t put my finger on. Draggy in a few places.
- Biggest Strength: The crew all the their moments, and I thought worked well together.
- Overall Rating: B-
As I said before, this isn’t a bad movie, there’s many bits I really do like. Some of the casting choices were odd to me, but that’s likely more on me than the actors themselves. A few plotholes that still make me go “Hmmm” 34 years after the movie was released.
My biggest problem here says “Something I can’t put my finger on”. There’s really nothing I can point to in the movie and go “That sucks – that’s the reason this film has issues”. there isn’t. It’s a combination of things, none of which suck on their own, but together it’s a bit “meh”.
Having said this, when I watched the film for this review, I really did enjoy it. That’s no lie. The fun parts in this movie (not just comedic, but bits I liked) outweighed the bad, so that makes it a good movie. But the flaws keep it from being great.
One silly little thing – has no bearing on the movie. When they’re in space dock, and are actively stealing the Enterprise, they’re backing up towards the space doors. The label on the space doors from that moment till now remind me of the old Atari 2600 game “Adventure”. Here’s a screen shot of the doors, and the “bridge” item from the old Atari game. See if you see what I’m talking about here.. :)