It would be incredibly difficult to top Star Trek II; The Wrath of Khan, but I have to give the powers that be at trek an “A” for effort. The elements were all there: the philosophical issue surrounding death, sacrifice in the name of friendship, a major loss to the hero, a battle with mortal enemies, and the loss of the Enterprise. Any of those elements could have made Star Trek III: The Search for Spock an epic. Yet it falls short, feeling very small for a motion picture.
What went wrong? It is not a bad movie, per se, even though it does introduce the general notion that odd numbered trek movies are bad. For my money, it feels too small. I think you can blame that on Harve Bennett. He wrote the script for TSfS as his first feature film after a career in television. It shows. The feel of TSfS is like a two part episode of television, even more so than TMP did.
One point in the movie’s favor is Leonard Nimoy’s directing. He will shine much brighter in the next film, but this is the start of an illustrious directing career for him.
The film begins with the Klingons rendezvousing with a pirate ship. They meet up with aspy on that ship who gives the captain, Kuge, a disc with all the information she has on Genesis. Kuge then kills the spy, presumably to keep Genesis a secret. It does not make whole lot of sense to do that since Kuge shares the disc with his crew, but all right.
Kuge is played by Christopher Lloyd. At this point in his career, he was mostly known as Rev. Jim on Taxi. He plays kuge as effectively menacing here, but there are a couple of unintentionally funny moments reminiscent of either Jim or Doc Brown. They do not ruin the illusion of Lloyd as a villain, but they are amusing in their own way. John Larroquette--Dan Fielding from Night Court-- plays a subordinate.
Next we seethe heavily damaged Enterprise creeping back to a Starbase. McCoy is acting enormously strangely. At one point, he breaks into spock’s quarters. Raving about how he has to get back to Vulcan. Our heroes quietly sweep the incident under the rug. Considering the plot point that is about to come, it is dumb how easily the incident is forgotten. Just one of the many missteps in the movie.
The crew get a bombshell dropped on them. The Enterprise is considered too old to be refitted and so will be decommissioned and the crew reassigned. That night, they are all having a celebratory bit of wine in memory of spock and the Enterprise when Sarek shows up. Remember yesterday when I said Spock’s funeral had one glaring thing missing? While it worked for the sake of drama to have him buried immediately in space, his family was not there. Here is where that comes into play. Vulcan burial rituals were not observed properly, so Spock’s katra--soul presumably--is still out there.
It does not occur to anyone that McCoy’s strange behavior--he has now been locked up because of a second incident--is because he has Spock’s katra within him. Sarek mind melds with Kirk only to discover it is not within him. They go to view security tapes to see who Spock might have melded with. sure enough, it is McCoy. No real surprise there. We saw him touch McCoy’s face last movie and say, “Remember” and we have seen McCoy’s weird behavior here. Why is everyone else the last to know?
Kirk requests to go to Genesis to retrieve Spock’s body on the off chance this katra actually exists, but he is refused by an admiral. Kirk decides to go anyway. Out of loyalty to him and Spock, the rest of the erstwhile Enterprise bridge crew go along. They break McCoy out of the brig and steal the Enterprise from Miguel Ferrer and Doogie Howser’s dad.
Meanwhile, Grissom has arrived at Genesis carrying David Marcus and Saavik. Saavik is not played by Kirsty Alley this time around. She must have been occupied with an all you can eat buffet. They discover Spock’s coffin on the planet and the two convince the captain to let them go down and investigate. Good thing, too, as the Klingons show up and destroy the ship once they have beamed down.
They find the coffin empty, save for Spock’s burial shroud. They soon discover Spock roaming around as a young boy. David fears for the situation. He confesses he used some sort of proto-whatsis in Genesis that Saavik notes is grossly unethical. Whatever the deal is, it is making Genesis unstable and therefore useless for its intended purpose of creating habitable worlds.
The Klingons beam down to the coffin as well. For some inexplicable reason, kuge decides to pick up a giant worm off the coffin lid to compete with it over who can strangle who first. Kuge wins. Good for him, I guess. They eventually capture David, Saavik, and Spock.
What happens next is another one of those bewildering elements of the movie. Kuge demands Genesis. David tells him it is not worth stealing because it does not work. All it does is destroy planets. Well, thast is what Kuge wants it to do, so what is the problem? Talk about missing the point.
Kuge has to beam up when the Enterprise arrives. It attacks the Klingon ship, but is severely damaged itself when the skeleton crew cannot effectively defend itself in combat. Kirk tries to bluff the Klingons into surrendering, but Kuge does not buy it. He reminds Kirk of his hostages on Genesis. To show he is serious, he plans to kill one of them.
A soldier on Genesis goes to kill Saavik when David jumps him and winds up killed himself. It is an effectively dramatic moment. It ought to rip kirk apart. It does, even more so because Shatner improvised his stumbling backwards to the floor at the announcement David was dead. The script called only for stunned silence. The problem is we not only not get a chance to absorb the impact of the loss, but kirk walks it off himself. Nothing more is mentioned about it until the sixth movie.
But that is not the biggest problem for the audience. Kirk surrenders the ship, but sets the autodestruct sequence before they get boarded. They beam down to Genesis as the Klingons beam aboard and are all killed, save Kuge, who remained on his ship, in the explosion.
Considering the emotional attachment we have for the ship, it makes poor dramatic sense to destroy. For one, it diminishes David’s death to happen so soon afterwards. Two, the ship is being decommissioned for being too old. We do not like the admiral who declared it too old. We want to see the Enterprise come through and prove that jerk wrong. But the exact opposite happens. She is too old and useless. Destroying her is the only way to save everyone. What the sequence does is reinforce the admiral was right. It is disappointing, as is the lack of reaction from the crew. All they fret about is needing another way off the planet.
They beam up to the Klingon ship as Kirk and Kuge have an over the top fistfight with genesis crumbling around it. The battle is too silly for words. It makes the duel between Anakin and obi Wan in Revenge of the Sith look subdued.
Kirk wins, they take Spock back to Vulcan, and in the middle of what looks like ceremony in feudal Japan, Spock is raised from the dead. He seems confused, particularly over why his friends would sacrifice so much for him. Well the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many, of course.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is just mediocre. There is no point to it other than hitting all the marks it takes to bring Spock back. Noe of the big moments resonate for very long. The movie isto small for what it was trying to accomplish. Very disappointing.
Rating: ** (out of 5)