Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" Review

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" Review

-- Rating: PG
Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: June 1, 1984
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

These words spoken by Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to justify his sacrifice in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" reverberate through its sequel, "The Search for Spock." The melancholy film features the gallant crew of the USS Enterprise dealing with the aftermath of the death of one of their own, with time and old age threatening to undermine their very reason for being. Once dashing and heroic at the helm of his beloved starship, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) suddenly finds himself and his crew denied the chance to return to Genesis, the planet where their fallen comrade lies. Meanwhile, Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is suddenly losing his mind, torn between his true personality and Spock's implanted katra, the Vulcan equivalent of a soul.

"Star Trek III" is the middle chapter of what would become a trilogy-within-a-series comprised of its predecessor, "The Wrath of Khan," and its sequel, "The Voyage Home." Directed by Nimoy, the film wisely picks up immediately following the events of "Star Trek II," with the Enterprise slowly limping its way to Earth in all its battle-scarred glory. But, it's not just the visibly charred hull of the famous ship that shows its wounds; Both Kirk and McCoy are emotionally compromised due to the death of their friend. Where McCoy's mental instability stems from a last-minute mind meld with Spock, Kirk's comes from the realization death might be the only enemy he can't simply vanquish with a phaser blast.

Of course, this being a "Star Trek" film, there's more than just the emotional navel-gazing of two Starfleet officers staring at irrelevance. Lieutenant Saavik (Robin Curtis), a former crewmember of the Enterprise has been reassigned with Kirk's son, David (Merritt Butrick), to the USS Grissom, a science vessel exploring the now quarantined Genesis planet. It's here on this rapidly aging planet that Spock's body has regenerated, igniting a race to reunite him with his former crew so they can take him to the planet Vulcan where he can be merged with the katra held within McCoy. To make it all the more complicated, the Klingons are headed to Genesis in an effort to turn the experiment that created this new planet into a devastating weapon.

Given the odd-numbered "Star Trek" films have a reputation for being fairly poor, it was a surprise to see how well "The Search For Spock" has held up. Part of that is its continuation of the story begun in "The Wrath of Khan," lending real stakes to the film as Kirk and his crew put everything on the line to save an individual rather than an entire galaxy. Yes, there are budgetary constraints and the third act limps to its conclusion, but overall, it's a solid entry into the film series, especially considering there's a key player missing until the last two minutes of the movie.

Looking back at the entire "Trek" film series with the original crew, this is the one that feels the most like an episode of the original series. There's the exploration aspect of it, with Saavik and David searching through the ever-changing landscape of Genesis for a young Spock. Elements of the Cold War seep through the story, with the Klingons looking to Genesis not for a way to build life, but to turn it into the intergalactic equivalent of a nuclear weapon. Then there's Admiral Kirk, defying orders and taking control of the USS Enterprise for one final hurrah.

By killing Spock in "The Wrath of Khan," the producers of the "Star Trek" film series raised the stakes considerably. It's actually pretty amazing to look back at, considering very few franchises today would have the guts to eliminate such an important character, even if it's only for one film. In this film, Nimoy and his producers take the crew even further through the ringer. This is as dark as it would get in the original crew's universe, with Kirk and company left out to dry by Starfleet in their hour of need. Every setting feels like it's bathed in dim light, adding a sense of foreboding to the narrative. Even the shots on Genesis are rarely filtered in sunlight. Too often, Saavik and David are walking through a darkly lit set, with a cloud of death hovering over the proceedings.

This time, death hits twice, first with Kirk's son, David, then his ship, the Enterprise. For a film that has some obvious limitations due to its budget, the image of the Enterprise is haunting as it streaks across the Genesis atmosphere, burning up as it self-destructs. Deservedly known for his ham-fisted acting, Shatner actually plays this scene as he does with the rest of the film, in a very reserved manner. Very rarely does the audience see the Kirk bravado and histrionics the character was known for. Instead, Shatner keeps it close to the vest, giving what is perhaps one of his best performances in the "Star Trek" series. Kelley's turn as Bones also deserves some praise, with the actor displaying his crotchety demeanor as well as showing a spot-on impression of Nimoy's Spock when the scenes call for it. This is Shatner and Kelley's show, with the rest of the crew having little to do than react off these two.

While it's not the best of the series, "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" is far better than the odd-numbered reputation suggests. It has real consequences, with an ending that leaves the crew stranded without the Enterprise, setting up the storyline's conclusion in "The Voyage Home." That film is considerably lighter, taking the story towards a more comedic tone, leading to the disastrous "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" in 1989. Ultimately, "The Search for Spock" is an intriguing entry that takes real risks, making it worthy of a visit from novices and Trekkies alike.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5