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Thursday, 7 July 2016

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Writer:Harve Bennett|Director:Leonard Nimoy|Release Date:1984

I've found Spock! He's right there in that coffin!

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm giving an action recap of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, directed by Spock. With Star Trek Beyond coming up this seemed like the right time to revisit the original third Trek movie.

First thing I've noticed is that the film's dropped the slightly rubbish looking hollow Star Trek II font and gone back to the iconic The Motion Picture typeface. In fact this logo would stick around until the end of Star Trek: Voyager in 2001, for everything but Star Trek: The Next Generation and its movies. Because they just had to be different.

Actually the first thing I noticed was that Search for Spock is an odd-numbered Trek movie, meaning that it has to be terrible. This curse actually does hold true with both critic and viewer ratings all the way up to the even-numbered Star Trek: Nemesis, which was so bad that it basically ended the film series (with Star Trek: Enterprise's ratings hammering the final nails into Trek's temporary coffin). But hopefully for the new movies the rule's been reversed, as Beyond's technically Star Trek 13 and it'll be nice if it doesn't entirely suck.

Alright, quick warning before I start: there'll be massive SPOILERS for Search for Spock and perhaps other Star Trek stories that came before it, but everything afterwards should be safe.



The first two Star Trek films begin with a long tedious opening credits sequence, but this time we get a tiny replay of Spock's death at the end of the last movie, which slowly regains its size and colour over time. Must have been an awkward thing to pull off in the days before digital colour timing.

This might actually be my first ever memory of anything Star Trek: seeing Spock die in super-letterboxed-vision on a worn-out old VHS tape. Either this, or watching Kirk running around with pointy ears carrying a cloaking device in The Enterprise Incident. I didn't know what I was watching, but it was weird.

After Spock's funeral we end up back at the Genesis Planet with his coffin lying intact on the ground... and then the long tedious opening credits sequence begins! There's no mention of Leonard Nimoy in the cast list, despite him being the first actor we see on screen (he's credited later as the director), but they left a pause where his name would've been just to drag the credits out longer.

The story begins with the Enterprise still heading home after getting a hammering in Wrath of Khan, which makes this the only Original Series film where the ship starts off in space instead of docked around Earth. She's had her wounds patched up but most of its trainee crew have been inexplicably transferred off to other assignments. I guess it's foreshadowing Starfleet's plans to scrap the ship.

It's funny how we almost never saw this kind of repair job done in the TV series; the hero ships could spend an entire episode getting the crap kicked out of them, but they'd always appear spotless again the very next week. I don't blame the producers though, as changing the model would've made all their expensive stock establishing shots unusable. Only Enterprise (of all series) put in the extra work to show the ship accumulating scars.

Admiral Kirk’s lost his good mood from the ending of the last film at this point. He’s miserable about the ship being nearly deserted and he’s miserable that his best friend died of radiation poisoning. He also can’t get any information from Starfleet about what’s going on with the Genesis Planet created in the last film using his son's Genesis Device. He knows that Lt. Saavik and his son David are there doing the science, but otherwise they're keeping quiet.

On the plus side Scotty has nearly finished rigging the ship to operate on automatic, which should make the ship easier to run while they have a skeleton crew. Unfortunately it's also entirely pointless as the ship will have reached Earth's Spacedock by the time he's got it working.

Meanwhile on a rubbish space freighter, a Klingon operative called Valkris has somehow gotten her hands on the top secret Genesis Project data and is handing it over to her lover Commander Kruge.

Kruge has himself a Klingon Bird-of-Prey, equipped with a cloaking device that makes the ship invisible and undetectable. Which is a shame really because it's a nice looking ship with a cool paint job and he should be showing it off.

Finally some colourful spaceships in a Star Trek movie!

God-tier VFX studio Industrial Light and Magic returned from Trek II to film the models again, but this time around they also designed them. I guess it makes sense they'd be sick of grey ships after making three Star Wars films. They couldn't resist covering them with tiny pipes though.

Romulan looking ship on the left, Klingon looking ship on the right.
In the Original Series it was the Romulans who had a Bird-of-Prey with a cloaking device and a bird design on the underside of the hull, and that was going to be the case here too until the producers decided to go with Klingons instead. It wasn't worth the confusion in a film about the identical looking Vulcans.

Fortunately the style fits the established Klingon starship look just fine too, with the wings at the back end and the ridiculously thin neck. Plus they'd established that the two races were sharing technology in the third season, so it's cool. That ship up there on the right, that's actually Romulan. They were always ripping off other people's style in that show; see how the ship on the left has a saucer shaped bit and long warp engines? Unfilmed dialogue from the episode Balance of Terror implies that they'd been nicking blueprints from Starfleet.

Kruge is happy to get the data, but he's less pleased when he discovers that Valkris has looked through it herself. This is apparently a problem, as he'll be withholding payment over it. Also he'll be blowing her to pieces. She's cool with that though, as she knows that getting killed for peeking at a video tape is an honourable way to die. They'll sing songs of her great deeds in the halls of Sto-vo-kor for sure.

There's a couple of firsts in this scene: these are the first Klingons to have unique forehead shapes, they're the first Klingons to give a damn about dying with honour, and this is the first (and only) Klingon captain to be played by Christopher Lloyd. This is what he was up to the year before Back to the Future.

He's got a pet dog in this movie too, though this one's a mean looking (but very well behaved) puppet dog that sits next to his chair and snarls. Kruge orders an unfortunate subordinate to feed it and the guy's reaction is awesome.

That there the face of a man who really does not want to feed a puppet dog.

Leonard Nimoy actually wanted to cast Battlestar Galactica star Edward James Olmos as Kruge (the actor was later offered Jean-Luc Picard as well), but somehow I don't think it would've worked out, considering his feelings about sci-fi aliens. Plus I wouldn't trade Lloyd for anyone.

Anyway the Klingons are off to the Federation neutral zone with their stolen data, while the Enterprise finally arrives at Spacedock.

Now that's a big-ass space mushroom. It has that problem a lot of space stations have in that it's entirely grey and looks like it was made on a lathe, but I can't say it isn't pretty.

I've no idea why it’s spinning though, as surely that’s just making it harder for the poor Enterprise to dock. Kirk was nervous enough when Saavik carefully took the ship out of drydock in Wrath of Khan, he must be absolutely terrified watching Sulu trying to thread a needle while skidding sideways at a few hundred miles an hour to keep up with it.

Also the thing's like four times the diameter of Babylon 5, a station that generates gravity through rotation. Just seems like a bad idea is all to have visitors falling towards the walls.

Sulu pilots the Enterprise into the cavernous interior without incident, only to discover that it's spinning just as fast on the inside!

On the plus side they've got a great view of the magnificent new USS Excelsior. She's the first of her class, equipped with a transwarp drive powered by pure refined smug. What a transwarp drive actually does is never explained, so it could be fast enough to get you to the Andromeda galaxy in half an hour, or it could just be a slightly faster version of the engines in the Enterprise. Either way, Mr. Scott thinks it's bullshit, and after this movie she seems about as fast as any other Starfleet vessel.

By the way, if you look carefully there's a second ship docked here, hidden away on the left.

It's this thing, the new-look Enterprise designed by Ken Adam and Ralph McQuarrie for the doomed Planet of the Titans movie! A few study models were built for the project as they were working out what the ship should look like, and at least two made sneaky on-screen appearances in the movies and Next Gen.

But the bridge crew's attention is redirected to the science station as there's a security breach in Spock's quarters! Though the computer seems a little unsure of where exactly that is. Maybe it's in the neck, maybe it's in the saucer, maybe it's on the Original Series ship with the round warp engines, who knows?

Kirk eventually finds his way there to discover that Dr. McCoy has broken in and is sitting in the dark, babbling in Spock's voice. He wants Kirk to climb the steps of Mount Selaya, which is kind of out of the way as it's on the planet Vulcan.

Later in the torpedo room docking bay, the sane members of the crew have assembled to meet Admiral Morrow, Commander in Chief of Starfleet, who's come down to give them all the good news! They've got extended shore leave... and he's decommissioning their starship. It was the brand new hotness just two movies ago, refitted with state of the art technology and a pearlescent paint job, but because of timeline weirdness that might have actually taken place 15 years before this.

Morrow says that Enterprise is over 20 years old and none of them feel like mentioning that she's way older than that. After all, Captain Pike was flying around in her for a decade before Kirk inherited the chair, and if you take the Animated Series as canon then Captain April had it for 5 years before him.

Kirk explains that he needs his ship just a little longer to return to the Genesis Planet (I have no idea why), but Morrow makes it clear that's not going to happen. The Genesis Project has become a galactic controversy and the planet has been quarantined.

Meanwhile the Klingons are watching the CGI Genesis effect video from Star Trek II, with a new voiceover by Admiral Kirk so that they don’t have to pay Bibi Besch money. Kruge isn't all that impressed.
"Oh yes, new cities, homes in the country. Your woman at your side, children playing at your feet and overhead, fluttering in the breeze, the flag of the Federation. Charming."
Everyone addresses Kruge as 'My Lord', which I like. It makes him seem like he's a cut above the average Klingon captain. Or maybe his crew are just worried he's going to shoot them next now they've seen the video and they're trying to get on his good side. But all he wants them to do right now is steer the ship to the Genesis Planet to that they can seize the secret of this weapon.

Speaking of Genesis, another new Starfleet vessel, USS Grissom, is carrying out a scientific study of the Genesis Planet, with Saavik and David on board. David’s done a 180 over his feelings about Starfleet now and is working with them.

Saavik's gone through a bit of a change as well, as she's undergone the little known Vulcan ritual of Nu’acktor between movies, with Robin Curtis replacing Kirstie Alley in the role due to a dispute over money. Recasting a character like this is so rare for Star Trek that I can't actually remember another time it's happened. Well except for James Cromwell taking over as Zefram Cochrane in First Contact. And the three Tora Ziyals in DS9. Plus everyone got recast for Star Trek, even though one of the original actors turned up!

Hey, isn't that the Enterprise bridge?

Turns out that David's new Genesis Planet is a bit weird, as it's got all the varieties of land and weather known to Earth within a few hours walk, and not always in the right combinations. Plus Spock's torpedo coffin is there, intact, having survived being fired out of a ship in orbit. The 'gravitation fields were in flux' apparently, which doesn't sound that implausible considering that the planet was forming from a nebula at the time. A planet forming from a nebula sounds pretty implausible though.

They've also found an animal lifeform down there, but Captain Esteban is a very by the book guy and doesn't want to beam it up or beam them down to investigate. I don't think we're supposed to side with him (the pink chairs aren't there to make the Grissom crew look more heroic), but seeing as the Reliant's Captain Terrell beamed himself down to investigate something similar in the last film and lost his whole ship due to his recklessness, I'm kinda siding with Esteban here

On Earth, Kirk's miserable get together with the Enterprise crew is cut short when Spock's very Vulcan father Sarek shows up to rant at Kirk for being a terrible friend to his son and not doing what he asked. He assumes Kirk knows what he's talking about and only a mind-meld manages to convince him otherwise.

But Kirk thinks that Sarek's onto something and the two of them fast forward through a VHS copy of Star Trek II to the bit where Spock imprints McCoy with his memories and personality. Or maybe it's supposed to be security cam footage, either way they now understand that it's McCoy who needs to go to Vulcan and... I don't know, put Spock's mind on a hard drive or something. Also they'll need to swing by Genesis on the way and pick up Spock's dead body too, for mysterious Vulcan reasons.

In the final cut neither character has any reason to assume there's anything left of Spock to go back for, but the Grissom scene was apparently going to come at the start of the film, leading to Kirk mentioning Spock's capsule in his captain's log narration. Which would almost explain why he told Admiral Morrow he wanted to go the Genesis Planet earlier. 

Over on the Genesis Planet, Saavik and David finally beam down to a tropical soundstage where they learn that the microbes on Spock's coffin have grown and evolved! I know that evolution doesn't actually work like that, but it's a planet built with space magic so stuff like this going to happen. Not to Saavik and David fortunately, they're safe, but Spock... well his corpse has apparently climbed out of his coffin and gone walkabout, without his robe.

Back on Earth, Kirk goes to ask Admiral Morrow for a ship and permission to visit the Genesis Planet (again), but Morrow can't break the rules for him. Kirk is therefore going anyway, with Sulu and Chekov agreeing to help.

Meanwhile McCoy is making his own plans to get to the Genesis Planet, trying to hire a ship in some seedy bar. We're in the utopian corner of the Federation though, so this is about as close to the Mos Eisley Cantina as you get here.

Star Trek's future fashions can be hit and miss, but it seems that the costume designer has had the genius idea of making the waitress's outfit so bad that everyone else looks great by comparison.

You can tell it's the future because there's aliens everywhere and people are playing a holographic wireframe biplane dogfighting game. And you can tell it's Star Trek because there are tribbles around, and the bar music's terrible. The thing about Trek is that human culture peaked around the end of the second millennium and it's all been downhill from there.

One thing I don't like about these scenes is that there's no establishing shots to show where they're taking place. I mean Spacedock is so huge I always assumed that most of these scenes took place there, especially considering this is apparently a redress of the Enterprise sickbay set, but now I'm getting the feeling we're actually on Earth. I had this exact same problem with the start of Aliens as well (I think I decided that Ripley was on a space station the whole time in that one).

McCoy soon gets the attention of this alien, who comes across like a cross between Yoda and Jar Jar Binks, saying things like "To your planet, welcome." He apparently has a ship (and McCoy apparently has money to pay for it, which weird seeing as Earth has phased out currency), but when he hears he wants to go to Genesis he quickly loses interest.

Unfortunately for McCoy, it turns out that Admiral Morrow is sitting right next to him, and he heard the whole conversation.

Okay okay I realise that it's not really Admiral Morrow who catches him, it's a nameless undercover agent for Federation Security. The first time I watched the film from a fuzzy VHS tape I honestly did think they were the same person, but put them side by side and they're clearly not. I guess I recognise minor characters by their facial hair.

Seems that the agent has been secretly keeping an eye on McCoy for the government to make sure he didn't say anything about the top secret Genesis Project. Which seems kind of sinister for the utopian Federation. McCoy tries (and fails) to do a Vulcan neck-pinch on him and gets taken away, confirming for all time that it's impossible for humans to do the move. And that's the last we ever see of Morrow, the sinister agent, and their moustaches.

Kirk visits McCoy in his cell later and decides to check how his poor brain-scrambled friend is doing by asking how many fingers he’s holding up.

The Vulcan hand salute? That’s a dick move Kirk.

Kirk lets him know he's suffering from a Vulcan mind-meld and gives him medicine to restore at least some of his marbles for the time being. He needs him fit to travel as they're breaking him out with the ancient 'sick prisoner' trick and some violence.

If Spock was here he'd be able to knock out the guards with a gentle neck-pinch. But he's not, and that means Sulu gets to step up to the plate.

This prison break is kind of underwhelming for a film that came out seven years after Star Wars, but it features Sulu judo flipping a guy who called him 'Tiny' before nonchalantly shooting holes into a console until it explodes, so it works for me. He’s finally gotten to do something in a movie! Plus I like his cape... jacket... thing.

Speaking of characters actually getting something to do, the film then cuts to Uhura working in a transporter room somewhere. Is it in the same building? Are they even in a building? The movie has no answers for me.

Uhura gets a nice scene here where she deals with her bored co-worker by pointing a phaser at him and leading him into the closet so that she can beam the others to the Enterprise. It's also basically her last scene until the ending, as she has to stay behind to... uh... keep her co-worker from setting off an alarm maybe? Who knows?

By the way, Nichelle Nichols is wearing an alternative uniform with a skirt in this scene because she specifically requested it, which is apparently the same reason that female crew members wore those skirts in the Original Series too.

In the first pilot the female officers wore trousers, but Grace Lee Whitney wanted to wear boots and a mini-skirt (which were actually shorts with a flap in front), and Gene Roddenberry wasn't about to ignore any request that sexed up his series a little. Would've been nice if they kept the trousers in the mix though, so that women had more options than 'mini-skirt' or 'regular skirt'.

Right, so Kirk's team have successfully broken McCoy out and beamed up to the Enterprise. Trouble is that there's only five of them on board and the last two movies went out of their way to make it clear that a lot of people are needed to operate these starships.

Fortunately the episode The Ultimate Computer has established that computers are awesome and can do everyone's job for them, at least until they turn evil and have to be talked to death. Scotty's automation system is more basic than an M-5 multitronic unit, but he assures Kirk that a chimpanzee and two trainees could run the ship with it in place.

By the way, if you think Chekov's puce space-elf outfit looks terrible, the filmmakers agreed with you. They decided to change it midway through, but didn't want to reshoot the earlier scenes so that collar comes and goes during the film. Sulu on the other hand is doing just fine with what he's got.

Anyway, Sulu reverses the ship towards the Spacedock's sealed spacedoors, while Scotty sits at Chekov's station and desperately tries to hack the system and get them open in time (Chekov's stuck with Uhura's job). It's all very tense and dramatic, with lots of 'access denied' beeping, but they eventually get the ship back outside without snapping the nacelles off.

But for the first time in Starfleet history there actually is another ship in the area, as the Excelsior's sitting right next to Enterprise in Spacedock ready to chase her down.

The Excelsior's bridge might look like it was borrowed from a Star Trek spoof, but that's because they used a fraction of their meagre budget to build a new set for the scene instead redressing the expensive Enterprise bridge like they usually do. Also they wasted some of the cash by putting creepy Borg lighting in all the chairs. They only made half the room though, so it could only be filmed from this angle.

The ship herself is state of the art, with an elite crew captained by a man who carries a baton around everywhere and likes to file his nails in bed... all over his uniform. They've even got Miguel Ferrer, one of the OCP executives from RoboCop, that's how damn smug these people are.

A lot of people say that the 'Stealing the Enterprise' sequence is the best part of the movie, which seem unlikely as there's no Christopher Lloyd in it, but I have to agree with them. Sure it ends with likely the slowest chase scene to ever take place between two starships, but that just helps to sell the scale of these massive vessels.

The tension comes from the fact that even in perfect condition with a full crew, the Enterprise would be utterly outmatched by the Excelsior, and the drama comes from Kirk and the others choosing to throw their careers away (or worse) just to help Spock and McCoy. Disobeying orders to save the Federation, that'd probably be forgiveable, but stealing a starship and taking it to a forbidden planet out of loyalty to a friend... is exactly what Spock did in The Menagerie and he got away with it. But Starfleet's apparently run by dicks these days so they're in real trouble now.

Not from the Excelsior though. Turns out that Scotty sabotaged the ship before they left, and she breaks down with a comical sputtering sound as the Enterprise fires up her warp drive and escapes to the Genesis Planet. Of course the laws of storytelling state that the Excelsior has to reappear at the end for a last minute rescue and then Admiral Morrow gives them all their jobs back... but nope, this is actually the last we see of Starfleet HQ or the Excelsior in this movie.

Meanwhile on the Genesis Planet, Saavik and David have found Spock! The search is over and we're not even halfway through the film.

He isn't hyper-evolved like the microbes though, he's been reborn as a child! But his mind's been reset as well so he's a total blank slate. He seems to have mastered walking already, but he doesn't recognise them or understand a word they're saying. So now Saavik has to go the long and gruelling process of trying to convince Captain Esteban to let her beam up a freezing innocent child to the ship.

And then Kruge turns up in his Bird-of-Prey.

Captain Esteban has just enough time to order Grissom's shields raised... but he doesn't. Could be that the ship doesn't even have shields. Luckily for him, Kruge only wants the vessel disabled not destroyed. Unluckily for him Kruge's gunner goes and blows the ship up anyway. In one shot!

The gunner also dies in one shot, as Kruge whips out his pistol and demonstrates his displeasure at losing a ship full of information about Genesis. I wouldn't say this is a gruesome movie, but that guy's brain just burned so brightly that it shone out of his eye sockets.

Kruge is extra pissed off because he wanted prisoners! Sure Kirk said that Klingons don't take prisoners in Wrath of Khan, but he's been a Klingon prisoner before so he's full of shit. The man cheers up a bit though when he hears about Saavik and David on the planet's surface.

They don't beam straight to their location though, that would be crazy! Instead they hike to Spock's coffin instead where they find that the microbes have transformed again into gross snake-like creatures. So Kruge decides to grab one of them while it's minding its own business to see if he can throttle the thing to death before it strangles the life out of him.

Then once it's dead he immediately phones his ship up just to tell them that nothing’s happening! Man I love Christopher Lloyd in this role.

David, Saavik and Spock have a good head start on him, but the Klingons are catching up. Kruge could still just beam over to them, but he's not the type to take the easy route when there's a fake looking jungle he can hike through. He'll be disappointed though if he's hoping there'll be other animals to kill, as the only other wild creature on the entire planet is Spock.

Speaking of the young Vulcan... he's not so young any more. As the planet ages so does he, because it turns out that David took a shortcut when he designed the Genesis Device and used unstable protomatter. Because inventing the thing was taking forever!

Saavik actually confronts the doctor over this, asking "How many have paid the price for your impatience? How many have died?" And the answer is clearly 'none', as the consequences of using protomatter have only just begun to show. If the planet explodes then the answer will be 'three Klingons, two Vulcans and a human', but until then all he's really done is brought her mentor back to life.

It's really lucky for Spock that there was a female Vulcan around really as the Original Series established that every adult male Vulcan has to have sex every seven years or he'll die. Because of course it did. That gets extra awkward when you consider that Saavik was Spock's young student and now she's the closest he's got to a mother figure. But the movie only goes as far as showing them performing a ritual with their fingers, so maybe that was enough in this case!

The next morning Kruge finally gets his prisoners, including the man who invented the Genesis Project, which should cheer him up a bit when he finds out. Also Kirk's ship is entering the system, giving him both a starship to disable and the man who narrated the Genesis tape! Basically everything's working out for Kruge today.

Kruge inexplicably leaves the prisoners behind and beams up to his ship, which is currently invisible and watching the Enterprise get closer. Someone involved in production did the research and remembered that cloaked ships have to decloak before they can fire (even when they're only firing torpedoes), but by the time the Enterprise detects the Bird-of-Prey it'll be far too late.

Or not.

Kirk had kind of noticed that Grissom was missing and there was a distortion effect getting bigger on the viewscreen, so he waits until the Klingons begin to decloak and immediately send a couple of torpedoes their way while they're still transferring energy to weapons.

Also the Enterprise has apparently transformed into Tactical Mode for this one shot as the saucer's slid backwards several meters and that warp nacelle in the background has grown eight times as big. I'm guessing what happened here is that they filmed their giant-sized model of the neck area of the ship and then composited it onto a less than perfect matte painting.

Oops, Kirk blew up Kruge's puppet dog. Well Klingons are always going on about how it's a good day to die, so he'll probably be happy the creature died in battle. If you can call getting absolutely wrecked before even firing a single shot "a battle".

The torpedoes didn't leave a scratch on the Bird-of-Prey model though, which really stands out after the hammering the ships took in Star Trek II, and how beat up the Enterprise still looks. There's just those weird arcs of electricity all over it.

But Kruge isn't out of the fight yet, and he retaliates in a shot that reminds me of the Enterprise's retaliation against Khan in Star Trek II. Both times they come really close to taking out the bridge, but then hit the hull behind it instead. I think they were aiming at that blue dome at the back as it has something to do with the engines.

By the way Wrath of Khan may well be the only time any ship fires phasers in these movies up until Picard's crew takes over in Star Trek: Generations.

Man they really need to install fuses in these ships. We get a rare glimpse of the bridge ceiling here, showing the Enterprise’s stage lights.

Unfortunately Mr. Scott's automation system wasn't meant for battle and Kruge's torpedo has taken it out entirely. Without a crew to press the buttons the Enterprise is utterly crippled.

Hey, where did those marks on Enterprise's starboard side come from? The ship wasn’t hit from that direction at all in Star Trek II. Did Scotty get out there with some paint to exaggerate the damage in the same way he exaggerates his repair estimates?

Kruge is waiting for the Enterprise to just finish him off, but the killing shot isn't coming and he's not sure why. Federation battle cruisers don't typically break down after a single shot and he has no reason to assume Kirk brought it here with just five people on board. Because why would anyone ever do that?

But when Kirk calls up and asks for his surrender, Kruge's canny enough to call his bluff. He demands that Kirk surrenders his ship, or else he'll start killing the hostages on the planet. Well, continue killing them, as he orders one stabbed to make a point. Kirk soon gets a call from Saavik telling him that his son David is dead.

William Shatner's sometimes accused of overacting, but he absolutely nails Kirk's reaction to hearing this news. He collapses backwards onto his chair, misses, and lands on the floor instead, yelling about Klingon bastards.

This job was supposed to be so simple. They steal a Federation cruiser, pick up a corpse from a quarantined planet, drop it off at Vulcan along with Dr. McSpock, and then get back to Earth in time for court martials and Romulan Ale. But now his ship is helpless, his son is dead, and no one's going to Vulcan at this rate. And it's all Christopher Lloyd's fault! He's been utterly defeated by Doc Brown.

So to save Spock and Saavik, Kirk agrees to surrender the Enterprise to the Klingons.

First though he's going to rig it to explode.

Hey this looks just like that scene earlier where the three Klingons were watching the Genesis video, except this time our heroes are saying their destruct sequence passwords. Their terrible rubbish passwords.
"Computer destruct sequence one, code 11A."
"Destruct sequence two, code 11A2B."
"Destruct sequence three, code 1B2B3."
"Code 000 Destruct 0."
Okay, who gave Chekov the code to destroy the Enterprise? He's not even from this ship, he was the first officer of the Reliant! And Kirk wasn't assigned to the ship either, he was there to assess Spock's cadets on their training voyage.

Actually these are the same codes the crew used to set the self-destruct in the episode Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. Which is even worse because that means they haven't been changed in two decades!

Kirk beams his crew to the Genesis Planet moments before the Klingon boarding crew arrives on the Enterprise. These guys had some serious nerve to think that could take a ship of 300 with just a half dozen soldiers armed with pistols, but they're utterly unprepared to find there's no one on board.

Nothing about this makes any sense to them, especially the fact that the computer keeps saying alien words like "nine", "eight", "seven" and "six". So they call up Kruge and he figures it out immediately, yelling "Get out of there!" to his crew on the Starfleet ship.

But tragically they're more than two seconds away from the transporter room, and soon stuntmen are flinging themselves over consoles and railings as the bridge explodes. Shame Kruge didn't think to use his own transporter to get his crew back.

In retrospect it probably wasn't their smartest move to murder Kirk's son. Kirk has on occasion threatened to use the self-destruct sequence to blow someone up, but this time he was actually pissed off enough to go through with it. See Khan, that's how you take your enemies out with your own exploding ship!

And so ends the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, with the most memorable starship death in movie history. ILM definitely earned their cash on this film.

It's hard to think of this as being the same starship from the series as it looks so different (inside and out); there's a bit of a 'Ship of Theseus' thing going on here. But there was apparently something in there left over from the original TV vessel and now it's gone.

Still, the Refit version of the ship has had some pretty legendary adventures itself. Like that time when it killed some of its crew in a transporter malfunction, suffered a nearly catastrophic breakdown, and then flew very slowly around the inside of a big cloud. Plus the time when it got sucker punched and crippled by the USS Reliant and then flew very slowly around the inside of a big cloud.

That's such a beautiful shot, with the wreckage of the Enterprise burning up in the atmosphere like a shooting star.

Though I can't help by notice that the anti-matter didn't react and utterly vaporise the ship. In fact the explosives only really took out the bridge and the front of the saucer. Back in The Motion Picture Scotty promised that the self-destruct would be enough to destroy both them and the gigantic super powerful V'Ger ship they were parked inside, but I guess he was wrong! Man, wouldn't they have felt stupid if they'd gone through with detonating the ship, only for it to go up in a tiny explosion that V'Ger just shrugged off.

The crew easily take out the Klingons on the surface, but now they're stuck on an unstable world that could explode at any moment and the only one who can rescue them is Kruge. I bet Scotty wishes he hadn't sabotaged the Excelsior so expertly right about now.

Kirk has something Kruge wants though and that's the secret of the Genesis Device. Well he doesn't actually, and the man who could've told him everything is lying dead on the ground by his own orders, but Kruge doesn't know that.

So Kruge beams down to the soundstage and holds them all at gunpoint, because they were too dumb to prepare for the obvious. Or maybe it's part of Kirk's plan, I don't know. Either way they're all taken prisoner aboard the Bird-of-Prey, except for Kirk and Spock.

Star Trek II was too classy to end with an old-school Original Series fist fight between the hero and villain; in fact they never meet in person. Star Trek III on the other hand... not so much.

Kruge wants the secret of Genesis and if he has to beat it out of Kirk then so much the better. He's not really bothered that the entire planet is collapsing beneath them as that only makes the fight more metal! It's just a shame that the fight choreography is kind of crap. I mean I've seen better fights on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! (Because it's become a really good series with some fantastic fight scenes. More people should give it a try.)

The lack of location shooting gives the film a low budget look (and the fact that it really was low budget for a blockbuster doesn't help), but I have to admit that it made sense to shoot this final confrontation on a set, so they could have their fire pits, collapsing cliffs and rocks shooting out of the ground.

The set actually came very close to burning down, but it wasn't anything to do with their pyrotechnics. Shatner himself was among those who helped put the fire out, in full Kirk costume (because he wanted to get the filming finished in time for him to go back to T.J. Hooker). The cinematographer on the other hand was apparently kind of hoping the soundstage would burn down, so he could film on location in Hawaii after all.

Eventually Kruge stumbles backwards onto a collapsing bit of rock and finds himself hanging over a river of lava. Kirk has the man who ordered his son's death at his mercy... yet he can't help but immediately try to save him.

And Kruge can't help but use Kirk's kindness as a way to get an advantage, so Kirk switches tactics, slamming his foot in the Klingon's face while yelling "I... have had... enough of you!" Which has to be his most iconic line since "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!" And Kruge falls into the lava and dies.

Kirk's still trapped on a rapidly disintegrating planet while his crew is held prisoner on a Klingon ship in orbit, but right now that seems like a minor problem compared to the crap he's just gone through. He picks up a communicator, grabs Spock, and yells the order to beam him up (in Klingon).

Turns out the Klingons are just as easy to get the jump on as the Starfleet crew were, though in the Maltz's defence he is the only one of them left alive now. See Khan, that's how you hijack an enemy ship to get a ride off the nightmare planet you were stranded on! Kirk was off that planet in minutes and he got his revenge out of the way first.

So Kirk's lost an Enterprise but he's gained a Klingon Bird-of-Prey! Seems like a good excuse to have yet another mid-life crisis and start a new career as a dashing space pirate, but before that he needs to get McCoy and Spock's body to Vulcan. Hopefully Sarek's ritual still works when the corpse is alive. In fact I'm still kind of fuzzy on why he needed the corpse so badly in the first place.

David's corpse on the other hand, that can stay where it is; there's no need for Star Trek III-2: The Search for Kirk's Son. Though Kirk does at least say "Goodbye David," as they leave.

Smart idea to add spotlights, they always make a model look huge.

And so the renegade crew land their Klingon ship on the Federation world of Vulcan, without planetary security trying to shoot them down or arrest them! I guess Sarek has some friends in high places. I would've shown a screencap of the exploding Genesis planet before this shot, but they don't stick around to watch. Though we do get a massive eruption to make the Bird-of-Prey's escape more exciting.

Spock's alive and looking very much the same age as when he died, so Sarek has a crazy idea. Why not restore the backed up data from McCoy's brain into his regenerated head? He realises that it's too risky to be logical, but admits that he struggles to be entirely logical where his son is concerned. I bet he wouldn't admit it to Spock's face though.

So the Vulcans have a big ceremony on a mountain (gongs are involved), but as usual the actual procedure mostly involves the touching of foreheads. It's always either touching forehands or ritual combat with these people. Fortunately the filmmakers resisted the temptation to paint spooky 80s visual effects on top to show the psychic transference of data.

Eventually McCoy is sane again and Spock's back to his old self! Well, almost; he's still a bit unclear about... pretty much everything. They're sure it'll all come back to him though. He asks why Kirk gave up everything to save him and he explains that he did it because "the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many". It's like he's deliberately trying to confuse the poor Vulcan.

Kirk seems a bit confused himself, as he assumes that Spock would remember saving the ship at the end of the last film, when he did that after the mind-meld memory backup. He does at least remember that his friend's called Jim though!

And the film ends with our heroes basically fugitives from Starfleet. For the first time in Star Trek history they have no Enterprise to voyage on and no ongoing mission. That's a pretty big deal, considering the sequel wasn't a sure thing. Though we do get:

"... AND THE ADVENTURE 
CONTINUES..."

Should've ended with "James Kirk will return..." though, in my opinion.


CONCLUSION

I've given it some thought, and I've decided that I don't much like "The Search for Spock". The title I mean, it's kind of cheesy. If this was an Original Series episode it'd be called something more poetic like "Return to Genesis", "The Consciousness Within" or "Planet on the Edge of Exploding". The movie on the other hand is actually pretty decent! It's not a film that really stands on its own, but as a second chapter to the Wrath of Khan saga I think it performs its duties adequately.

Search for Spock did alright at the US box office too, beating Temple of Doom's opening from the previous week, then finishing a little short of Wrath of Khan. Worldwide though, not so much; the movie bombed worse than Star Trek: Nemesis, whether you adjust for inflation or not, with Ghostbusters comprehensively whooping its ass. And now 32 years later, reboot Star Trek III is about to go up against reboot Ghostbusters for a rematch!

But I don't think Trek III was in any danger of being unprofitable, because the movie just didn't cost all that much more than Wrath of Khan to make and it shows. Starship shots and collapsing planet set aside, Return of the Jedi and Aliens make this look like a TV episode. On the other hand ILM stepped up and did fantastic work in realising all the ways in which James T. Kirk owns people in this movie. He's getting things done in this film and it's nice to see him as a proactive commander pulling off daring manoeuvres and turning death into a fighting chance to live. Some people say that the movie becomes tedious after he steals the Enterprise and brings the film to the Genesis Planet, but the second half contains a not insignificant amount of Christopher Lloyd, so I'd have to disagree on that.

Wrath of Khan set up the idea that Star Trek movies need to have a nemesis to defeat, and Kruge steps into the role surprisingly well, without being a carbon copy. Khan was a genius who made mistakes because of his obsessive need for revenge, Kruge on the other hand is driven to always pick the most badass and reckless of his options, even if it means hiking all night through a jungle for no good reason. It very nearly pays off for him as well, when he goes after the Enterprise in a fight he can't win, and wins. But then he decides to have a fist fight on an exploding planet and it turns out to be more exhilarating than he can handle. But Kruge's legacy lives on, as he pretty much defined the Klingons for the next few decades. Wow Star Trek sure likes short names with a 'K' sound doesn't it?

Kirk, Khan, Kruge, Klingons, Spock, Chekov, McKoy, Skotty, Saavik.... Pike, Pikard, Riker, Krusher, Sisko, Kira, Quark, Kathryn Janeway, Tuvok, Kes, Kim, damn how deep does this rabbit hole go???

Speaking of the characters, the moral of Search for Spock is basically "Spock's the most important person in Star Trek, all the other characters would give up their jobs to save him and they talk about him all the time when he's not there, please don't quit the franchise Leonard Nimoy, we'll even let you direct the movie!" Or "The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many", which is the compassionate counterpart to the logic driving Spock's sacrifice in the last film. And it makes equal sense, when someone needs their help bad enough, and they need them to be okay.

In fact a lot of this film plays out as a reversal of the last one, especially the ending which takes the last act of Star Trek II and inverts it. Kirk beats his opponent with his fists (well, boot) instead of his brains and collects Spock body from a collapsing Genesis Planet, using an enemy ship to save them from an explosion. After the action is over he's lost the Enterprise and his son, but he discovers that Spock has come back to life and the crew are all happy! And there's gongs instead of bagpipes at the ceremony. Which is great until you realise the film's just undone half of one of Trek's most highly regarded movies!

Still at least we got to keep Saavik... kind of (and I think people are very mean to Robin Curtis, she'd just dialled the character's stoic logicfulness from 9.2 up to 10). Plus despite the film being about Spock, it also proved that Star Trek can do just fine without him, as in his absence the other characters had more room to claim a bit of screen time. Uhura does more than answer the phone, Scotty, McCoy and Chekov get to sit in different seats on the bridge, and Sulu is actually in the movie as a character! Plus their camaraderie is in full effect, keeping the tone light... for the most part.

And it's not like everything's returned to the pre-Wrath status quo; for one thing they blew up the damn ship! The destruction of the Enterprise could've been a real misstep, as the fans had been given 18 years to grow attached to her, but I think it really works. If she was a top of the line vessel at the top of her game then getting ruined by a tiny Klingon scout ship would feel less than satisfying. But she was old and wounded and her mission was over either way, so when she sacrifices herself to save the crew (another inversion!) it feels like a heroic death.

The third movie in a franchise is often a disappointment and I know the odd/even rule scientifically proves that Search for Spock has to be one of the bad ones, but it's still one of my favourites of the Original Series hexalogy and I'd put it way ahead of Generations and Insurrection. I recognise that it has its problems, but it's a fun space adventure movie and James Horner's incredible score makes the flaws easy to forgive. In fact they could've shown Scotty reading a technical manual on the toilet for two hours and it'd still make it into my top five with this soundtrack. But I'm glad they didn't. I'm also glad Leonard Nimoy was talked out of hiring the The Voyage Home's composer, because the only good part of that soundtrack is the merciful absence of it for much of the movie. Uh, in my opinion.

Just keep your expectations calibrated appropriately if you decide to give it a watch/rewatch.

Strange new worlds explored: 1. And then it blew up.
New life discovered: 1. They discovered evolved microbes.
New civilisations discovered: 0.
Boldly gone where no one has gone before: They went back to the same place as in the last film!
Other ships in range: A few, but the Enterprise was the easiest to steal.


I won't be watching Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home for a long while (if ever), so I won't be able to joke about the crew stealing Christopher Lloyd's time machine. But Star Trek will return at some point with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country! And next up on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be watching Babylon 5 episode 5, Parliament of Dreams.

You're welcome and encouraged to leave your feedback in the message box below. If you don't someone else will, and who knows what kind of weird opinions they'll have?

5 comments:

  1. Sulu on the other hand is doing just fine with what he's got.

    That's because Sulu is awesome, and he knows it; just look at his face in that picture. He even makes that weird leather jacket-cape theing look good.

    Okay, who gave Chekov the code to destroy the Enterprise? He's not even from this ship, he was the first officer of the Reliant!

    I think they do something similar in First Contact too. Worf just strides onto the Enterprise and carries on as if he hasn't just spent a year on DS9.

    Seems like a good excuse to have yet another mid-life crisis and start a new career as a dashing space pirate

    I love Star Trek IV, but my gosh, now I wish the series had gone in a different direction. Space Pirate Kirk would have been great. Contrary to Roddenberry's vision, but great.

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  2. I've just watched this -- well, it's still on as I type this, but it's the Vulcan hippie ceremony bit at the end -- for the first time in ages on SyFy -- ugh -- and it's better than I remembered. It's slow, and it seems small and cramped somehow, but I enjoyed watching it.

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  3. A few things.

    1. You're a very funny guy! I really enjoy your writing.
    2. I agree with everything you said.
    3. Well, except, I think I enjoyed The Voyage Home more than you did. You should re-watch it! However, I do agree the soundtrack is pretty damned awful. Christmas space music?? Really??
    4. I like you're writing. But I won't be reading your rwviews of B5. Could never get into that show.
    5. I saw TSFS in the theatre. I have this memory of Kirk shooting the Klingon on Genesis, but instead of a phaser pulse, which we've seen consistently on all home releases and DVDs, it was actually a mini-torpedo that was propelled from his pistol. Does anyone else remember this?
    6. Also, watching in the theatre I remember the Enterprise warping to the Genesis Planet as a long streak from left to right. In all releases since, it's been variations on a more fore-shortened streak, flying more toward the viewer. Maybe my 8 year old self was seeing things, but these memories have haunted me for decades. Any clarifation or corroboration would be appreciated :-)

    Aaron

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    Replies
    1. 1. That's awesome. Makes me feel better about typing all those words.
      2. Excellent, that saves me from having to appreciate someone else's different point of view!
      3. You probably do like it more than me, but I didn't hate it! I just don't own it on disc (or Final Frontier. Or half the Next Gen films).
      4. Fair enough. Babylon 5 is a strange low-budget series with theatrical acting and cardboard sets, so its appeal was never going to be universal. Though there is a reason people are still discussing it, and not series like Seven Days, Sliders, War of the Worlds, Andromeda etc.
      5. I don't remember that, but then I never saw the film at the cinema. I don't remember ever reading about it either though.
      6. Same.

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  4. I also don't own The Voyage Home... LOL.. guess I didn't like it that much! Only own the first three films and JJ Trek.

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