Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

One of the maligned films in the Star Trek film series (I was once told the rule is “odd numbered films suck”), I’ve gotta say I really did enjoy this one.

We pick up almost immediately after The Wrath of Khan, still dealing with the Genesis project, and the coffin Spock was left in amidst its magical terraforming. A rogue Klingon commander (“Did I just hear–why, yes, that’s Christopher Lloyd there in that Klingon makeup…!”) and his crew take their Bird-of-Prey in toward the planet to try and acquire the Genesis weapon to control the universe–but more importantly to prevent the Federation from controlling the universe. Kirk’s son David continues to research and analyze the process of the Genesis project with Lt. Saavik (now played by Robin Curtis instead of Kirstie Alley) under the command of Captain J.T. Esteban (Philip R. Allen) on the USS Grissom. Kirk is visited by Spock’s father Sarek (Mark Lenard–as always) who demands Spock’s “katra” (his soul) be returned to Vulcan.

I was annoyed with my stupid memory for randomly remembering what was going on in the film before the film told me (where Spock’s katra is, for instance)–but then the movie told me anyway, within minutes. Essentially, it is leading to some strange behaviour from McCoy, who holds Spock’s katra in his own head. Some amusement comes from this, especially when he tries to use the Vulcan nerve pinch on a fellow bar occupant at one point, his tongue hanging out in that look of concentrated effort as he tries multiple grips and positions. When Kirk tells him what’s going on, he spouts one of my favourite Trek lines, which I will leave for you to find out, and leads into some great fun from the entire cast. This is why I tend to like the original cast movies so much–there’s that feeling of newness, mischievousness, and organic flow that was missing from the sterile feeling of The Next Generation (turning me off the show at one point), but it’s coupled with bigger budgets, better costumes, more advanced effects and this wonderful sense of reunion. We know who Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, Chekhov and Scotty are, and so do many people in the Federation, but there are all these great moments of winking to the audience as we see situations where we know they’re going to outwit their coworkers and pull off something they shouldn’t be doing. It’s always highly amusing, because whatever any of them lacks in acting skill–in most cases, especially Kelley and Nimoy, they’re not lacking an awful lot–they make up for in this wonderful familiar charisma. We’re glad to see them do those things, and we chuckle along with them as they string along goofy Security Guard #47 and leave him locked in a closet as they sneak out aboard the Enterprise.

I’ve got to say, the title is a bit of a mystery to me. We know where Spock’s body is the whole time, we saw it sent there in the previous film. It’s a short mystery as to where his katra is–but no sooner are we notified of its existence, we’re soon told where it is. Silliness. It’s no problem to the film at all, but it makes the title sort of weird.

Nimoy has a good hand for directing, taking on his coworkers for the first time as a director, perhaps luckily doing so without being onscreen for 98% of the movie, though the next film–as I recall my favourite–he is both directing and consistently present.

Still, the end result is that I did bloody well enjoy this film, and didn’t see any massive, glaring flaws–it wasn’t boring, it didn’t drag, it didn’t suffer much the absence of Spock (who was always my favourite character), it had a good sense of humour, some real drama, a few surprises, and a natural continuation of the previous plots and concepts, even as it introduced more, and Genesis was approached again in that same societally allegorical fashion that Roddenberry established twenty years earlier with the show.

Oh, and also appearing are John Larroquette (!) as a Klingon (!!–though not quite as bizarre as the fact that he narrated Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and the always fun Miguel Ferrer, who appeared repeatedly on Tales from the Crypt and often as a stooge of some kind (in the “government stooge” sense, not the Larry/Curly/Moe sense) in things like Project ALF (yeah, the movie from the tv show) or as a kids movie villain in Blank Check–as well as the somewhat more reputable The Stand and Traffic. He has that role that actors always seem to have before they find fame otherwise–the nondescript, unnamed gunner who says three lines in response to a captain’s questions.

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