REVIEW: Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

Assignment: Trek
A Film Frontier special presentation

For this Assignment: Trek voyage, we journey back to the debut of Star Trek III. So, activate your DeLorean’s time circuits and set your target date to June 1, 1984.

This web site has gone back into time. . . .
Star Trek III The Search For Spock
REVIEW: Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

In the beginning, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock feels much like Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. That is because the first several minutes of this movie are lifted directly from the previous film, acting as a brief but effective review of Star Trek II‘s key event–the death of Spock.

The film moves forward shortly thereafter, with only a skeleton crew aboard the Enterprise as she limps back to Earth. Admiral Kirk describes the starship as feeling even emptier than “a house with all the children gone.”

The Enterprise reaches Starfleet’s Earth spacedock, a beautiful new model created for this film by Industrial Light & Magic. Like Star Trek II, ILM’s effects work for Star Trek III is brilliant. The Enterprise looks real and, perhaps for the first time ever, is given a proper sense of scale as she slowly enters spacedock. Look out for a brief cameo by Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand while she and others within an observation lounge watch in stunned silence as the majestic but battle-scarred starship arrives, accompanied by James Horner’s masterful score.

Taking Spock’s death hardest among the crew is Dr. McCoy, in yet another brilliant performance by DeForest Kelley. The Earth-native breaks into Spock’s quarters and inexplicably insists to Kirk upon being discovered that he be taken home, to Vulcan.

Meanwhile, Kirk’s son, Dr. David Marcus (Merritt Butrick), and Lieutenant Saavik (Robin Curtis) are exploring the newly formed Genesis Planet, as part of a science team aboard the USS Grissom. Star Trek III never mentions David’s mother and co-developer of the Genesis device, Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch). Perhaps she has taken on the duty of informing family members of the various scientists murdered at Regula I by Khan, as otherwise it would seem that she would want to explore the Genesis Planet as well.

Curtis steps into the role of Saavik, first played by Kirstie Alley in the last movie. The new actress does a fine job in the role, which Nimoy apparently has her play as a full, stoic Vulcan, rather than the more emotional, half-Vulcan, half-Romulan portrayed by Alley. Alley’s absence is disappointing, though – all the more so considering the expansion of Saavik’s role in this film.

In Star Trek II, both Dr. David Marcus and Dr. Leonard McCoy worried what would happen if the wrong hands obtained the Genesis device, which can almost instantly transform dead planets into life-sustaining ones. Star Trek III plays up those fears, with Klingons appearing in full force with a desire to obtain the technology in hopes of creating an ultimate weapon.

Taking over the director’s chair for this adventure is Leonard Nimoy, who proves to have a solid grasp of Star Trek’s characters throughout the movie and a great sense of pacing during a pair of suspenseful scenes involving the starship Enterprise.

Unfortunately missing from Nimoy’s arsenal, however, is Star Trek II director Nicholas Meyer’s natural flair for dramatic battle scenes. The ship-to-ship combat of Star Trek III feels very two-dimensional, lacking the excitement and depth of Star Trek II.

While the characters feel right, some of the acting performances are just mediocre here compared to Star Trek II. Like DeForest Kelley, William Shatner continues to shine, but James Doohan (Scott), for instance, delivers his lines flatly, like he is reading from a telephone book.

George Takei (Sulu) almost looks like he is pushing others out of the way to ensure he stays in frame while wearing his traditional, pasted-on smile. Fortunately, Doohan’s and Takei’s characters are just background parts, so the movie does not overly suffer.

A spectacular visual effects set piece about two-third of the way through the film also sets the movie up for a somewhat anti-climactic final act. Nimoy takes a risk by having his movie end quietly, rather than with a bang. For the most part, it works, and Nimoy’s directorial debut proves to be a solid follow-up to Star Trek II.

Story: 7 (out of 10)
Performances: 8
Visual Style: 5
Effects: 10
Music: 10
Overall: 8