Friday, September 13, 2019

Squid Flicks: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Title: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Director: Leonard Nimoy
Original Release: 1984
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Image result for star trek the search for spock
via Wikipedia
With the third Star Trek feature film, the Project Genesis story arc continues.  The Enterprise crew returns to port with heavy hearts.  Their beloved comrade Spock is gone.  To make matters worse, something's wrong with Dr. McCoy.  It would seem that through a last-minute mind meld before his death, Spock managed to preserve his own living essence in Bones's brain and the effect on the good doctor is unsettling to say the least.  A visit from Sarek, Spock's father played by our old friend Mark Lenard, clarifies the course of action: retrieve Spock's body from the Genesis planet, then bring both Spock and McCoy to Vulcan in order to resolve the matter.  Starfleet won't approve the mission.  Wouldn't make for much of a movie if our friends let them stop them, now, would it?

Meanwhile, the Klingons have learned of Genesis and want the tech for themselves, craving its destructive power.  When Saavik (now played by Robin Curtis) and David Marcus descend to the Genesis planet in order to investigate animal life signs, they discover a resurrected Spock, now a small boy.  Unfortunately, all three are soon captured by the Klingons and David is killed.

As with The Motion Picture, I enjoyed The Search for Spock a lot more than I did when I first watched it back in the '80s.  However, in trying to correct the great injustices from The Wrath of Khan, the story generates as many new questions as answers.  I have two main issues with the story, one small, one enormous.  Let's tackle the small one first...

Kirk and his friends essentially commit mutiny when they steal the Enterprise out of dock to retrieve Spock.  To boot, Scotty sabotages the Excelsior, the Federation ship likely to run after them.  Obviously, we as the audience want our heroes to succeed but it feels icky ethically and, perhaps worse, anti-Trek.

Interestingly, there is precedent for this sort of behavior in the Star Trek canon.  In "The Menagerie," TOS's only 2-part story, Spock kidnaps Christopher Pike, his former commanding officer, hijacks the Enterprise and sets course for Talos IV, forbidden territory.  He risks not only court martial but execution.  By tale's end, he is found to have acted out of loyalty to Pike and is exonerated.  With one more movie to go in our current story arc, we don't yet know what consequences may be waiting for Kirk and company but we do know there is precedence for forgiveness.

The bigger issue is far more complicated: Spock's resurrection.  I can attest to the fact that at the time, the fans were happy to have him back.  Trek, at least at that point, was inconceivable without him.  30+ years on, with five spin-off series and counting plus movies and a mini-series without him as a principal character, we know the broader concept thrives beyond Spock.  But for the original cast of characters, he was essential.  That was the scary part of losing him at the end of Khan: was Star Trek finished?

Anyone who follows comic books, sci-fi, fantasy or soap operas is fully aware that you can never assume a character is permanently dead.  Even so, the "science" that brings back Spock is awfully sketchy.  I have less complaint over the Vulcan spiritual side of things.  Religion, after all, is the natural realm for such matters.  I suppose we can write off the science problems by stating that the full capacity of the Genesis tech was not fully understood - David suggests as much.  But why didn't Spock's rapid aging continue?  Were the Genesis affects lessened once Spock was off-planet or is Vulcan medicine just that good?  And why couldn't David's life be salvaged similarly?  Was it too late in the planet's own life cycle to be of any help?  What a shame that Saavik didn't think to mind meld with him in time!

It's fiction.  I can live with suspension of disbelief.  But it makes a guy think.

David's death and the destruction of the Enterprise - did I forget to mention that bit? - were intended as the big emotional impact moments for the movie.  David's death is certainly sad and Kirk takes it hard.  The effect on the audience would have been more profound, I think, with more development devoted to the character and his relationship with Kirk.

As for the ship, it just doesn't seem that big a deal now.  Mind you, it was startling at the time but hardly Spock-death shattering.  A ship is an inanimate object - important symbolically, sure, but ships can be rebuilt.  Obviously we know all these years later that there will be other, better Enterprise starships to come.  It's a moment with greater in-story impact than it has on the audience.

Trekkie treats
  • While The Search is not the best Trek movie, it does contain the saga's best Bones-Spock story.  The scene when Bones confesses his feelings of loss to an unconscious Spock is genuinely touching - perhaps the story's sweetest moment.
  • I appreciate the fact that the damage to the lift door on the bridge of the Enterprise was maintained from the end of Wrath of Khan - the smallest details can be the most meaningful.
  • There are Tribbles on a table at the bar on the spacedock! 

Real world topical notes
  • Kudos for taking on both scientific ethics and the weapons of mass destruction crisis in the Project Genesis story.

Actor notes
  • Kirstie Alley was not so enamored of Star Trek that she was willing to sign on as Saavik for the sequel.  She was worried about being typecast.  She was probably wise to see that her brighter future was in comedy.  Apparently, the woman is genuinely crazy funny.  Robin Curtis, another relative newcomer but one with a fortuitous friendship with the casting director at Paramount, won the role. 
Image result for robin curtis star trek
Robin Curtis via Memory Alpha
Image result for christopher lloyd star trek
Kruge via Memory Alpha
Image result for christopher lloyd back to the future
Doc Brown via Wikipedia
  • Two of the Klingons might seem familiar to television and sci-fi fans.  Christopher Lloyd won the part of Kruge, the leader of the Klingon band, over Nimoy's original choice, Edward James Olmos.  Already famous for his role on Taxi, Lloyd was still a year away from his career-cementing role: Doc Brown in Back to the Future.  Less well-known in 1984 was John Larroquette who played the part of Maltz, Kruge's right-hand man.  Night Court, on which Larroquette played the sleazy Dan Fielding, finished its first season the night before The Search for Spock opened in theaters.  Larroquette has since won five Emmys and a Tony.
Image result for john larroquette klingon
Maltz via Memory Alpha
Image result for john larroquette night court
Dan via Night Court Wiki

Music notes
  • James Horner returned for The Search for Spock.  The title theme, borrowing heavily from the Spock theme he had composed for Khan:

My ranking of the movies so far:
  1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  2. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
  3. Star Trek: The Motion Picture


  1. I remember being, not quite angry but very upset, that they brought Spock back so soon. It robbed the previous film of any impact it had. I felt cheated.
    It was things like this in the movies that turned me off of the Star Trek films.
    I suppose, even at 14, I was a "story first" person.

    1. Definitely an understandable feeling! Obviously there were a lot of political machinations behind all of this over how to bring Nimoy (as much as Spock) back in to the fold. It's no coincidence, obviously, that he was offered the director's chair for this movie.

  2. David Marcus' death was meaningless (to me). I know, no future for him. And then the possibility that Spock and Robin Wright that might have produced a baby.

    Thank you for your analysis.

    I love Menagerie. Altho Spock was peculiar at that point and Nurse was some sort of captain who became Nurse/Doctor, there was some beginning.

    1. In retrospect, the whole David story is a failed attempt at an emotional connection with the audience. With Spock's death, a far more meaningful moment for even a casual fan, how many even remember David?

      We "need" Spock to exist more than we need Kirk to be a father. Maybe it's the father-son element that fails, in fact. Kirk obviously doesn't care enough for it ever to have come up before. Why should we? With his death, isn't David just another red shirt? I mourn more for Ilia and Decker in the first movie. Their deaths - are they even truly deaths? - have greater narrative meaning.

      You're right, the Spock/Saavik story definitely had untapped potential.

  3. Very glad you included the theme composed and conducted by James Horner. It sets both continuity and mood. Is it --as my memory lapses-- the film in which Spock returns from a Vulcan cave with his Ka restored and says, "You! Your name is Jim!" --a most moving moment. I delight in the research you have done here, Squid. Thank you.

    1. You are correct on the Ka restoration scene. There is a part of me that hopes for a similar, meaningful recognition of McCoy to correspond with the Bones-Spock scene mentioned in my post. Perhaps that would have been too much - Wizard of Oz in reverse: "I think I'll miss you most of all..."

      Always delighted when you stop by.

  4. I watched the TV series but never the movies. I did watch most of the new one with younger Spock , Jim and the gang on TV the other day. But I miss alot as I was working.

    1. If I have learned anything in my scifi explorations, it is this: Star Wars is at its best in the movies, Trek is at its best on television. For Trek, the movies are supplementary. Twice, they've been essential for renewing general interest in the franchise. But in terms of narrative, they are supplementary.

  5. Stick around until Undiscovered Country and then tell me that David left no lasting impact on Kirk. I think you'll change your mind.

    Bringing Spock back in the movie after he dies was a wise decision, if they were going to do it at all, especially if they wanted to capture that Star Wars vibe Wrath of Khan (in a TOS manner) was obviously chasing after. It wasn't until Voyage Home that Star Trek was really being Star Trek again.

    I think it was probably a mistake for Alley to think she would be typecast. Outside of Cheers (I don't think anyone really counts Veronica's Closet, which was made in an era where it was difficult not to score with a sitcom), her career fizzled. It would've been nice to have at least two big ongoing roles. I bet she rethought that years later, although funny enough, Star Trek has apparently made little effort to welcome her back into the fold.

    But casting Robin Curtis to replace her had some welcome dividends. She was brought back, after all, even outside the role of Saavik. And funny enough about the Savik character itself, but Gene Roddenberry famously vetoed her a role in Undiscovered Country, which prompted the creation of another Vulcan. But essentially Saavik was played by three different actresses.

    1. Fair enough. I'll withhold judgment for now. I still think it's a weak story line to this point.

      Obviously, I will have further thoughts on Voyage Home this week. Sneak preview: I'm not sure I agree that it's more Trek than its predecessors. Even acknowledging that it's a better movie than Spock is less of a certainty than it once was for me. I enjoy the movie but I've got some issues. Stay tuned.

  6. This is my second least favourite of the ST movie franchise. I love the music but it is James Horner who is an excellent composer. I just sat there and laughed a bit when David died because he was merely supposed to be a hanky inducer. You have a son..nope he's dead! I also wondered...did that Genesis thing make Spock's body shrink to a baby only to grow back to what he was? Why not just resurrect him? You are right, the planet is supposed to resurrect life so why not David become a baby again and then an awkward teen? Kirk could have had the son from the beginning. I did like Bones and Spock together though for the same reasons you wrote here

    1. It begs the question, which is your least favourite?

    2. Star Trek V with Spock's half brother. I thought this one was atrocious.

    3. Yeah, that one's pretty notorious as the worst of the bunch. I've only seen it once, many years ago.