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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin -- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly viewing of one of the many DVDs in my personal library.  Back in the spring, I wanted to re-watch every Star Trek movie before Into Darkness came out, and that brings us to Part 3 of this series:  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  This is originally dated in my notes at April 6, 2013. 

Well, back to my quest to watch every Star Trek movie before Into Darkness comes out in a month and a half. Yeah, making all these references to getting this done before Into Darkness hits theatres is going to be so outdated by the time this gets posted on my blog. I'm running about 6 months ahead right now, so when this gets posted, the summer will probably be done, and we'll be counting down to its DVD release. But I digress.

Going in chronological order, we now come to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. I know the generalization has always been the the odd-numbered ones are the weaker ones. But whenever I looked at that theory, I always felt that made The Search for Spock an anomaly. I mean, I've always thought it was pretty good. Granted, it's not as good as "the good ones," but it's not as bad as "the bad ones." It's not as slow as The Motion Picture. It's not as outright goofy as The Final Frontier. I put it down as good, not great.

So there we were, in the summer of 1982. The Wrath of Khan was a hit with critics and at the box office. A sequel was green lit the day after The Wrath of Khan came out...an everyday occurrence in our current franchise-crazy moviegoing climate, but in 1982, virtually unheard of. Nicholas Myer, the director of the Wrath of Khan, chose not to come back. The new ending of the loving close-ups of Spock's casket on the Genesis Planet were done without his approval, and he was kind of bitter about it. Besides, the addition of that, and the additional addition of Spock's pre-death mindmeld with McCoy made it pretty obvious to Myer that the next film would be about resurrecting Spock. "And I had no desire to do a resurrection story," Myer states on his running commentary for Star Trek II. "Besides, there's only one resurrection story that's ever been any good." I think he was talking about The Death and Return of Superman.

The quest was on for a new director. And lo and behold, they found it in Leonard Nimoy. Turns out that juicy death scene was he was promised in the Wrath of Khan renewed his love for the character, and he really wanted to reprise Spock. When the studio approached him to come back as Spock, he allegedly responded with, "Damn right, and I want to direct it, too!" With a director in place, work began on the film.

The new characters. Not much in the way of new characters. The big surprise is Dr. Emmet Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd, as the Klingon captain Kruge. Probably one of the reasons why this gets lumped in with the lesser Star Trek films would be because of his performance as Kruge. He's just...kind of bland. One note. He has his objective and he's out to get it. Just, "Yeah, I'm evil and stuff. Rawr." Fun trivia fact: Leonard Nimoy's first choice to play Kruge was Edward James Olmos, who went to play Captain Adama in the Battlestar: Galactica reboot. But, the movie studio overrode Nimoy's choice, because apparently, Olmos is quite short in real life, and the studio didn't think he could be intimidating enough.

We have a pseudo-new character in the form of Lt. Saavik. While she's back from The Wrath of Khan, Kirste Alley chose not to reprise the role, fearing typecasting. So we got a new Lt. Saavik in the form of Robin Curtis. Her Saavik is not so much emotional as robotic. Somehow, she equated emotionlessness with being stiff and wooden. At least, that's what I got from her performance watching this again tonight. While Kirste Alley Saavik was a little more emotional than the typical Vulcan, Robin Curtis Saavik comes across as pretending to be a little more emotional. It just...didn't click for me.

But one thing we do get is new ships to fill out the Star Trek universe. Our first glimpse at the iconic Klingon Bird of Prey. In the original series, Romulan ships were known as Birds of Prey, so how come the Klingons get them now? Well, according to legend, early drafts for The Search for Spock did have the Romulans as the villains. But, the decision was made to go with the better-known Klingons. But they never changed the ship, so the Bird of Prey became a Klingon ship.

And the new Federation starship the Excelsior. Meant to be the next generation of Starfleet vessels. Many years ago, I had an issue of the official Star Trek magazine that talked extensively about the creation of the Excelsior. They wanted something that would be bigger and more powerful that the Enterprise...but bland and unimpressive, because they still wanted the audience to cheer for the Enterprise. The design team's first instinct was to add a third nacelle, but somewhere in Star Trek continuity it was established the Starfleet ships have an even number of nacelles, and the idea was scrapped. Since Japanese design was a bit of a fad in the 1980s, Nimoy gave them the instruction that the Excelsior should be "the Enterprise as designed by the Japanese." And there it is.

Search for Spock was the first Star Trek movie I ever saw. I was probably 8 years old or so, and it was the Sunday night movie on TV. Mom was a Trekkie (that's where I got it from) and wanted to watch it. So we watched it. Because I grew up in a small rural community where cable TV was unheard of and Farmer Vision was the name of the game, pretty much everyone in my class watched it, and it was the top topic of discussion at school the next day. I remember my friend Rob Burton having some very witty Mystery Science Theater 3000 style comments about it. Pretty much everything I know about comedy I learned from Rob.

So the film starts not long after the events of Star Trek II. The Enterprise is limping home to Earth after its battle with Khan. The trainees have been reassigned, Kirk's son David Marcus and Lt. Saavik have been assigned to the scientific expedition to the Genesis Planet, and the Enterprise is down to a skeleton crew. And everyone's still bummed out about the death of Spock. They arrive home to the Space Dock, and an alarm goes off. Someone has broken into Spock's quarters! It turns out to be McCoy, who's ranting and raving about Spock and having to return to Vulcan.

Then, we meet our villain, Captain Kruge. Word of the Genesis Device has spread throughout the galaxy, and Kruge is on a mission to recover its secrets and turn it into a weapon for the Klingons. They set course for the Genesis Planet. Also en route to the Genesis Planet is David and Saavik, on the Grissom. They enter orbit, conduct their scans, and find a life form on the surface. Could it be that Spock survived?

Back on Earth, everyone's still bummed out. They got the word that the Enterprise is to be decommissioned. While having a small gathering of his crew at his home, Sarek, Spock's father, arrives, and he's angry. Well, as angry as a Vulcan can get. He wants to know why Kirk hasn't returned to Vulcan yet. It is Vulcan custom that, at the point of death, you mind meld with someone close and give that person your katra -- pretty much the Vulcan soul -- and Sarek assumed that Spock gave it to Kirk. After some quick investigating, they determine that Spock gave his katra to McCoy, hence McCoy's loopiness. So there's a chance that Spock can be resurrected. In order to do this, Kirk must take McCoy and Spock's body and bring them to a sacred site on Vulcan.

On the Genesis Planet, David and Saavik beam down to investigate the life form. They eventually find Spock...somehow, the Genesis Device regenerated his body, and now he's a young child, and rapidly aging. But before they can do much, the Klingons appear, destroy the Grissom, and begin the search on the planet for the landing party. The planet soon reveals itself to be unstable, and is starting to break apart. David confesses that, in order to get the device working, he had to use "proto-matter," which Saavik describes as "an unstable substance that every ethical scientist has sworn not to use." She also throws in the little dig, "Just like your father, you cheated...changed the rules." Yay, callback to the last film.

Back on Earth, we see McCoy going into a very-1980s version of the Cantina Bar from Star Wars to try to charter a ship, but it doesn't go well and he gets arrested. Got to love the quick cameo by tribbles in the bar...I wonder if it's one of those things that Trekkies geeked out about seeing this in the theaters in 1984?

Anyway, Kirk has tried to go through proper channels to get a ship to go to the Genesis Planet and find Spock, but everyone's all like, "Spock's dead, let it go." So the decision is made to break McCoy out of jail, swipe the Enterprise, and go rogue. I love the whole stealing of the Enterprise sequence. I mean, every character gets something to do. They each get a nice little character moment. Probably my favourite has to be Uhura commandeering the transporter room.

Another good one is Sulu kicking a security guard's ass. I won't embed it, but here's the link. Apparently, George Takei was reluctant to film it, feeling personally insulted by the guard's insult "Don't get smart, tiny." But director Leonard Nimoy said, "Trust me, when you kick his ass and say, 'Don't call me tiny,' it'll get a huge laugh. People will love it." And that's exactly what happened, and Takei warmed up to the scene.

And how it all ends, with the Excelsior authorized to give pursuit. Here we see this big, badass ship. We're told about the remarkable transwarp drive. When they go to fire it up, we see everyone belting in because it's so ridiculously fast, and then all the computers go on the fritz and it coasts to a stop. Just funny.

The Enterprise warps off the Genesis Planet, and does battle with the Klingon Bird of Prey. The Enterprise, being fully automated so just our main crew could run it, is quickly disabled. But the Enterprise gets some lucky shots off first and disables the Bird of Prey. Kruge demands all information on the Genesis Project, and to prove he's serious, orders one of the hostages on the planet killed. When a Klingon pulls a knife on Saavik, David jumps in to save Saavik, and winds up getting stabbed in heart. So long and fare thee well, Kirk Jr, we hardly knew ye. Seriously, we didn't. We hardly got to know him in the last film, and then we hardly get to know him here. In a way, then, we share Kirk's tragedy. Just as Kirk and we, the audience, were getting to know him, he's killed.

Oh, jeez, I forgot to mention the big subplot with rapidly aging Spock on the Genesis Planet. Saavik points out that he will soon go though the pon farr, the every-7-years mating ritual, and if she doesn't do something, the hormones will kill Spock. So, when the time comes, they do this thing with their fingers and that seems to do the trick. I guess you could say she saved Spock with fingering.

Anyway, back to the life and death stuff. Since a Bird of Prey is just a scout ship with a crew of about 12, Kirk figures they'll have to use pretty much the whole crew to form a boarding party. With this, Kirk and crew set a trap for the Klingons. They set the ship to self-destruct, and then beam down to the planet just as the Klingons beam aboard. And then, boom. No more Enterprise, but no more Klingons.

Apparently, both Nimoy and Bennet got kind of frustrated with this.  They wanted the destruction of the Enterprise to be this surprising plot twist, but then, guess what Paramount went and stuck in all the TV commercials?

On the planet's surface, they easily defeat the Klingons and rescue Saavik and Spock.  Kirk takes a moment to pay his respects to his son.  Everyone beams up to the Klingon ship, but Kruge beams down, and he and Kirk have their fight to the death.  Kirk and Spock beam up, they find there's just one Klingon left on the Bird of Prey (played by a before-he-was famous John Larroquette), whom they easily subdue, and they make their way to Vulcan. 

On Vulcan, Sarek requests an ancient ritual in which the katra is reinserted into the body, something we're told, "hasn't been attempted since ancient times, and even then, only a legend."  So, they get to work, sucking Spock's katra out of McCoy and putting it back into Spock.  Spock wakes up the next morning, and after a brief fit of amnesia, begins to remember his friends.

The original series theme swells on the soundtrack, and we get the worlds, "...And the Adventure Continues..."  I never understood that until I finally saw the Motion Picture and it ended with the words "The Human Adventure is Just Beginning."  I always hoped that other Star Trek films would follow that lead and end their movies with "...And the Adventure Continues..."  I still occasionally use it as my e-mail signature. 

And that's The Search for Spock.  One last thing I should mention is the music.  James Horner returned from Star Trek II to do the music, and it's neat to hear his themes revisited.  One thing I didn't notice until I got the complete and uncut soundtrack a few years ago is that the main theme that plays during the opening credits is Spock's theme from Star Trek II...a nice choice for the main theme.

Yeah, I've got not much more to say.  I can see why it's not considered the best, and I'm reluctant to lump it in with the worst.  As I said before, it's good, but not great.

Next time, we'll be capping off the "Star Trek trilogy" with The Voyage Home

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