Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984, Leonard Nimoy)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

After the events of the previous film, the Enterprise crew head home and the ship is decommissioned. But then Kirk learns that Spock’s corpse may be the key to bringing him back to life…

We get the “Space, the final frontier…” narration at the beginning of the movie this time – again voiced by Leonard Nimoy, it has the same wording as the version in The Wrath of Khan.

Regulars: At the start of the film, Kirk is grieving for his old friend then loses his beloved ship. When he’s told there’s a way to resurrect Spock – and cure McCoy of his apparent madness – he mutinies and returns to the Genesis planet. Spock, of course, died at the end of the last film. But because his body was laid to rest on a planet being artificially created from scratch, he’s being regenerated. An accelerated aging process means that the character is played by four young actors before Nimoy takes over. (This plot conveniently allowed Nimoy the time to direct the film.) Dr McCoy is acting very strangely to begin with – he’s found dazed and rambling in Spock’s old quarters, and increasingly speaks like his old sparring partner (a result of the mind-meld seen at the end of film two). Scotty says that repairs to the Enterprise will take eight weeks, but in order to maintain his “reputation as a miracle worker” he’ll do them in two. Sulu gets a fun moment in the limelight, helping Kirk break McCoy out of a holding cell. “Don’t call me Tiny,” he says to a huge guard he’s just beaten up. When a young twatty officer suggests Uhura is over the hill, she gives him the dead-eye then forces him to hide in a cupboard. She doesn’t go on the main mission, instead meeting the others on Vulcan at the end. Chekov is less featured than the others, having had a subplot in The Wrath of Khan, though he does take part in initiating the Enterprise’s self-destruct sequence. Saavik, meanwhile, has been recast. Apparently, Kirstie Alley didn’t have an option for sequels in her contract so was free to ask for more money. I’d have paid up, but Nimoy and the producers instead replaced her with Robin Curtis, who lacks Alley’s bravado and plays Saavik much more straight. Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Rand in the original series) has a mute cameo, but it’s not clear if if’s meant to be Rand or not.

Guest stars: Mark Lenard reprises Sarek, Spock’s ambassador father, who he’d played in the TV show. Merritt Butrick is back from the previous film as Kirk’s son, David. Dame Judith Anderson (credited as such) rotes out some hokum during the Vulcan ritual at the end. Christopher Lloyd (“Marty!”) is the story’s chief villain, an entertaining Klingon called Kruge, though it’s actually the B-plot rather than the movie’s main thrust.

Best bits:

* The Klingon Bird-of-Prey uncloaking right in top of the ship it’s meeting.

* The vast interior of the Starfleet space station.

* Kirk hearing Spock’s voice in his quarters, but finding McCoy sitting there.

* Kirk, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov toasting “Absent friends” – then Sarek showing up unexpectedly.

* Kirk asks for permission to go to the Genesis planet to retrieve Spock. “The word is no,” he later reports to Sulu. “I am therefore going anyway.” (You can clock the moment he decides to disobey orders: it’s highlighted by a slow push-in close-up of Shatner.)

* The scene in the bar – McCoy absentmindedly talking like a Vulcan, the sci-fi waitress, the alien with the big ears and the Yoda-like dialogue…

* “How many fingers am I holding up?” Kirk asks McCoy while making the Vulcan hand gesture.

* “Up your shaft!” Scotty sarcastically mumbles to an automatic voice in a lift.

* The cheesy but lovely moment when Kirk tells Scotty, Sulu and Chekov that they needn’t come on the mission – and they stand firm.

* Everyone being taken aback when McCoy (dubbed by Nimoy) talks like Spock on the bridge.

* That rubbing-each-other’s-fingers-together thing that Saavik and Spock do is just filthy, right?

* When the Enterprise goes to ‘red alert’, the only people on the entire ship are all together on the bridge. It did remind me of that joke in Red Dwarf VI about changing the bulb.

* Kirk collapsing when he learns that his son has been murdered.

* The scuttling of the Enterprise, and the regulars watching its destruction from a cliff top.

* Kirk and Kruge’s fight as the planet disintegrates around them.

* McCoy’s quiet admittance that he couldn’t stand to lose Spock again.

* Spock, now finally played by Nimoy after the ceremony, asks why Kirk went to so much trouble for him. “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many,” he says, wittily referencing the key dialogue of the previous movie.

TV tie-in: Sarek later cropped up in an eponymous episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He’s aboard the Enterprise and, due to a condition that affects 200-year-old Vulcans, everyone nearby is getting angry and tetchy. It takes the crew far too long to twig that something strange is going on.

Review: This is a direct sequel to The Wrath of Khan. We begin with a recap of that film’s climax and then find the characters in mourning. Therefore it’s refreshingly character-driven. Christopher Lloyd’s bad guy is a complication to the plot rather than the focus of it – the story is actually about Kirk’s passionate quest to resurrect Spock. Perhaps the film is directed a tad more orthodoxly than The Wrath of Khan, but it’s still slick and engaging. And it’s often a lot of fun, especially during the jailbreak sequence. This is also the first time that secondary crewmembers Scotty, Uhura and Sulu get proper opportunities to shine: if it weren’t for the TV series, you’d never guess from the first two films that these were meant to be regular characters. This time, everyone feels part of a defined ensemble (even if, obviously, Kirk, Spock and McCoy are more heavily featured). Entertaining stuff.

Eight Pon farrs out of 10.

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