Fante’s Inferno celebrates summer movie going with a look back at the films of the Summer of 1984.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Release Date: June 1, 1984
Directed by Leonard Nimoy, Screenplay by Harve Bennett
Starring William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Lloyd, Robin Curtis, Merritt Butrick
One of the absolute pleasures of my retrospective on the Summer of ’82 was revisiting the classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The film is pretty close to perfect, and watching it again at age forty allowed me to enjoy it on the same level as my younger self and also pick up on elements of the film that had eluded me in my younger years. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was high on my list when it was first released in June of 1984, and I went into this review with the same enthusiasm. As a fan of the original TV series and first two films I was looking forward to the continuing cinematic voyage of Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, but my main reason for wanting to see Star Trek III during the Summer of ’84 was the title’s promise of the return of my favorite Star Trek character.
Back during the Summer of ’84 I screened Star Trek III: The Search for Spock at the (now closed) Mamaroneck Playhouse as the school year wound down and a carefree summer vacation began. I remember enjoying the film in the theater and on cable TV back in the 80’s, and I still enjoy it today, but watching it again 30 years later reminded me as to why Wrath of Khan is still revered as the best of the Star Trek films.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock begins where Wrath of Khan left off. The crew of the Enterprise, still recovering from their epic battle with Khan and the death of Captain Spock, departs planet Genesis and returns home for repairs. No sooner than they set course for Earth, an alarm signals a security breach in Spock’s sealed quarters. A rattled Kirk, reeling from the loss of his best friend, personally investigates and finds a frenzied Dr. McCoy speaking incoherently about returning to Vulcan. Upon the Enterprise’s return to Earth the crew has earned extended leave, but are given two pieces of bad news: they are ordered to maintain secrecy of the Genesis Project, and the starship Enterprise will be decommissioned.
The crew meets at Kirk’s home, but they are interrupted by Spock’s father Sarek, who is disturbed by Kirk’s decision to leave Spock’s body on Genesis when it should have been returned to Vulcan along with his katra (spirit). Sarek assumed Spock would have implanted his katra in Kirk, but when his mind meld of Kirk finds no trace of it, he accepts that it is lost forever. Kirk reviews the security footage of Spock’s last moments before his death which shows him transferring his katra to McCoy, leading to McCoy’s descent into madness. Sarek tells Kirk they must bring Spock’s body and katra (via McCoy) back to Vulcan. McCoy is one step ahead of them when he tries to book illegal passage to Genesis and is arrested. Kirk and the crew break McCoy out of his detention, steal the Enterprise and set course for Genesis.
A crew of Klingons led by commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) obtain the Genesis code and set course for the planet. Meanwhile the Federation ship Grissom, with scientists David Marcus (Merrit Butrick) and Lt. Saavik (Robin Curtis), orbit Genesis to record the planet’s climate and progress. They detect a life form, which should not have been possible under the Genesis project. Marcus and Saavik beam to the surface of Genesis to investigate and find Spock’s tomb empty and a Vulcan child, presumably Spock. Marcus admits the development of the Genesis project included unstable protomatter, which caused Spock to be “reborn” and age at a rapid pace but also made the entire planet unstable and on the verge of destroying itself. Kruge destroys the Grissom, beams to the surface of Genesis, and holds Marcus, Saavik and Spock hostage.
Harve Bennett wrote the script (he was a writer on Wrath of Khan but was not credited), but Nicholas Meyer did not return to direct the third installment (he was in post-production on the 1983 TV movie The Day After), so Leonard Nimoy stepped in for his directorial debut. Nimoy’s style of directing complements the film well, although the end of the third act drags with a longer than necessary passage of time sequence. But as the sequel to the classic Wrath of Khan it’s hard not to make comparisons that can lead the viewer to judge Star Trek III for what it is not. The tone of Search for Spock is noticeably different than The Wrath of Khan, which is a drama set in space with a story carried by themes of revenge, sacrifice and loss. Search for Spock plays as more of a caper film, which in itself is especially fun with this cast of characters, with an overall tone that is more in line with the TV series.
William Shatner and DeForest Kelley as Kirk and McCoy carry the story, but James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols and George Takei each have their scene stealing moments that move the plot forward in their attempt to steal the Enterprise. In my opinion, the Klingons make the best villains, and Christopher Lloyd adds an element of psychotic joy to his performance as the Klingon captain Kruge. But one major area of disappointment for me was the script’s lack of development of Kirk’s relationship with his son Dr. David Marcus. That plot line in Wrath of Khan added an unexpected emotional weight to the film, but Search for Spock missed an opportunity to expand on it prior to (SPOILER ALERT) David’s death at the hands of the Klingons (though it would be revisited in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).
While Search for Spock doesn’t come together on the same grand cinematic scale as Wrath of Khan, it does have the story, special effects, action scenes and film score that make a summer blockbuster. 30 years later, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is still an enjoyable film and perfect for a lazy summer Saturday.