The Good: Continuity, effects, level of character
The Bad: Basic implausibility
The Basics: Star Trek III: The Search For Spock succeeds as an adult film for more than just fans of Star Trek. Works best in combination with viewing Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan.
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock succeeds as a perfect film when combined with its predecessor. That is, the ideal way to experience this is to sit down for a night with Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (click here for that review!) and "Search For Spock" and watch them as a back to back double feature. Why? Because they're truly that integral to each other. Beginning, literally, where The Wrath Of Khan ended, The Search For Spock is a vastly underrated outing in the Star Trek universe.
With Spock dead and his body launched to the newly created Genesis Planet, Admiral Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise limp back to Earth in their wounded battle-damaged starship. Once there, they find themselves under explicit orders to not talk about the Genesis Project or their prior mission with anyone. Dr. McCoy, hospitalized and apparently suffering from a mental illness, is not the only member of the crew reassigned; Scotty is sent to the prototype U.S.S. Excelsior to get its new engines on-line, Uhura is sent to a transporter site in San Francisco and Kirk is forced to sit out while his ship is repaired. When Sarek, Spock's father, arrives spouting Vulcan mysticism about Spock's undead spirit - his katra - Kirk realizes that Spock is somewhat alive and he and his crew hijack the wounded Enterprise and head back to Genesis to try to recover the body. Unfortunately, a Klingon captain is headed to Genesis to recover is secrets as a weapon and he might just succeed . . .
If The Wrath Of Khan is the best film adaptation of Moby Dick ever, then The Search For Spock manages to do what Melville never could; it follows up on the perfection of obsession with actually dealing with the consequences. And The Search For Spock is essentially that; a film about consequences. James T. Kirk seldom lived with consequences, as Star Trek was largely an episodic series. Because of the climactic events of The Wrath Of Khan, Kirk must deal with how his actions affect others and shape the history he creates.
Outside the plot implausibility of bringing the dead back to life, The Search For Spock is pretty solid having set up the circumstances for it perfectly in The Wrath Of Khan. Occasionally, it tries too hard, though; David (Merrit Butrick, d.) gives an explanation for the degradation of the Genesis Planet that is more extreme than it needs to be (he blames it on the use of Protomatter as opposed to just saying the more sensible "because the device wasn't used on a planetary body"). However, once the viewer is able to suspend their disbelief over the idea that Spock's body could be regenerated by the life-creating energies of the Genesis device, the film works perfectly and as plausibly as possible to resurrect one of the most beloved characters in American culture.
The Search For Spock succeeds because it's dark. Klingon Commander Kruge is downright nasty, just as evil as Khan. But he's not senselessly violent (as later Soran would be in Star Trek: Generations), he has a reason for his actions and they are reasonable. It's rare that Star Trek makes such an effort to flesh out its villains, but here it works perfectly as Kruge is essentially a patriot. Fearing the destruction of his people at the hands of what he sees as a weapon (the Genesis Device, as characterized in Star Trek II, takes any body it encounters and rearranges matter according to its own designs) and seeks to remove the advantage his potential enemy has over his people. Kruge's desires are actually laudable, even if his methods are brutal.
Moreover, the depth of character of the Enterprise crew in The Search For Spock is truly impressive. It's nice to see the lengths to which they go for each other and there is a sense, even at the end, that there will be consequences for their actions. Unlike most episodes of Star Trek, The Search For Spock is a true ensemble piece. Scotty, Chekov and Sulu (to a lesser extent Uhura, who has a great scene, then sits the rest of the movie out) are more than simply fillers to Kirk and McCoy's action adventure roles. No, here they have vital parts that make them integral to the story rather than simply lackeys for the Admiral. McCoy is given an amazing moment of character development late in the film that is still touching to fans and nonfans of the series.
Much of this is held together by the acting. Christopher Lloyd gives an amazing performance as Klingon Commander Kruge. He is deadly, angry and motivated, a far cry from his wacky, esoteric Reverend Jim on Taxi or any other role he has played. He manages to create a villain who is more than simply prosthetics and empty violence. Here he is menace with a purpose and he illustrates he has range and ability.
Similarly, after years of watching DeForest Kelley quipping and expressing Dr. McCoy as a hothead, his softer, wounded performance as McCoy in The Search For Spock is an argument for considering Kelley a truly great actor. He never betrays the spirit of the character, but here he gives him more facets and the result is compelling and often heartwrenching to watch.
William Shatner does some dramatic heavy lifting as Admiral Kirk here, without ever going over-the-top. Without Spock to rely on, Kirk must be clever and fend for himself and Shatner embodies Kirk with a level of dedication and determination that makes the character both downright heroic and completely believable. Shatner's dramatic gravitas comes through in his bearing and in the way he portrays Kirk as strong and forthright one moment and deeply hurt the next (there's a key scene here that is one of the best in Shatner's repertoire).
In addition to the acting, character and plot, The Search For Spock is impressive on an effects level and I'm someone who doesn't toot on effects often. The effects measure up over time and they are very realistic. Unlike a lot of movies, this one uses the big special effects moments to say something daring, to be something impressive. The giant special effects moment of this film uses effects to make a bold sacrifice that shocks the viewer, even upon multiple rewatchings. Director Leonard Nimoy's judicious use of effects is a credit to him, as he keeps the film character-focused.
On the two-disc DVD the only real disappointment is the failure to restore deleted scenes to the film. In the commentary, it is revealed that extensive backstory for Kruge was scripted and filmed, but it is not on this disc. Unlike the two-disc sets for Star Trek The Motion Picture (click here for that review!) and The Wrath Of Khan," this is a "Collector's Edition," rather than a director's cut and that is disappointing. Fans - like me - would have loved to have seen the full, fleshed out version.
Then again, why tamper with perfection? Excellent for any learned person in combination with The Wrath of Khan; even the non-Trek fans!
For the rest of the Star Trek movies, please visit my review of the film collection by clicking here!
For other Star Trek film and episode reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!
© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.