Sunday, February 24, 2013

Let’s Review a Movie: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

Well, last time we had a film that dealt with aging, death, and no-win scenarios.  This time we have a film about friendship, loyalty, love, and resurrection, and is it as good as Wrath of Khan?  No not really.   

Before I rip into what I think is wrong with the film let me talk about some of the good things here.  And the first thing I’d like to praise is the fact that there is anything good here at all.  The fact that the creative team managed to make a full length film, that is engaging and interesting all things considered, about bringing Spock back based on a mind meld with one word and a shot of Spock’s tube on the Genesis planet speaks volumes about the creative talent of the people working on this.  Also we have good music that again plays with the theme of the last film; which works because this film deals directly with the events of the last film.  The actors are all working really well together and each gets at least one moment to shine.  Two thumbs way up for Deforest Kelley for managing the task of not only portraying the character of McCoy, but also McCoy as possessed by Spock and doing a wonderful job.  Nimoy also does well as a first time film director.  Shots are well staged, the actions clear, and the pacing is good.        

The first problem for this movie then is the writing and unfortunately it starts right at the beginning of the film.  The whole opening previously on Star Trek recap does not need to be there.  Harve Bennett mentions himself in the commentary that it was kind of useless because if you were going to see the third movie of a franchise chances are good that you already saw the others, but he couldn’t assume that.  Now on some level I agree with him, it’s good to provide some background for the audience so they become invested in the story and understand what’s going on, even if they are a newcomer, but I’ll still argue that the recap doesn’t need to be there.  Kirk opens with a personnel log where he describes the events of the previous film and how he feels about them, you don’t need anything else.  Also I find that opening on a little blue tinted square of footage from The Wrath of Khan that we slowly pull in on really distracting and off-putting.  I always think, why do we have this random piece of the last film before the credits?  Is my copy of the movie broken?  If they really thought they needed a recap I think they just should have opened on Spock’s tube have Kirk’s eulogy as a voice-over and then just do the credits and move forward.  Speaking of the credits though I do like that they omitted Leonard Nimoy’s name from where it would normally be.  It provides intrigue as to whether or not this search for Spock will result in the return of the Spock we know.

The next big issue is the plot, not that the plot is bad, but that it has glaring errors in it.  Harve says that he wrote this film backwards starting with Spock being alive and going from there and it shows.  Everyone seems to have knowledge of things they shouldn’t.  The biggest and most glaring one for me is that everyone knows where Spock’s body is so they can go be the rebel underdogs and save their friend.  Even Sarek asks Kirk why he left Spock on Genesis.  The problem is that no one except the science team on Grissom knows that Spock’s tube, and therefore his body, is on Genesis.  David even says that the tube must have soft landed.  When the team went to study the planet they weren’t expecting to find Spock’s body there.  The shot of Spock’s tube being fired off from the Enterprise in Wrath of Khan shows it seeming to go past the planet.  But now everyone just knows that Spock’s body is there because if they don’t the story doesn’t work.  It’s a ghastly plot hole that drives the entire film.

Another problem that arises from this is the question, why can’t the science team just pick up Spock’s body?  Kirk knows that Grissom is the ship that’s supposed to be studying Genesis.  He tries to hail them when the Enterprise arrives at the planet.  It should be nothing for Kirk to ask Starfleet to contact them and tell them to beam up the remains.  This is a rather easy thing to fix too I think.  In the scene where David and Savvik are beaming down to the planet just have the communications officer tell the captain that Starfleet has given some subspace blackout on them or something, and they are not to make further contact in case the transmissions get intercepted.  So when we cut to the scene of Kirk talking to admiral what’s his name in the lounge we know why Kirk has to personally go to Genesis, because the ship there can’t be communicated with.  

Speaking of communications, why the heck does Uhura just go away after she helps the crew beam aboard the Enterprise?  Especially since they needed all the help they could get manning the Enterprise and because this whole story is supposed to show how devoted Kirk and the crew are to Spock.  Maybe Nicehelle Nichols had another project going on at the same time, but it just seems weird to have one member of the crew absent from this adventure, they even have Chekov using communications to contact Grissom and monitor Starfleet channels so it’s not like she wouldn’t have had anything to do on the ship.  Instead she goes to Vulcan with Sarek.  This brings up my final problem with the whole Spock’s body plot hole, why do they even need the body?  When Sarek first visits Kirk he says that only Spock’s body was in death.  That Spock trusted Kirk with his future, his katra; implying that the katra is more important than the body.  That also seems to play out in that McCoy has all of Spock’s marbles as he says.  Everything that Spock knew and was is in the katra.  So obviously getting the katra to Vulcan is vital, but why the body too?  Again looking at the story backwards it’s necessary because without it you can’t do the re-fusion and bring Spock back, but no one set out to do that initially they just wanted to fulfill Spock’s final wishes according to Vulcan customs.    

All right getting off the clunky plot a bit let’s look at some more characters.  Christopher Lloyd does quite a nice job as the Klingon Kruge.  I’ve mostly seen Lloyd in comedic roles so getting to see him portray a villain is really nice.  Introducing the whole idea of Klingon honour here also provides a nice contrast of the extreme loyalty of the Enterprise crew.  They will do anything for Spock while Kruge is willing to kill his lover and his crew if they learn something they shouldn’t know or do something they shouldn’t do.  The only complaint I have is that I wish Kruge could have been a little more developed; to provide some kind of history with Kirk.  Sure Kruge kills David and causes Kirk to destroy the Enterprise but Kirk doesn’t really get to act like a wounded man outside of two scenes that follow those events.  Although I do like the scene of Kirk falling to the floor after David’s death, a wonderful image of a fallen hero; also McCoy in the background shaded by smoke and darkness is a great shot.  It’s like he is torn about what to do and he probably is because McCoy and Spock comfort Kirk in different ways and neither one seems exactly sure what to do.  Also Kirk and McCoy’s exchange as the crew watched the Enterprise burn up as it enters the Genesis atmosphere is marvelous, but there doesn’t get to be anything else but those scenes.  We don’t really get to see Kirk struggle with these issues as the movie progresses, or grow stronger from trying to cope with that loss.  So Kirk’s line of “I have had enough of you!” rings hollow because although Kruge has been behind everything in the film really Kirk doesn’t know that or have that have any impact on him at all until the end of the film.  If they had maybe tied the whole Starfleet not being very supportive of Kirk and the crew with Kruge and the whole peace idea it might have made everything come together just a bit tighter.

Another good performance here was Robin Curtis as Savvik.  Curtis plays Savvik as more of your standard Vulcan than Kristie Alley did and I like that.  With the loss of her mentor, her teacher, her father figure essentially she must grow to be more mature and more confident in herself.  But I wish they had kept the kind of sloped eyebrows she had in Wrath of Khan it gave the character a really nice distinct look.

A few other things of note.  Costuming wise I like that we get to see civilian clothes on the characters and I honestly think they look good, except for Chekov’s pink suit.  Thank goodness they got something else for him for The Voyage Home.  I also like that a lot of the Vulcan culture in the film ties back to what was introduced in the show.  The ceremony is mysterious.  The person running it is female, just like T’pau when she oversaw Spock’s wedding in ‘Amok Time’ and the priestess who oversaw Kolinahr.  She leaves after the ritual in a Sedan chair, and we see all the Vulcans, even Savvik, seeming to connect with Spock and the priestess to help the re-fusion.  Also the foreplay shown in the pon farr sequence with Savvik and Spock was great, even if it doesn’t really work seeing as Spock didn’t have his first pon farr until he was in his thirties.  But hey they also screwed up how old the Enterprise was, but they didn’t have memory alpha or the episodes on VHS to just go rent from the local video store so I’ll give that a pass.

Overall the film does hold up as being pretty okay.  It’s not bad, but it also isn’t all that good.  The threads are all there to have an epic story with Kirk and the crew sacrificing everything for their friend, and showing that loyalty contrasted by the villain, but it doesn’t tie everything together well enough.  There’s great ambition here, but it falls short in execution.  Whether that was from a lack of time, Bennett being new to movie writing, or Nimoy being too restricted by the studio as a first time director I don’t know, but the end result is a film that while it is certainly watchable and re-watchable isn’t all that it could be.      

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