In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the Adventure Continues…
“May the wind be at our backs.” – James T. Kirk
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was the first Star Trek movie I saw in cinemas. By that point, I had practically worn out the Betamax (yes, you read that right!) of The Wrath of Khan with repeated viewings. Yet, no matter how many times I watched and wished for the ending to change, it never did. I was still heartbroken at the death of our favourite Vulcan and at a loss for what would happen next.
Then a funny thing happened. I received an Eagle annual for Christmas, and there was a quiz inside. I normally ignored these and concentrated on the stories in this yearly publication, but I must have been bored this particular year. I worked my way through the question-and-answer section and right there, at the bottom of the page, was one question that blew my young mind. I can’t remember the exact wording, so please forgive the paraphrasing, but it read something like, “Which Star Trek character will return from the dead in the next movie?” along with a multiple choice answer: A) Kirk; B) Spock; C) Chekov. Obviously, Kirk and Chekov were still alive at the end of Star Trek II, so…
I remember excitedly running to my parents to tell them the news, which they – in the way parents do – registered with barely concealed disinterest, humouring my youthful exuberance. I’m sure they thought my fervour at this news would die down. They were wrong. My excitement only grew over the next several months. In fact, I don’t think I stopped talking about it until I was there, sitting in the theatre, watching the opening titles. Damn, my parents were patient!
The Search for Spock is not as highly regarded as its predecessor and is often called out as one of the examples of why the odd-number Trek movie curse exists. I don’t personally agree with that. I think Trek III is disregarded not because it’s a bad film (for the record, I don’t think any Trek movie could actually be considered bad), but simply because it follows on from such a strong entry. However, with regards to quality, I firmly believe it’s on a level with the Enterprise‘s second movie outing.
The second part of a trilogy – even an unofficial one – is always a difficult chapter to get right. It has to bridge the gap between the initial inciting incidents of the first and the denouement of the third, and if not paced correctly the entire thing can fall flat and disengage the audience. The Search for Spock avoids this pitfall by raising the stakes and creating an emotional bond between the characters and the audience that is built on that pyrrhic victory from the previous movie. The audience is – for the most part – there to see the return of one of their favourite characters. They’re already sold on the concept. The only question is if the delivery of said concept is satisfactory, and in my opinion, Trek III delivers in abundance.
Our favourite crewmembers are all there. And this time, each and every one of them has something substantial to do. Given the subject matter, it would have been easy to have the entire thing be an exercise in navel-gazing. But freed from the constraints of a straightforward mission, there’s very little in the way of forced angst, with what drama there is coming across as natural, with the group learning to live with the loss of their comrade, then daring to hope. This departure from the usual allows the script to breathe and sees more humour injected into proceedings. By now, audiences are familiar with this cast, and that familiarity encourages us to see them not just as heroes but as flesh-and-blood people – family almost. In some ways, we hadn’t seen that since some episodes of The Original Series.
The only one without a piece of the action, for obvious reasons, is Spock himself, freeing Leonard Nimoy up to direct. This was his first motion picture, so his lack of presence in front of the camera is understandable, but even so, it works; since the entire premise of the movie is to seek Spock out, it would hardly do to have him show up at the start of the film.
Nimoy’s direction serves us up some beautiful shots of the alien vistas of Genesis and Vulcan, and – coupled with James Horner’s beautiful soundtrack – the approach to Spacedock always sends shivers down my spine. The cinematography is simply beautiful. That’s not to say the script is without its share of tension. The Genesis scenes with a regenerated Spock, David Marcus, and Saavik – played this time by Robin Curtis, who makes the role her own – give the audience that exploration angle that Trek is known for, while freeing the main cast up for more of the action sequences against antagonist Christopher Lloyd. As for the escape from Spacedock sequence, it still gets my heart racing. I must have watched this movie well over a hundred times, and I’m still not convinced those doors will open!
The film also features, to my mind, one of the finest scenes William Shatner has ever acted in, and for that alone, I would tip my hat to Nimoy’s direction as well as to the guy playing Kirk. As for the other major loss of the movie, that of the NCC-1701? For me, it’s still hard to watch that without feeling as profound a sense of grief as when we lost Spock.
It’s been thirty-eight years now since the movie was released in cinemas and my love for it has not diminished one iota. Certain elements may have aged in the intervening decades, but it’s still a great movie. As the card proclaims when it fades to credits “…And the Adventure Continues…”. Truer words were never spoken.