Star Trek III: The Search for Spock review
As eager as anyone for the Star Trek adventure to continue, I remember getting really excited by a phone conversation with my dad about the upcoming third Star Trek film. He told me of a pretty exciting trailer he had seen of the Enterprise having its bridge and half of the saucer blown off, and the Klingons were still attacking! Finally, I was going to witness a scenario I’d been dreaming about ever since the release of the first Star Trek film: a battle between the “new” (i.e. refitted) Enterprise that I had fallen in love with and those newly designed Klingons! Now, that’s good advertising! I couldn’t wait!
I saw a few TV spots for the film that showed the Enterprise backing out of a massive structure. My mind filled with all kinds of exciting scenarios as to what kind of adventure Kirk and our heroes would be facing in the quest to get Spock back. There was never any question that he would return; the real question was, “Is the search going to be fun?” It definitely looked, to me, like it would be.
Tasked with having to deliver a vision for this story that would out-spectacle its predecessor, Spock actor Leonard Nimoy, as this film’s director, did so brilliantly! Going to the movies to see the film was my reward for passing the fourth grade with a ‘B+’ average, and I found The Search for Spock to be an epic, rip-roaring adventure story. It expanded the Star Trek universe as we had never seen it before, with tremendous eye candy in the form of four new spacecraft designs: the Klingon Bird-of-Prey, the USS Excelsior, the USS Grissom, and a gargantuan Starfleet spacedock in orbit of Earth.
Par for the damage from the previous film, the Enterprise never looked lovelier, thanks to the colorful cinematography of Charles Correll. Even crippled as she was and facing decommission, she gave her all for Spock as much as any of the other characters did. This is best demonstrated in a sequence where the crew steals her back in their effort to violate Starfleet’s quarantine on the Genesis Planet. When the ship begins to back out of Spacedock at one-quarter impulse power, we hear the same musical cue that James Horner gave us when she started backing away from Reliant in the previous film, but instead of speaking of the Enterprise’s desperation to flee from Reliant, this time the same music speaks of her determination.
We also finally get the fight I’ve always wanted to see between the Enterprise and Klingons, and her torpedoes kick ass before her crippled systems finally give, after everything she’s been through. Scuttling the ship has become the only option left and before the crew departs via the transporter one final time, they reappear for a split second as the transporter beams close on them. Was this her way of giving them a goodbye hug? I’ve always liked to think so.
And what about the destruction of the Enterprise, my favorite spaceship of all time? Surprisingly, I wasn’t bothered by it. Even after the ship was gone, I realized something with this film that my young mind had not yet perceived before. The Enterprise actually still lived on… through her crew. It was with this film that I first began to realize that it wasn’t the ship, the neat technology, or cool space battles that really mattered.… It was these people, the crew who had, by this time, become an extended part of my dad’s side of the family. It was with this film that, for the first time, the entire cast was truly utilized, with Star Trek having become much more about the family of characters than focusing primarily on The Big Three: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Never before was this better shown than when the others wait in the wings, like a family in a hospital waiting room, while Spock and McCoy undergo the fal-tor-pan to bring our beloved Vulcan back.
The performances in this film are top-notch. In particular, William Shatner evokes our sympathy as never before, upon learning of the death of Kirk’s son at the hands of the Klingon Commander Kruge, the villain of the piece. As for Kruge himself, Christopher Lloyd’s performance arguably elevates the role to more than it was written. The character’s emphasis on honor (while twisted in his case) made the Klingons more than token villains and set a precedent that made Kruge and his crew the template by which all other Klingon characters since then have been based (likewise, all four of the spacecraft models this film introduced ultimately made their way into many later Star Trek productions).
With all these cool new spaceships, terrific cinematography, and music from James Horner that was actually even better than his work on The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock not only gave me the spectacle I was craving coming out of fourth grade, it touched my heart in a way I did not anticipate, thanks to a brilliant decision by Harve Bennett to carry on The Wrath of Khan’s themes by turning them on their head, one example referencing the fact Spock had sacrificed himself because the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. When he asks Kirk why he would sacrifice everything to come back for him, Kirk’s response is as succinct as it is heartfelt: “Because the needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many.”
The film ends with a tremendous triumph of Spock’s return and the caption, “…and the adventure continues…” leaving us with warm hearts and an inability to wait for Star Trek IV. Wonderfully written, masterfully executed, and brilliantly scored… it’s not only a great Star Trek movie, it’s one of my favorite films of all time.
A freelance writer, Douglas has several years experience writing newsletters, sales copy and movie reviews. He is also the author of the screenplays Supralight and Bloodstone: The Sorceress and the Warrior. His reviews of Star Trek films (as well as a DS9 retrospective) have been published on the TrekSphere website.