Movie…er…Friday! Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Yes, as my house and room are still in a bit of a shambles, enjoy me finally getting this review up…four days late.

So, one of the landmark moments of the Star Trek movie franchise has happened: Spock is gone. The victory over Khan seems particularly bittersweet and empty with the loss of the peculiarly lovable science officer, and all of the crew certainly feel it. Kirk is devastated. Chekhov reluctantly takes the vacant position on the bridge. Scotty, Uhura, and Sulu are all reticent. The starship Enterprise finally feels as sterile in its crew as it does in its construction. Even Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy is distraught over the loss of Spock…but wait…is it something else? Could it be that, though his body is gone, Spock’s essence is…still alive?
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Star Trek III: the Search for Spock.
Let me be frank: I was expecting this movie to be as arresting as the first two. TMP had snagged my imagination, Wrath of Khan had snagged my emotional core. Now this, the third movie, had some large shoes to fill and, even thought it does a more than adequate job… the shoes are still just a bit too big. The movie is still good, and is still quality Trek, but it simply is not at the level of the others. Leonard Nimoy’s directorial debut (including the masterstroke of not being named in the credits) does what it needs to do, but ultimately, for one reason or another, doesn’t grip you as much as it should. You can’t hit a home run every time, but Search for Spock is definitely a solid double.
First and foremost, Search for Spock is cursed by being a sequel, and not in the way Wrath of Khan was a sequel to TMP. No, Search for Spock is a direct sequel, made glaringly obvious as the movie opens by replaying the last moments of Star Trek II. As I mentioned in a previous review, movies two, three, and four make up what has come to be called the “Star Trek Trilogy,” and Search for Spock even ends as a set up for the trilogy’s close, with titles that read “And the Adventure Continues,” a delicious nod to movie number one and a prelude for movie number four. The only problem is, as it is a true sequel, and a true middle movie in the sequel format…it is that much more cursed.
You see, middle movies in sequels are almost always the weakest. Lord of the Rings, the Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones…all have had their weakest films as their second. The problem is not in the film itself, but in the format. As the film is designed to bridge from the onset to the conclusion, there is no real beginning or end, and such a quandary makes the film less impactful from the get-go. There were several times during Search for Spock that I felt that the movie was meandering slightly, because they knew where they had to go in the trilogy, but didn’t want to get there quite yet. As a result, some of the possibly most emotionally charged scenes of what could be the most emotionally charged Star Trek movie just don’t quite carry the panache they could have. However, leave it up to Shatner and company to take what could have been a lackluster killing of time and still manage to turn it into a competent film, not a barnburner, but competent.
I feel I don’t need to beat the dead horse of current acting versus the classical style any longer, but I will say this: Search for Spock, as is, done with the cast of Trek ’09 would have been an abysmal movie to watch. It is because the cast brings so much that the movie succeeds despite itself and despite trilogy law, still tugging enough at the heartstrings and putting enough oomph into the feature so it doesn’t feel like cheap padding. Special recognition should go to Christopher Lloyd, who is absolutely (and surprisingly) chilling as the Klingon Commander Kruge, setting a ruthless example of Klingon warrior culture and belief that truly becomes a standard for others to attempt to emulate. The only other Klingon I’ve seen extensively is Michael Dorn’s Worf from the Next Generation series, and I can easily say that Lloyd definitely started things off right.
While the story by its nature fell comparatively flat, special consideration should be given to the treatment of music in this film. I found myself, at several intervals, marveling over James Horner’s score more than the movie itself, particularly in the inclusion of the television theme, just barely, in the closing minutes. Search for Spock has the best musical choices of any of the movies I’ve seen to date, most notably in its decision to NOT have music in certain scenes. In today’s films of adventure, the so-called “God chorus” has become overused and hackneyed, to the point of where any battle seems to be require by law to feature a bellowing bevy of voices. In Search for Spock, special attention is made when the music should not be intrusive, or not used at all, and it gives several scenes a more visceral, gut-wrenching feel, helping once again to move the film from standard second movie drudgery to superior second movie stock… but it’s no Empire Strikes Back.
Sadly, Empire is still my favorite middle movie of the age of blockbuster trilogies, more for its determination to take chances and hold off on crucial moments until the last minute. One problem I saw in Search for Spock was the rather rushed ending, which felt a little too happy and a bit too neat, especially for Science Fiction. Some moments from this movie could have been delayed until the next one, and some events from the second movie could have been revealed with greater pomp in this one. The best part of a middle movie ending on a down note is that you KNOW there’s going to be a sequel, and you can’t wait. With Search for Spock, you know that there’s going to be a sequel, but if you’re not a fan already, it probably lost you.
All in all, it’s a good movie and a worthy addition to the collection. It didn’t do quite what I was hoping for, and I still think Genesis could have used some more philosophy, but beggars can’t be choosers, and I’m begging to watch some more Trek. Join me next week when I reveal something startling as I tackle Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Until then, I tenderly remain,
Eric.

And the adventure continues…

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