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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Movie Reviews: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Hey there Chaos fans. Old man Chaos checkin' in. I've begun working on some 40K stuff again, after a bit of a hiatus. Sometimes you need to take a break from the hobby to recharge and think about your work. I'll be diving in with more Dark Eldar and terrain soon enough. At any rate, I will also be continuing my reviews of the Star Trek movies. This time, its Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Is this a worthy sequel to the legendary Wrath of Khan, or is this where the curse of mediocrity of the odd numbered Star Treks begins? Warp speed ahead!

Personal Background: This was the first Star Trek movie I ever saw in the theater. I recall my mother taking me and my brother to see it. I don't remember a ton about it, though I do remember the Enterprise blowing up. I remember my mom being misty-eyed when that happened. I also recall that I really like this one as a kid in general. As a kid I thought it was exciting and fun, and I remember loving the Klingon ship in this. I don't think I understood Spock coming back from the dead as such, at that age. As I grew older, I came to appreciate the superiority of Wrath of Khan; yet, this one still holds a special place for me as a Trek fan, even now. However, I can also admit that this one has serious flaws, in both logic and storytelling.

Basic Plot: The tragic events of ST II weigh heavily upon the crew of the Enterprise. The ship is severely damaged, those cadets are suddenly scarred and battle-hardened, and then of course, there's the loss of Spock. Though you might think that Kirk would suffer most, it is McCoy that has lost it- he has been acting like Spock in a disturbing fashion, and no one knows why. That is, until Sarek arrives to figure out just what has happened to his son. Kirk and Sarek figure out that McCoy has Spock's Katra, or essence. Sarek demands that both McCoy and Spock's body be brought back to Vulcan. This will be a challenge, since Spock's body is on the "Genesis Planet", which is now under quarantine by the Federation, with the exception of the science vessel the USS Grissom (which has Saavik and David aboard). Kirk decides to hell with the orders and steals the Enterprise (one of the best scenes in the movie, and indeed, the entire franchise, I feel) in order to retrieve the body.

Gives me goosebumps every time

Klingons presented as a real threat
Unbeknownst to Kirk, the Klingons want Genesis for their own (evil?) purposes. Commander Kruge has infiltrated Federation space, destroyed the Grissom, and is now holding Saavk and David hostage. And here's the wrinkle: Spock was regenerated by the Genesis effect, and is now a young, though rapidly aging, boy. It is up to Kirk to try to rescue them and make sure Kruge does not get the information he wants. Meanwhile, the Genesis planet is unstable, and collapsing- the experiment is ultimately a failure. Kirk must race against the Klingons AND the disintegrating planet- but the reward is great- Spock is alive, and, well, you can guess where it goes from there...

A good, but brief, battle
There's a good deal of action and fun to be had here. The camaraderie among the crew is a highlight for this movie. Kirk is always fun when he's rebellious, and its thrilling to see Kirk and company doing whatever it takes to help their friend Spock. When Kirk steals the Enterprise, it is hard not to be swept up in it. That scene is fun, exciting, and emotional. And the Enterprise's final battle against the Klingon ship, while far briefer than the superb battles in TWOK, is still really good, and Kirk's decision to destroy the Enterprise, lest Kruge gets a hold of it, is wonderfully executed. In fact, the whole movie moves along quite briskly- it never dwells on anything for too long, which in this case is really a strong point. 

Its great that Mark Leonard is back, but the Katra concept needs work
Unfortunately, there's quite a few problems with this movie. Now, no movie is perfect if you dissect it, but there are some major faults here. There are HUGE logic holes where the whole Katra process is concerned- I mean, why does Sarek need BOTH the body AND McCoy? Spock's body SHOULD be ashes... what does that mean for the process? Kirk never says "Oh, I bet the body IS intact"... They never explain it- Kirk takes a desperate gamble without ANY indication that Spock's body IS even physically there. Now, I get that this is sci-fi and all, but its all too flimsy. And does that mean Vulcans are immortal- that may be a bit too much to swallow, no?  A problem related to that is, suddenly, every Federation/Star Fleet guy is mean, nasty, or ignorant.Now, that was a plot device for the TV show on occasion, but here... it makes no sense. Perhaps they MUST quarantine the planet but... why doesn't Starfleet Commander Morrow simply tell Kirk "You can't go, but I'll get Grissom to investigate, since they are there already"? That would be more in keeping, no? And then there's the other guys: the guards, the captain of the Excelsior- they are all bastards to a man- for NO reason (the "Don't get smart, tiny" guy is the worst offender). Now, I know this is to show how Kirk and Co are fighting the odds, but this is just excessive and frankly, makes Starfleet look like both nasty people AND fools all at once.

Themes/Concepts: Although there are flaws to the plot, it is here in this category that ST III falls the hardest. Plot holes can be forgiven if the movie ties it all together well OR has something powerful to say. TMP, though ponderous and wooden, had powerful ideas about "creation", "purpose", and what man's role in the galaxy might truly be. For TWOK, the themes of confronting death, finding one's "place" in life, the cycle of life and death, and the question if man has the right to wield the powers of creation and destruction.

Willing to risk it all in the name of friendship
In ST III, well- there are no really grand Sci-Fi themes here, which is a double tragedy, since Nimoy, as actor, has always been the smartest and staunchest defender of Trek and its "big ideas". But, as director of ST III, he loses sight of that. Yes, "friendship" is there, as is the nice line "the needs of the one, outweigh the needs of the many". Also, I see the parallels to religion here, as Kirk must descend into a fiery "hell" to battle and "resurrect" Spock. However, that's it. No bigger themes, or questions, or truths. The modern and action packed ST '09 has ideas about the nature of time fixing itself and if you really can go back and change time/destiny. Heck, even ST V, the black sheep of the family, manages to ask the question "does God exist in this future/universe" in its own way. Here, that's not the case. It's all about bringing Spock back, without doing any heavy thinking. Which is too bad, since Trek SHOULD be pursuing bigger concepts.

Kirk fights in "hell" to save Spock
Characters/Acting: One of the things that saves ST III is the acting, which is really saying something since the lynchpin for the crew, Spock, is not around till the very end. Shatner does good work anchoring the movie. His performance is not as good as TWOK, to be sure, but he does well showing that Kirk is willing to lose it all to save Spock- his reaction to the threat "if you do this you'll never sit in that chair again" as he steals the Enterprise is great. His reaction to David's ultimate fate is also really good, as he falls out of grief. However, the scene is nowhere near as poignant as his work at the end of TWOK. His fight with Kruge at the end is well done, and Kirk even offers mercy to his enemy, even though he killed his son is a nice touch, and Shatner handles it well.

De Kelly also does great as McCoy. Since he is technically harboring Spock's consciousness, Kelly is essentially playing a man who has to souls in him. When he talks of "going home to Vulcan", the look in his eye is downright scary- has McCoy lost his mind? Then, as he jumps between "McCoy" and "Spock" in the bar is both tragic and humorous, and Kelly handles it so well. And then, after all he's been through to rescue Spock, the Vulcans explain that he's in even more danger, and he says deadpan "I choose the danger... hell of a time to ask". Again- Kelly nails that fine line so well.

Kruge- ruthless but also desperate
Special mention should be made for Christopher Lloyd, who plays Kruge. Now, some suggest that Kruge is a poor man's Khan, but this critique is wrong. In terms of plot, Kruge is just the final hurdle for Kirk and crew to overcome- he is not the "villain of the piece" as Khan is. He's not supposed to be. However, Lloyd does a great job of making Kruge a great Klingon and adversary. He is merciless, cruel, and actually, desperate. He fears that Genesis means the end of his people, and he will do anything to steal the secrets of it. Lloyd carries that through the entire film- when he fights the Enterprise, his desperation is palpable, as is his reactions to his men dying on an exploding star ship. His acting, though slightly odd for what we think of today as "Klingon" is actually very memorable and entertaining. Looking at him in make-up, shooting his own officer, threatening to rape Saavik, giving the order to kill a hostage... I would not want to fuck with this Klingon. And that makes Lloyd very effective.

Great effects here, and very sad for longtime fans
Special Effects: The effects are quite good, though nothing tops the Nebula in TWOK in this. The Klingon Bird of Prey ship is great to see (its first outing), as is its De-cloaking effect. The Earth space station is simply enormous, seeing the scale as star ships PARK within it- amazingly well done, as is the scene of the Enterprise escaping. The destruction of the Enterprise is also a great special effect- its a bit brief, but it packs a wallup as you see the saucer section explode.

Musical Score: Again, as with TWOK, James Horner did the score. You either love him or hate him. I love his music, and its the same here. Yes, he lifts some cues/whole tracks from TWOK, but it works in the movie. His original stuff is really good too- the music at the opening credits is similar to the opening theme of TWOK,  but also different and more uplifting. His score during the battle with the Klingon ship and the destruction of the Enterprise is top notch, as his his "Arrival at Vulcan" theme.

Spock's return isn't the only legacy of ST III
Lasting Legacy: The first use of the Bird of Prey, the big space station, and a close look at Vulcan are some legacies (great job bringing back Mark Leonard). The real legacy, of course, is bringing Spock back. It is one of the most engaging what-ifs in Star Trek- what if they didn't bring Spock back? Would Trek have survived? IF yes, it certainly would have been a different animal then- would it have been more somber? One can only speculate, and that's a bit of fun. The other, if less considered legacy, is how ST III undoes just about ALL of TWOK. Now, I don't mean Spock's death. I mean other things. Project Genesis, a keen sci-fi concept all by itself, is discredited here as a failure. In TWOK, the idea that mankind had advanced so far, having the ability to wield the powers of creation, was so powerful for that movie's themes, but it was also perfect sci-fi. Here, it gets erased- it was a bad idea, an accident- we'll destroy the planet, and then forget about it. A blah way to cut out such a cool sci-fi concept. ST III also collapses the idea of the cycle of life and death in another way- David, Kirk's son and "future", if you will, is dead. And Saavik, who seemed to be a successor to Spock in TWOK, is relegated to nursing Spock as he gets better, even well... I won't say, though it has to do with Pon Farr. In TWOK, Saavik was an interesting character, a bit complex. Here, she's straightforward and frankly, bland. Her character will vanish in ST IV. Its too bad that ST III erased some of the best ideas in TWOK. Again, TWOK isn't the "be all, end all" for me- it just feels as if ST III wanted to bring back Spock so bad, that everything else that came before could be dispensed with without any fuss or thought. This, I think, is what caused the idea that "odd numbered Treks are cursed"... I don't know if this movie deserves that, but these faults don't help it- the last legacy of ST III.

Well, the nostalgia in my heart wants to give this a 3 out of 4 Marks of Chaos. I loved it as a kid, and I still enjoy it very much. But, my logical brain tells me that this could have been better- and it is not up to par with its immediate predecessor. It's NOT cursed or bad, it just isn't as good as Trek can be. Therefore, I give this 2 1/2 out of 4 Marks of Chaos.

Until next time...

1 comment:

  1. Saavik and David walk through a blizzard to find a young Spock. This would suggest it's quite cold. Where is the vapour when they exhale? It's a little thing, but frustrates this Canadian film fan.