Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

  • star_trek3Year:  1984
  • Director:  Leonard Nimoy
  • Series Rank:  #6
  • Year Rank:  #23
  • Oscar Nominations:  none
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Sound Editing
  • The Enterprise Crew:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Robin Curtis
  • Villain:  Christopher Lloyd

Where could the film series possibly go?  Spock was dead.  The Enterprise had been badly damaged.  Indeed, the film begins with the ship being decommissioned and the officers being moved on to other assignments (another tidbit I know from reading the novelizations: Sulu was supposed to become Captain of the Excelsior and that was derailed by the Genesis issue).  What could possibly happen next?

Well, as it turns out, a rather good story, complete with some of the best characterization in any of the Star Trek films.  There are some of the best lines in any of the films (“That green blooded son-of-a-bitch.  It’s his revenge for all those arguments he lost.”).  There are some of the most moving moments in all the series (with all the people who die over the course of the shows and the films, what irony there is in that one of the most moving moments is when Kirk first leans over and begins the self-destruct sequence and the looks on Scotty and Chekhov’s faces when they realize what they are being asked to do – it’s an extra nice touch that it perfectly follows the sequence set up in the third season episode).  There is even some of the better acting from the members of the crew (Leonard Nimoy told Shatner to react to David’s death however he felt best – it was Shatner’s acting choice to stumble backwards and miss the chair in his grief).

So why is it this film doesn’t ascend into the realm of ***.5 and into the higher level of the Star Trek films?  Part of it is because of a mistake on Paramount’s part; they didn’t sign Kirstie Alley up for a sequel and she asked for too much money and so they hired Robin Curtis.  Curtis is a complete disaster; she has none of the fire that Alley brought to the role.  In the novelization, Saavik sleeps with David (there is an interesting moment where he thinks about how warm it is next to her – she has a much higher body temperature than he does) and you can imagine Alley’s Saavik doing that but there’s no way I can picture Curtis’ Saavik doing that.  Because of that, all of the scenes on the Genesis planet are much weaker than the other scenes.  Part of it is that after Montalban’s magnificent Khan, Christopher Lloyd’s Klingon commander just seems a bit cartoonish.  There is also the absence of Nimoy – the scenes among the older cast members all work so very well, but there always seems to be something missing without Nimoy’s Spock among them.

For a long time, it was a commonly held idea that the odd-numbered Star Trek films were the bad ones and the even ones were the good ones (Simon Pegg’s character on Spaced even mentions this).  This mostly held up for the first nine films – the even-numbered films were all better than any of the odd-numbered ones (the tenth film sank this theory).  But that’s less a measure than you might think.  While it is true that the even ones are better, there is less of a gap in quality between the third and sixth films than there are between the third and either the first or fifth films.  It was never that this film was a weak film.  It’s just that, stuck between the second film, which is still the best even after all the films that have followed, and the humor of the fourth one that makes it so endearing, the third one just couldn’t match up to those two.  While this is the third film in the series, it’s really the middle film in a trilogy story, and it suffers from middle film syndrome – not being the beginning and not really bringing things to a conclusion.