Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" (1984)

"Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" (1984)
Starring William Shatner, DeForrest Kelley and Christopher Lloyd
Written by Harve Bennett
Directed by Leonard Nimoy

After "The Wrath of Khan" delivered massive returns on a smaller budget, Paramount immediately set about crafting a sequel.  With the ending of the second film left wide open for it, and fans clamoring for it, the crew of the starship Enterprise embark on a mission to save their friend Spock, who lies somewhere between life and death due to the rejuvenating effects of the "Genesis" technology.

The film opens with the Enterprise returning solemnly to Earth, severely damaged from its battle with Khan.  The damage goes deeper, however, as the crew mourns the loss of Spock.  However, a visit from Spock's father, Sarek, proves that there's still a chance to save Spock by returning with his body to the planet Vulcan and undergoing an ancient ritual of renewal.  To do so, Kirk and his crew must defy their orders, steal the Enterprise and go racing off into restricted space to recover the body of Spock.

Meanwhile, a rogue Klingon commander named Kruge (Christpher Lloyd) has learned of the dangerous Genesis technology and, thinking that the Federation would use it as a weapon against the Klingon Empire, also makes his way to the Genesis Planet.  There, it finds the USS Grissom, a science vessel whose crew includes Kirk's son, David Marcus (Merritt Buttrick), and Spock's protege, Lt. Saavik (Robin Curtis, taking over for Kirstie Alley).  Kruge destroys the Grissom, stranding Marcus and Saavik on the planet's surface, where they discover the reanimated body of Spock, regressed into adolescence.

"The Search for Spock" forms the second part of a loose trilogy of films that concludes in "The Voyage Home."  Nicholas Meyer, writer/director of "Wrath of Khan" steps aside to let producer Harve Bennett script, while series star Leonard Nimoy steps in as first-time director.  The film lacks some of the snappiness of its predecessor, and Nimoy does a solid job as director, if not a spectacular one.  The film's best and liveliest sequence is when Kirk and crew bust McCoy out of the brig and steal the Enterprise.

Scenes taking place on the Genesis planet are obviously shot on a soundstage.  While location shooting would've gone a long way toward keeping these scenes from looking fake and cheap, it also would've been nearly impossible to shoot the apocalyptic planetary destruction at the film's climax.  Nimoy traded realism for consistency, which I guess I can accept.

Shatner gives one of the best performances of his career, especially later in the film when he's helpless to prevent the death of his own son, whom he'd only just met a short time before.  The script apparently called for Shatner to sit down when hearing the news, but he missed the edge of the chair and stumbles.  Nimoy kept the cameras rolling, and Shatner kept on performing, and the result is golden, and pretty much the best moment in the entire film.

Christopher Lloyd is a serviceable villain, chewing the scenery like it was covered with melted cheese.  But he's no Khan.  That's a stigma that would stick with every "Star Trek" film to date.  Khan is the high water mark both filmmakers and fans compare to.  Publicity leading up to the release of each "Star Trek" film would find writers, directors and cast members proclaiming, "We've got the best villain since Khan!"  Whether this ends up true or not is often open to interpretation; personally, I enjoyed Alice Krige's performance as the Borg Queen in "Star Trek: First Contact" and Christopher Plummer is excellent as General Chang in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country."  But none of them are Khan.  Certainly not Malcolm McDowell's wimpy Dr. Soran in "Star Trek: Generations" or F. Murray Abraham's whiny Ru'afo in "Star Trek: Insurrection."

It's also worth nothing that comedian John Laroquette has a cameo appearance as one of Kruge's Klingon goons.  He's the one Kirk promises to kill later (and then reneges on).

There's a certain theory amongst "Star Trek" fandom that the odd numbered movies all suck.  This is untrue... or at least exaggerated.  While many fans (especially those who gather online) are given to wild hyperbole by declaring some of the films "unwatchable" or "garbage," this is simply ridiculous.  Certainly, some of them are lesser than others.  After eleven movies, the "Star Trek" franchise ranges from mediocre ("Star Trek V: The Final Frontier") to genre classic ("The Wrath of Khan").  It is true that the odd numbered ones tend to be a bit weaker for some reason, but none of these movies is bad on the level of an Uwe Boll picture.  "The Search for Spock" is neither mediocre nor a genre classic, settling somewhere in between as an engaging and entertaining space adventure, if not top-notch.

The film has been released on blu-ray, as part of the six-movie original crew box set and as a "trilogy" box set with "Wrath of Khan" and "Voyage Home."  Unlike "Wrath of Khan," "Search for Spock" hasn't been remastered at all since the beginning of this decade.  At the time, the standard thinking when remastering a film was to scrub it clean of grain since at DVD resolution, this would come across as a cleaner, sharper picture.  Unfortunately, when HD rolled around, it was quickly discovered that what this does was white-wash a film to the point where everything is left looking sickly unnatural.  People look like odd wax or plastic figures that move.  Sometimes, the effect obliterates fine detail like the texture of clothing or objects.

This is unfortunately what happened with these original "Star Trek" movies.  While "Search for Spock" doesn't look terrible, it certainly could look much, much better.  Watch just about any scene in the first hour of the film, and try not to be almost creeped out by just how fake everyone looks.  Sure, the image is sharp, and the colors incredibly bold (check out the red Starfleet uniforms, awesome!) but the whole thing has a bizarre plastic sheen to it that just seems totally unnatural.  The picture is a definite upgrade from its DVD counterpart, but I can only hope that sometime in the future, Paramount sees fit to give these movies a proper remastering.