Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

Directed by Leonard Nimoy
Written by Harve Bennett

Finding ourselves at the third film in the original Star Trek film series, I’m not sure what to make of things to this point. We’ve seen one bad movie (The Motion Picture) and one great movie (The Wrath of Khan). I guess I wouldn’t expect to see either extreme again the rest of the marathon, although here’s to hoping for more greatness. With The Search for Spock, I think we sort of get exactly that, something which falls somewhere in between greatness and futility. It gets its queues from the success of The Wrath of Khan, while failing to show the polish and completeness of that film. It falls short in its execution, featuring an even sillier villain, while showing that the strength of the series to this point has been the characters, and how they interact with each other. I also don’t think a film devoid of Spock is a good thing, but more on that later.

So we left The Wrath of Khan with the surprise of the death of Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and while I posited that at some point Spock would make his return, this film is largely about that exact possibility. The Search for Spock pretty much picks up exactly where the previous film left off, with the crew of the Enterprise returning home for repairs, but once Spock manifests himself in Bones (DeForest Kelley), they must race across the galaxy in a search and hope of finding Spock. They return to planet Genesis, where they find the USS Grissom destroyed and Dr. Marcus and Lt. Saavik being held captive by a menacing Klingon commander who hopes to steal the Genesis technology for destructive purposes.

After Spock’s death, this was the film that had to happen, which is both a blessing and a curse. Of course, with Spock being such an integral part of this crew and series, they couldn’t go long without him being an important character in the series. The Search for Spock gets to be both where the entire film is about him, while not featuring Spock nearly at all. But this whole situation is a detriment because it feels stuck to go along with the story told in The Wrath of Khan. It’s forced to resolve those story lines instead of going forward and creating its own adventure. Ultimately, it ends up being fine. It’s an okay adventure, but I can certainly feel the restraints of having to get Spock back and the handcuffs that places on this film and potentially Leonard Nimoy’s skill set behind the camera, which doesn’t get to shine here, though perhaps we’ll get another shot with The Voyage Home.

To get into spoilers, there is a “Spock” character here, but one of the big disappointments for me was how little he was utilized. Getting a quickly aging Spock and not showing us his Spock-isms through that growth is a missed opportunity to insert some great character moments, and potentially some good humor as well. Instead, we get the somewhat wet blanket of Merritt Butrick as Kirk’s son Dr. Marcus and a new Lt. Saavik. No more Kirstie Alley instead we get Robin Curtis, who actually feels like an upgrade in the character. But the biggest miss of the film in terms of character is how disparate they all are. There are too many pockets of activity which rarely cross paths enough, making for a bit of a schizophrenic storytelling experience. We have the main crew, the Genesis scientists, the Vulcans, and the Klingons. They could have been molded together a little better.

To continue with performances, there is a mixed bag throughout. The main cast is fine, and I seem to particularly enjoy the little moments for George Takei and Nichelle Nichols, who seem to be marginalized somewhat in the previous two films. The main villain, portrayed by Christopher Lloyd is very laughable, unfortunately. I can’t help but feel Lloyd is seriously miscast in this role. I can never take him, his voice, and certainly not his delivery seriously, making his Klingon sub-plot never a serious threat to the main story. On the other spectrum, however, is Judith Anderson as the Vulcan high priestess. Her character barely bears mentioning, but being a fan of her work, I was excited to see her here, and think she was perfectly cast. It’s such a small character, but I couldn’t possibly go by without mentioning her.

Most of what I’ve talked about up to this point has been negative, and it bears mentioning, but I do think The Search for Spock falls somewhere in between the first two films in quality. It still has a faster pace and sense of adventure. There are still some fun interactions, scientific ideas and well executed special effects. Overall, I would have to say that I enjoyed The Search for Spock, but with my clear objections and concerns for the movie as a whole. I have heard of the Even-Odd Popularity for this film series, which lands this film in the “bad” part of that theory. I can’t refute the drop off in quality between The Wrath of Khan and this, but I feel there is still enough here to make this an entertaining film, even if it does flirt with that line a might too much for my liking. With the Even-Odd Popularity in mind, I certainly look forward to the next installment with hopes of an even better experience, and potentially one where we get some more Spock!

★★★ – Liked It

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