By Marc S. Sanders
Leonard Nimoy accepted the director’s chair for Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. Though background stories dictate that he was done with the famous character especially following the end of the previous film in the franchise, one hanging thread was left untouched to permit another chapter. It’s fortunate that Nimoy worked with so much good, solid and well written material for him to oversee on this follow up picture.
The Enterprise is returning to Earth following its entanglements with Khan. Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is morose following the loss of a close colleague. In addition, Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is mysteriously unwell. Meanwhile, the newest invention, Project Genesis, is being thoroughly studied by Kirk’s son David and Lt. Saavik, now that it has formed a planet of its own. Genesis has become a clandestine and highly politicized issue among the Federation Of Planets and it is not to be discussed in public arenas.
Shortly after Kirk arrives home, he is approached by Spock’s father, Sarek (Mark Lenard). They both realize that before Spock’s unexpected self-sacrifice, he left his “spirit” within the mind of McCoy. Now McCoy is unstable in the current life and Spock’s afterlife is not settled as well. Kirk and crew must find a way to escort McCoy to the planet Vulcan, along with Spock’s corpse that is resting on the Genesis planet. So, without authorization, they hijack the Enterprise and off they go into the far reaches of space all over again. It won’t be easy as Christopher Lloyd has been cast as a vicious Klingon who commands a Bird Of Prey ship that can cloak itself just before an attack.
Due to the enormous popularity of The Wrath Of Khan and The Voyage Home (even numbered installments in the movie series), The Search For Spock doesn’t get the recognition it truly deserves. People love to point out how the odd numbered installments are the weaker films. Star Trek III negates that observation for me, though. Maybe whatever dismissal it carries is also in part because it’s a short film and doesn’t feature the main attraction for many Trek fans, Spock. Yet, Nimoy with a script written by producer Harve Bennett tackles some shocking developments in the continuing adventures of Kirk, Bones, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov. All these years later and two eye opening moments occur in the film’s third act where I tell myself, “Wow, I can’t believe they actually went there.”
The film has a very gratifying ending. Yet, it ends with a couple of big cliffhangers. Look, when Darth Vader revealed his big secret, moviegoers had to wait three long years to find out the backstory and what was really the truth. With this third Star Trek film, there’s much to account for as to what will become of our first favorite science fiction crew. Leonard Nimoy hit all the right notes leaving audiences wanting more.
Nimoy has directed a well-versed picture. The film doesn’t just belong to Shatner this time. Though he’s just as marvelous as the last film. He just has such a likable charm to him, and his dramatic moments can be heart wrenching. DeForest Kelley is given good material here. At times, his mental dilemma is a struggle for the character. In other areas, his curmudgeonhood comes out for humor as he curses Spock for what he’s left him with. It’s a humorous kind of sci fi prejudice (sort of like Archie Bunker) that made Spock and McCoy a good pair to traditionally watch spar with each other. George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols and James Doohan are blessed with moments as well that feature some funny one liners (“Up yer shaft!” and “Don’t call me Tiny!”).
It’s easy to regard the third film of a “geek culture” as just another film. However, in its brisk ninety-minute running time, The Search For Spock explores facets of religion, albeit fictional, and debates with science and discovery. If that’s not good enough for you, at least it’s also a helluva great adventure.