We have made it to the third entry in our Star Trek film festival of sorts. After the uptick in quality we saw with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, it was time to hit another odd numbered film with Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
We’re at another point where I think I have only seen this film once, probably back in the theater, back when it premiered in 1984. That I saw it in that particular context meant my reaction then was considerably different than the way I responded it to it last week.
To start with, Christopher Lloyd is the Klingon commander, Kirk’s main nemesis. At the time I only knew him from his role in the show Taxi (also my baseline for Danny Devito) where he played the erratic Reverand Jim, a character whose unique personality traits I projected onto the Captain Kruge character in the film. This, of course, pre-dates many of the roles that would influence my views about him, including the Back to the Future series of films. So 1984 me saw him as Reverend Jim the Klingon, while 38 years down the road… well, if not Reverend Jim, then sort of the expansive and slightly loony mix of the many characters he has since played.
Anyway, the movie itself picks up immediately in the wake of Wrath of Khan, framing the situation with a few clips from the end of that film, with the Enterprise safe but damaged, Kirk headed back to base, and the photon torpedo case used to bury Spock in space sitting happily and fully intact on the surface of the planet created by the triggering of the Genesis device.
On the voyage home McCoy breaks into Spock’s quarters and has an episode where, in Leonard Nimoy’s voice, he chastises Kirk for leaving him behind on Genesis, which is now what we call the planet that was created from the device. Kirk thinks McCoy is just drunk or suffering from PTSD and has him committed to the psych ward when they get back to Star Fleet.
There they also find that the Enterpise, now 20 years old… in reality and Star Fleet years I guess… is to be decommissioned. As Kirk and his bridge crew are getting drunk at Kirk’s bachelor bad, where Kirk himself is wearing some leisure wear that the 70s called him to say they did not want back, when Sarek, Spock’s dad, shows up to speak with Kirk. Sending everybody away Sarek wants to know what Kirk did with Spock’s consciousness… because, as we learn, any Vulcan that knows they’re going to die will implant themselves in another person… only to find out that Kirk doesn’t have it.
Eventually they figure out McCoy has it, so they have to break him out of the psych ward, steal the Enterprise, fly it to Genesis with just the main cast, fight a Klingon bird of prey captained by Reverend Jim, find Spock’s body, collect everything together and get to Vulcan where in some “are you sure you want to do this?” ceremony, Spock can be put back together so he can be in the next film.
Roll credits and cue the time travel whale hunt in the next film!
I previously compared this movie to Spock’s Brain, the opening episode of season 3 of the original series, and widely regarded as the worst episode in the bunch. Seriously, the plot line is literally somebody STEALS Spock’s brain and the crew of the Enterprise has to go find it and put it back.
But The Search for Spock is not that bad. I must be feeling incredibly charitable towards the film series, because I enjoyed the film.
I mean sure, it is still a glorified original series episode, stretched out to two house. And yes, there are some incredibly goofy bits in it, like when McCoy goes to what I can only describe as the Star Fleet version of the Mos Eisley cantina, complete with framing shots of strange aliens, or when half the bridge crew breaks McCoy out of the detention block and shoot up the coms station in a way very reminiscent of another Star Wars scene. Then there is stealing the Enterprise, losing the Enterprise, stealing a Klingon bird of prey, and the fact that on reassembly Spock remembers something he said to Kirk that we established earlier happened AFTER he backed up his brain in McCoy. I mean, is that how brain backups work? Are they like jump clones in EVE, getting a constant update feed until the being dies?
Anyway, in summary, it was goofy and had its flaws, but not in a huge immersion breaking way. It wasn’t as tight as Wrath of Khan, though that has its own level of goofiness, but it wasn’t bad. So for the ranking so far we’re going to put it in second place.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Next up, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. We’re watching that tonight after Thanksgiving dinner has been finished and cleared away.