The SmarK DVD Rant For Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

The SmarK DVD Rant for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

– Released by Paramount, original theatrical release in 1984.

“Leave me here if you want, but beam up the Vulcan.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because you wish it.”

– There is a saying amongst Trek aficionados, and although it’s not very deep, it’s spread to even casual fans of the series: Odd-numbered movies suck. The first one was a pretentious, dull mess made solely to cash in on the popularity of the series, they say. The fifth one featured William Shatner as the director and God as the antagonist. Nuff said there. Generations was well-intentioned, but the mysticism about the big hole in the cosmos was just too much for most fans to swallow. The third movie, however, seems to draw fire from both sides of the issue — while many people write it off just because of the roman numeral it happened to draw, I’ve always thought it was one of the strongest movies in the series. Lame re-casting aside (Robin Curtis?) it was part adventure, part human drama, and part Frankenstein, acting as a bridge between the adventure part of the series (Star Trek II) and the human drama part of the series (Star Trek IV), while attempting to tell a morality fable within the settings of outer space.

Hey, I’ve always liked it, so sue me.

The Film

– Taking place shortly (very shortly) after nearly getting blown to pieces by Khan Singh, Star Trek III is the middle part of what most Trekkies lovingly refer to as “The Trilogy”. While the first movie exists in it’s own vacuum of suck, the 2nd through 4th parts formed one fairly-cohesive story, showing how the original Enterprise became the new Enterprise. Spock is dead, having saved the ship with his last act after leaving McCoy with all his memories and thoughts (just in case, I guess), and the mysterious Genesis device (which terraforms dead planets into reasonable facsimiles of Earth) has created an entire planet to act as his burial ground. Well, you just know that monkeying around with God’s creations in a Gene Roddenberry universe is gonna lead to no good, which is why we meet a rogue Klingon ship, commanded by the bloodthirsty Kruge (Christopher Lloyd). Kruge gets wind of the highly-classified project through unseemly channels, and before you can say “GagH”, he’s jumped to the conclusion that the Federation has created a doomsday weapon with intentions of terraforming the Klingon homeworld into mush. While he races to the Genesis Planet to find out the deal with that, Admiral Kirk and his faithful crew kidnap Dr. McCoy from the 24th century version of the nuthouse and try to get him to the planet so that Spock’s soul can stop turning his brain inside-out. With the planet falling to pieces, both Kirk and Kruge want what’s on the planet, albeit for entirely different reasons, and Kirk pays a deadly price, losing the two things in the world most important to him as a result.

The neat thing about this movie (hackneyed techno-babble about proto-matter aside) is that Christopher Lloyd plays Kruge completely against what you’d expect from him — Kruge is cruel, efficient, practical and completely intelligent. He’s one of the best adversaries for Kirk, albeit one who only lasts one movie. Kruge’s conclusions — while misguided and backed up by murder — are in fact fairly logical and sound ones to make. The Federation fears the Klingons, and suddenly they have a device that can destroy entire planets. It’s entirely reasonable to think that someone in the Federation might get trigger-happy and decide to use it for means other than peace and colonization. And in fact, Kruge is proven right in a way — the shortcuts taken by Kirk’s son David Marcus (the Star Trek equivalent of a mad scientist) WERE dangerous, and likely could have had disastrous consequences in the wrong hands. Kirk and Kruge’s showdown comes late in the movie, and while short, it proves to be a cool chess game of sorts, with Kruge making his only mistake in tactics and paying dearly for it. The rest of the movie is filled with the sort of light-hearted spirit of fun and adventure that seemed to be sorely lacking from the Star Trek universe once Roddenberry died — Bones McCoy finds himself becoming too much like Spock for his own comfort, Scotty rebels against the unstoppable force of new technology as only he can, and Kirk continues fighting the bureaucracy even as Starfleet pressures him to step down as an active commander and let the newer, sleeker Excelsior class ship head the fleet. Watching the crew man the stolen Enterprise on a quest to save two friends is like watching a family reunion.

There are, as noted, big negatives to the movie. David Marcus is so annoying and yet bland that his death feels as shoe-horned into the plot as his life does. Speaking of the plot, it’s basically a continuation of Star Trek II, so if you missed that one, you’ll have to rely on the rather blatant expositional passages that review the major plot points from the second movie. As a result, this movie can feel a bit cobbled-together. Robin Curtis is terrible as Saavik, in my opinion, not capturing the feel of the character at all. Maybe it was too much of a jolt to switch from Kirstie Alley to her (Alley was dropped due to huge salary demands which the budget-conscious producers couldn’t meet), but I just don’t buy Curtis in the role. And the plot itself is not exactly subtle with the message being conveyed — Man creates Earth without consulting God first, planet gets blown up, creator gets hacked to death by a Klingon, and even the ship that delivered the torpedo is destroyed. As an allegory, it’s not exactly Animal Farm. However, as a space-buckling adventure story with evil villains and lots of science-fiction mumbo jumbo, it’s a fine use of your 100 minutes.

The Video

Oddly enough (okay, not odd for Paramount), this is the exact same transfer as the original, bare-bones disc that was released in 2000. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture suffers somewhat from the original film’s age, showing grain, dirt and the occasional scratch. Colors are, as expected, much improved from the VHS version, but I still find the DVD transfer to be too dark and I wish they had addressed that problem by redoing the transfer from a fresh negative, as they did with Star Trek II.

The Audio

Your choice of Dolby 5.1 or Dolby Surround, and honestly there’s not a huge difference here between them. Again, same transfer as the original disc. The subwoofer has a few moments to shine when the ship is hanging around spacedock and everything’s rumbling, but other than that you won’t get much action from it. Surrounds are pretty much quiet throughout, with the exception of one neat scene in the Starfleet lounge, where you can hear pages on the PA system in the left and right rear channels. Other than that, it’s just glorified Dolby Pro-Logic.

The Extras

Here’s where the special edition makes up for the lack of a new transfer somewhat. You get

– A new commentary from producer Harve Bennett, director Leonard Nimoy, and Robin Curtis. Nimoy is nicely animated and gives an interesting look at the making of the film from his perspective. Curtis has nothing of note to add.

– The ever-popular text-commentary from Michael Okuda, pointing out various gaffes and triviata about the movie. A fun track when it has something to work with (like the origins of the often-recycled background props and Chekhov’s clothing issues), but a lot of the time it’s rehashing things from the first two movies or pointing out the blatantly obvious. Still, I really enjoy these things and I wish they were on more DVDs.

– “Captain’s Log”, a 20-minute collection of interviews with the cast. Everyone seems to be pretty low-key, with only Robin Curtis showing enthusiasm for the film. Shatner is so laid-back that he looks like he’s going to pass out.

– “Space Docks and Birds of Prey”, a 25-minute documentary on the technical design aspect of the movie, covering the creation of the various special effects needed.

– “Speaking Klingon”, a fascinating 15-minute interview with Marc Okrand, who created an entire Klingon language for the movie and demonstrates how you go about actually pulling together something like that from scratch. Really neat stuff.

– “Klingon and Vulcan costumes”, a quickie featurette focusing on, what else, costume design! The designer has real passion for her work, but this is a bit of a yawner.

– “Terraforming and the Prime Directive”, a 25-minute documentary featuring eggheads speculating on whether or not Mars could be made livable within the next 100 years or so. Only vaguely connected to the movie at best, but interesting if you’re into this stuff.

– Trailers for both Star Trek III and Nemesis.

– Plus the usual useless fluff like storyboards and production photos.

EASTER EGG ALERT — Go to the sub-menu for “The Star Trek Universe”, hit the “right” button on your remote to highlight the Vulcan sculpture, and then hit enter to access a 5-minute interview with special effects wiz Ken Ralston, as he talks about creating the Klingon dog and the worms on Genesis.

Unfortunately, there’s no “old” material on here — everything is comprised of new interviews and clips of the movie. There’s no “making of” footage from the original shoot, or deleted scenes, both of which I was interested to see. So while DVD junkies will probably be let down, there’s enough meat on the bones here for fans of the movies to enjoy as is.

The Film: ***1/2

The Video: **

The Audio: **

The Extras: ****

Check out Scott’s full list of DVDs and request rants of DVDs he owns!