Movie Trek 3: Re-Genesis
There's no keeping a good Spock down
We come to the third movie in our Trek watch-a-thon. The Search for Spock formed the middle part of a linked trilogy that charted the lengths that Kirk and Spock would go for each other. While it's considered the weak link in the trilogy by some - suffering from the supposed curse of the odd numbers - to my mind it's a fine adventure with real heart.
The Wrath of Khan had been a hit with the fans and critics alike, and naturally Paramount wanted a sequel. The first and most important part was getting the stars back on board, and Leonard Nimoy's involvement was, well, paramount. Fortunately, Nimoy's feelings on Trek had been revitalised by the success of Khan, but there was one proviso: he wanted to direct the film. The previous director Nicholas Meyer had cut his ties with the franchise over disagreements concerning the scripts, so the position was open. Producer Harve Bennet began writing the script with Nimoy's input, crafting a story about the resurrection of Spock on the Genesis planet. The story would involve Kirk going to any lengths to retrieve Spock's renewed body, stealing the Enterprise from Starfleet in order to travel to the quarantined planet. In a more metaphysical element of the story, Spock's soul would be carried by McCoy, who had been melded with by Spock moments before his death (leading to some intense moments from DeForest Kelley as the addled McCoy).
Nimoy brought in Industrial Light and Magic much earlier on this film than previously, working closely with them during the storyboarding and design process. The result is a visual richness that surpasses Khan, but works in a very different way to the ethereal, hyperspace visuals of The Motion Picture. The result is a more lived-in, workspace kind of universe, a little bit Star Wars in its rough-edged realism. Roger Ebert called the film a compromise between the tones of the first and second, and that's exactly right. It feels more like a true follow-up to the TV series, and also looks forwards to the upcoming The Next Generation, only three years away at this point.
While the uniforms are straight from Khan, we get to see the main characters in their casual, off duty wear, and they wear clothes that people might actually go outside in. I love the mix of the grimy, used alien ships and the shinier, more majestic Starfleet facilities, but even then, there's a realism to it. The Spacedock prop, which would turn up several times as different space stations in TNG, is filmed brilliantly, making it appear absolutely gigantic, the Enterprise a bug against it. Inside, starships are lined up, building on this tremendous sense of scale. Then McCoy goes to the bar on the Spacedock, a seedy joint not that far from the Mos Eisley Cantina, with bizarre alien patrons, and tries to charter a ship off a shrill, big-eared extraterrestrial who looks almost like a prototype Ferengi.
Even the Enterprise is looking a bit worn out by this stage, overshadowed by the newer, sleeker USS Excelsior, designed as a plausible design evolution from the familiar ship. The Excelsior prop would become the mainstay of Starfleet, appearing again and again in TNG and even DS9, an old workhorse of the 24th century - part of the old guard, but not that old. Then there are the alien ships: the battered kitbash Merchantman, with its mixed crew of humans and a sexy female Klingon captain; and of course, the Klingon Bird-of-Prey. While this is another new ship, it's Klingon through-and-through (in spite of early scripts having it a stolen Romulan vessel, hence the name). It looks like it was made old, a functional and threatening beast of a ship. While again, its reuse throughout TNG and DS9 was partly due to having a well-made prop that could be reused, it's such a perfect ship for the Klingons that it becomes iconic in short order.
The Klingons themselves are designed better here than in The Motion Picture, refined from their brief appearance there since they need to function as actual characters, rather than V'Ger fodder. Early plans were for the Romulans to be the primary antagonists, but Nimoy wanted the Klingons, who he felt were more theatrical (the studio was in agreement, considering them a better selling point). His casting of Christopher Lloyd makes that plain. Lloyd, a year away from Back to the Future, is brilliant here, hammy as anything but genuinely threatening. Commander Kruge is just an absolute bastard, through and through. His obsession with controlling the secret of Genesis is a feasible goal; he's not wrong when he states that it's the greatest weapon ever created. (I assume Starfleet thoroughly buried the technology after this, for the sake of keeping the peace.) The Genesis planet itself is at once both wondrous and hellish, with wormlike bacteria creatures that try to eat the Klingons (Kruge kills one straight away, just to show how hard he is.
of David Marcus and Saavik, working together to explore Genesis as part of the USS Grissom crew. There are hints of romance there between them, but this plotline never really gets anywhere. The link back to the previous film is weakened somewhat by the recasting of Saavik; with Kirstie Alley declining to return, Robin Curtis took on the role, giving a little more humanity to the character. The inclusion of Mark Lenard as Sarek linked the film back to the original series, and cemented the family theme; Spock's father and Kirk's son are both major parts of the film.
There was a real risk, when developing this film, that bringing Spock back would invalidate his sacrifice in Khan's climax. Retrieving Spock would have to come at a price. The cost of Kirk regaining his friend would be the loss of son - killed by the Klingons in a moment of pure cruelty - and the Enterprise itself. The ship is as much a character as any of the actual cast, and while destroying the Enterprise is par for the course in Trek films now (happening again in Generations, Into Darkness and Beyond) back in 1984 it must have packed on hell of a punch. I can't imagine many viewers were that upset by Merritt Buttrick getting stabbed up, but I bet a few fans cried when the Enterprise was destroyed. Beyond that, Spock, when Nimoy finally appears in the closing scenes on Vulcan, is not the man he was. However, when he is reunited with Kirk at the film's close, it's an uplifting moment of friendship.
Some fans tend to skip The Search for Spock, but it's an essential part of the ongoing story of Star Trek and a film with a lot to offer.
STAR TREK III : THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK
Directed by Leonard Nimoy
Written by Harve Bennett
Released: 1st June 1984
Starships: USS Enterprise NCC-1701,
USS Grissom NCC-638, USS Excelsior NX-2000
Klingon Bird-of-Prey, Merchantman
Planets visited: Earth, Vulcan and Genesis