Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984)

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Carrying on with my non-Trekkie viewing of Star Trek films – The Search For Spock!

When we last left our heroes, Spock was dead and I was very upset. Of course we knew that not even crossing to the other life can keep a Vulcan down. With that little teaser of Spock’s coffin landing on the Genesis planet, there was no doubt that he’d come back.

The Search For Spock picks up right where The Wrath of Khan left off. The Enterprise crew return home to get their ship repaired, only to discover that the Enterprise is going to be put out to pasture. It’s a metaphor for the crew, you guys! Then McCoy finds himself with a dual personality. Spock has apparently put his soul into McCoy’s body – nice one, Spock – so that he can have last rites back on Vulcan. The crew figures that they’ve got to give old Spock final peace, and liberate McCoy from the whole ‘having your friend inhabit your body’ thing.

Meanwhile, the Genesis planet is getting all kinds of weird. The whole planet ages and evolves at an alarming rate, producing some pretty fucked up lifeforms. What’s more, a bunch of pissed off Klingons led by Christopher Lloyd have decided that the very existence of Genesis is an act of war. They want the secret for their very own. Predictably, they’re going to have to fight the Enterprise crew to get it.

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The Search For Spock has the feel of a middle film, because that’s exactly what it is. This is the development stage of the arc, between Spock’s death in Wrath of Khan and his re-learning cycle in The Voyage Home. For that, it’s a perfectly enjoyable film, though not a the same level cinematically as Wrath of Khan.

There are some lovely, amusing moments between the Enterprise crew as they make plans to steal their own ship and return to Genesis to find Spock’s body. The reasoning behind this seems a little muddled – if any Trekkies can explain to me why they need Spock’s body, and at what point they realize that they could actually put his soul back into his body, I would be very grateful. But it does give DeForrest Kelly an opportunity to do a quality imitation of Leonard Nimoy. We also learn about the Vulcan aging process, as dead Spock regenerates into a new baby Spock who grows up very quickly. Puberty is very tough on Vulcans.

The biggest problem with the film is the whole Klingon subplot. It would have been fine, even necessary, adding action to what is basically a quest narrative. But why did we need whole swathes of dialogue in Klingon? The version I watched didn’t have subtitles, so there I was, listening to Christopher Lloyd garble on, without the slightest idea of what the hell he was talking about.

The final fight between Kirk and Kruge (Lloyd) seems a wee bit tacked on, as though we really just needed a scene with Shatner getting down and dirty. For awhile the search for Spock takes a backseat to Kirk’s anger at the death of his son, who very stupidly and bravely sacrifices his life for new Spock’s.

In the end, The Search For Spock is a mostly satisfying effort. While it does not stand up to the calibre of Wrath of Khan, or the humor of The Voyage Home, it’s fun and, particularly at the end, moving. Do they find Spock? Does he come back? C’mon. What do you think?

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

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Full disclosure time: I am not, nor have I ever been, a Trekkie.  It just was never in my genetic make-up to get really into Star Trek.  I always preferred Star Wars, and resisted valiantly any attempts from Trekkie friends to get me to admit that Klingon was a language.  But as a result, I never saw Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. And for that, I am truly sorry.

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Most know the plot, but here it goes: James T. Kirk is not a Captain any more, but an Admiral, and apparently going through a mid-life crisis.  He winds up aboard the Enterprise, along with most of his original crew, during a training mission that goes spectacularly wrong.  Because one of Kirk’s old sins has come back to haunt him in the form of Ricardo Montalban as the fabulously bare-chested and feather-haired Khan, who was marooned on a planet many years before.  Khan’s got a chip on his shoulder about old Jim, what with the marooning and the death of his wife and all, and so intends to destroy Kirk no matter what it costs him.  This is all wrapped up in the Genesis project, a scientific endeavor to create life out of lifelessness and run by Kirk’s old flame. Khan wants Genesis, but more than that he wants to make Kirk suffer horribly.

So much, so good.  The Wrath of Khan is perhaps the most recognizable of the Star Trek films – from the introduction of Khan, Shatner’s famous scream and – spoiler! – the death of Spock.  But it’s a just a great film, even if you don’t know Star Trek.  Kirk’s crisis is an understandable one and well-played by Shatner.  He’s in turmoil, missing the energy of being a young man but fully cognizant of the mistakes he’s made and what it meant to his future.  The relationships between all the leads is touching and honest without being overplayed.  It’s a clever film, with clever plot turns, and a testament to why Star Trek has become so iconic.

Having already seen Star Trek Into Darkness, like everyone else I began comparing the original Khan plot arc with the new one.  While a number of scenes are strikingly similar, what struck me most about Wrath of Khan was how understated the emotions of the Starfleet crew really were.  In Star Trek Into Darkness, the emotions are all very surface: Bones, Uhura, Kirk, Khan and even Spock all succumb to tears at some point.  Khan’s driving force in that film is his crew – his love for them, and his willingness to harm anyone who stands between them.  In Wrath of Khan, the driving force is his … well, wrath.  He’s angry; all his love and passions are translated into an obsessive fury.  While that’s played upon in Star Trek Into Darkness – and played very well by Benedict Cumberbatch – Khan’s obsession feels more in line with Kirk’s, rather than the antithesis.  And the tears that accompany ever expression of emotion feel wasted in Star Trek Into Darkness.  By the time we really want to see the characters cry, they’ve done it so much that it loses power.Spocks_death_1

In Wrath of Khan, only one tear is shed and that by a Vulcan.  But while the characters don’t burst into tears, the audience does.  Spock’s death is heart-breaking because you can hear how badly Kirk wants to control his emotions.  Two understated performances  from Shatner and Nimoy make the scene.  It’s heartbreaking because it’s inevitable, and because the emotions are real but never extreme.  You know that these two friends love each other and you know it without either one of them shedding a single tear.

So at the end of the day, this non-Trekkie loved Wrath of Khan. It even made me seek out The Search for Spock, and seriously consider if I shouldn’t give Star Trek the show another chance.