Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Stubs - Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForrest Kelley, Dame Judith Anderson, Christopher Lloyd. Directed by Leonard Nimoy. Screenplay by Harve Bennett, Harvey F. Thew. Based on characters created by Gene Roddenberry Produced by Harve Bennett. Run Time: 105 minutes. U.S. Color. Adventure, Science Fiction

Following the success of Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (1982), Paramount was eager for a sequel; so eager in fact that the studio commissioned Harve Bennett to write the follow up the day after its release. Bennett, who had been working in television, was the man studio heads Barry Diller and Michael Eisner and then owner Charles Bluhdorn turned to save the franchise after the disappointing Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).

Instead of turning back to the series, from which Bennett drew the plot of Wrath of Khan, he wrote a script that continued that film’s story. While it was no doubt a forgone conclusion that Spock would not stay dead, great effort was made to keep the story a secret.

When Leonard Nimoy was approached by the studio to resurrect, as it were, his role of Spock, they were somewhat surprised at his enthusiasm. Thinking that he had grown tired of the part, they certainly didn’t expect him to want to direct the film as well. While Nimoy had directed some television before, including his directorial debut with an episode of Night Gallery, "Death on a Barge" (1973), he had never directed a movie, let alone the key sequel in a franchise. (Nicholas Meyer, who had directed Wrath of Khan, did not want to return due to artistic differences with that film’s ending.)

Given the budget of only $16 million, the original had a budget of $46 million, shooting would have to take place in the soundstages at Paramount, notably Stage 15. Principal photography got underway on August 15, 1983. Security was tight to say the least, as the studio tried hard to keep wraps on the story. Leonard Nimoy’s name did not appear on call sheets, scripts were chemically treated so that copies could be traced back to the original and set designers were only given enough pages so that they could do their jobs.

While the Director of Photography, Charles Correll, wanted to shoot some scenes on location, namely Kuaui in Hawaii and the Red Rock Canyon in California, the budget would not allow it. The only location shooting were the stairs at Occidental College that were used to represent Vulcan. Even a fire at an adjacent soundstage did not prevent all but two days to be shot indoors.

Paramount worked with George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic for special effects as well as minatures used for the Enterprise and other ships from the Federation and the Klingon’s Bird of Prey. The biggest problem was the 400 miles that separated Paramount and ILM, but still the effects house provided 120 shots for the movie.

The film, with a score by James Horner, was released on June 1, 1984.

As mentioned before, the story takes place right after the events of Wrath of Khan and, in fact, opens with some scenes from that film, including Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) mind meld with Dr. McCoy and his selfless act to save the Enterprise and its crew. After Spock dies, his casket is sent to the planet that is also getting the Genesis treatment.

When the ship returns to Spacedock over the Earth, McCoy starts to act oddly, even speaking in Spock’s voice and is placed in detention as a result. Meanwhile, Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) and crew are visited by Starfleet Admiral Morrow (Robert Hooks), who informs them that the Enterprise will not be repaired, but instead will be decommissioned after twenty years of service. The crew is further admonished not to mention the Genesis Project due to political fallout about the use of the device.

The only ship allowed to explore the Genesis Planet is the science ship, Grissom. On board is David Marcus (Merrick Butrick), who happens to be Kirk’s son, and the Vulcan Lieutenant Saavik (Robin Curtis). They discover an unexpected life form on the surface and transport to the planet’s surface to investigate. The life form turns out to be Spock as a baby and figure that he’s been resurrected by the Genesis device. But because of the instability of the device, Marcus admits to using unstable Proto-matter, the planet is self-destructing and Spock is rapidly aging. We see him progress from 9 (Carl Steven) to 13 (Vadia Potenza) to 17 (Stephen Manley) and to 25 (Joe W. Davis). When Spock reaches 17, the mating drive called pon farr overtakes the adolescent and we’re led to believe that Saavik participates in his rite of passage.

17 year-old Spock (Stephen Manley) goes through pon farr with Vulcan Lt. Saavik (Robin Curtis).

Meanwhile, the Klingons, led by Kruge (Christopher Lloyd), have intercepted information about the Genesis project, which they believe is a potential weapon. Kruge takes his cloaked ship, a Bird of Prey, to the Genesis planet, destroys the Grissom and captures Marcus, Saavik and Spock.

25 year-old Spock (Joe W. Davis), Kirk's son David Marcus (Merrick
Butrick) and Saavik are taken prisoner by the Klingons.

Back on Earth, Spock’s father, Sarek (Michael Leonard), visits Kirk about Spock’s death. Sarek wants Spock’s katra, or living spirit, returned to Vulcan. They discover, by viewing video shot onboard the Enterprise, that Spock had transferred his katra to McCoy, who will eventually die from carrying it. Disobeying orders, Kirk springs McCoy from detention and steals the Enterprise with the help of Scotty (James Doohan) and Sulu (George Takei). The Excelsior, led by Captain Styles (James Sikking), goes to take chase, but Scotty, who had been assigned to that ship has disabled their vaunted trans-warp drive. The Enterprise then heads to the Genesis planet to retrieve Spock’s body.

Spock's father, Sarek (Michael Leonard), visits Captain Kirk (William Shatner).

The Enterprise is disabled by the Klingon ship in battle. In the standoff that follows, Kruge demands that Kirk hand over the Enterprise and the secret of Genesis or he will kill one of the hostages on the planet. When a Klingon guard looks poised to kill Saavik, Marcus tries to stop him, but gets killed in the process. Kirk pretends to hand the Enterprise over to Kruge, but as the Klingons are about to transport order, Kirk, Scotty and Chekov (Walter Koenig) start the ships self-destruct sequence and transport down the planet’s surface. When Kruge’s crew boards the ship, they are already doomed and before they can do anything, the Enterprise blows up.

The Enterprise confronts the Klingon's Bird of Prey.

Kirk manages to lure Kruge down to the planet’s surface and, while the planet is disintegrating beneath them, the two get into hand to hand combat. Kirk wins, kicking Kruge into one of the lava flows that have developed. He tricks the Bird of Prey into beaming them aboard and then overwhelms the last member of the Klingon crew, taking the ship to Vulcan, where Sarek and Uhura (Nichelle Nicholls) are waiting.

Klingon leader Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) fights Kirk in hand-to-hand combat.

Spock’s katra ceremony goes forward overseen by T’Lar (Dame Judith Anderson), a Vulcan high priestess, and with Dr. McCoy’s cooperation, Spock’s spirit is reunited with his body and the Spock we’ve all come to love (Leonard Nimoy) is once again with us. His memories are somewhat fragmented, but Kirk helps him remember and Spock recognizes the rest of the crew that has gathered there as well. A happy ending and we’re told in advance that the journeys will continue, setting us up for Star Trek IV: The Journey Home, though no mention is made of that title.

At the end, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) recognizes Kirk as his friend, paving the way for more sequels.

The movie opened in theaters on June 1, 1984 into a market already crowded with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, Ghostbusters and Top Secret!. As such it opened in second place with an opening weekend gross of about $16 million, despite a heavy marketing campaign. All in all, the film took in a rather disappointing $87 million worldwide. (Wrath of Khan had done $97 million and the Motion Picture had done $139 million, this was not a good trend.)

The film was not a critical success. While Nimoy’s direction is generally praised, cited for being the best of the three and for capturing the spirit of the television show, the film was generally considered everything from “b-a-a-a-d” (Susan Ferrier Mackay in Canada’s The Global and Mail) to “Good, but not great” (Roger Ebert The Chicago Sun-Times). Even Ronald Reagan, the former actor turned real-life President, screened the film and wrote “It 
wasn’t too good.”

I fall more in line with Ebert’s sentiments about the film. There is belief that the odd numbered Star Trek films are the bad ones. Star Trek: The Motion Picture certainly started that trend and while Search for Spock is better than the first one it is not as good as Wrath of Khan. Part of the problem may be that like Khan, Search for Spock is reminiscent of the TV show. That, in and of itself, is not a good thing.

While I understand the temptation to make a popular TV show into a movie, there is delicate balance that has to be struck. As an audience member, I want to see all the old familiar faces, but as a movie-goer I want to have a theatrical experience, not just see a TV show blown up to larger proportions. With the original Star Trek series of films, as I go in wanting to like it; wanting the film to boldly take me someplace I’ve never been before. The failure of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is that it made the mistake of not giving the characters we all know and love the screen time they deserved and instead spent too much time on new characters we didn’t care about and who we, thankfully, have never seen again.

The Search for Spock goes back to the series and picks up what has become the dominate villain in the canon, the Klingons [Romulans wouldn’t be revisited as a villain until Star Trek (2009)] and tries to right the wrong of Spock’s death, since the series could not continue without him. With friendship being one of the key themes of the movie, the triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy has to be maintained, though less seems to be made of McCoy and Kirk’s in this one.

The film manages to have special effects without having them dominate the way they did in The Motion Picture. Perhaps distancing itself further from the first film, the U.S.S. Enterprise, which I felt the first one doted on too much, is blown up. The fact that the series could continue without the original ship shows that the power is not in the models and VFX but with the relationships of the crew and especially the three main characters. The one problem with the special effects is that it starts to blur the line between Star Wars and Star Trek, which are competing mythologies to a certain extent. By making Star Trek look visually like its sci-fi rival, it seems to be capitulating to the other's dominance.

I’m sort of ambivalent about The Search for Spock, while I see it as necessary for the franchise to continue, as an audience member I’m frustrated that the movie series has taken so long to gel. I have a similar complaint about the rebooted series, which also acts like it has all the time in the world. By Search for Spock, the actors are really starting to show their age, nearly twenty years on, and the sooner we can move forward with something new for them to do the better. You want to see them take more than just a victory lap.

The story is somewhat ambitious in that it tries to tie up a lot of loose strings, including getting rid of Marcus as Kirk’s son. While I have nothing against the role or the actor playing it, he simply doesn’t belong in this version of the Star Trek universe. He’s one of those extra characters that the film’s producers want to add, perhaps in the hopes of bringing in younger fans, but it is really a misstep in retrospect.

And at the same time the story is over-plotted. There is no time as an example to worry about the crew of the Grissom, which is blown up or for Kirk to really mourn for the loss of Marcus, his only son. The film tries to cover a lot of ground and a lot of relationships and some things get left behind in its wake.

I look at The Search for Spock as a good, but not great addition to the Star Trek universe. It is a necessary evil to get the franchise out of dry dock, so to speak. If the franchise was to survive it would have to shed the television series to a certain extent. The cast would need to remain intact, that’s a given, but the adventures needed to differentiate themselves from those of the series.

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