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STAR TREK III:  THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK
Special Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy, Merritt Butrick, Robin Curtis, Christopher Lloyd
Director:  Leonard Nimoy
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  105 Minutes
Release Date:  October 22, 2002
 

“Jim…your name is Jim…”

Film ***

With that simple phrase quoted above, Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock ends on a note of hope and anticipation like no other entry in the series.  It proved all that came before was not in vain…and all that was still to come was wide open, and fraught with possibility.

As such, I feel compelled to come to the forefront a little bit here and defend what I think is one of the better films in the long running series.  Fans over the years have tended to lump the even numbered movies together as the “good” Star Trek films, and the odd numbered ones the “bad”.  As with many things in life, that's a little too simple to be fully true. 

I have looked around on the web to see what other critics have had to say about the picture…mainly, I was interested in learning whether or not a fresh viewing of this film on DVD would warm its reception.  Apparently, it hasn't.  The complaints are still mostly the same:  without Spock, a spark was gone from the relationships between Enterprise crew members.  Or that the film is simply nothing more than a transitional piece from numbers II to IV.  Or that this picture has the least amount of action, and was too low key.

Well for starters, sure, I missed Spock's presence on the bridge, and his always lively dialogues with Kirk (Shatner) and McCoy (Kelley).  I certainly wouldn't have wanted a string of films without him.  But I appreciated the courage the writers showed in taking a well traveled franchise into a slightly different direction, even if only for a couple of hours.  I liked that they were willing to alter the chemistry a little bit:  change the ingredients a bit and see what the new flavor might be like.  I also liked what the missing element of Spock allowed in terms of story structure and character development for the others.  This was where the Enterprise crew really had to test their mettle; to seriously ask of themselves how far would they be willing to go, and what would they give up, in order to save a loyal friend.

And yes, the film is directly a transitional piece in the series.  No other movies in the franchise flowed as evenly into one another as did II, III and IV—afterwards, the movies became more self contained and episodic, and number V proved that would not always be a good thing, either.  The complaint I don't fully understand is the one whereby those who haven't seen number II would be lost with this movie.  Honestly, how many people did they think that would be who would watch the third film without having seen the second?

And yes, the action is light here, but the action is not the point.  The entire story is wrapped around the concept of a group of friends who put their lives, their futures, and their reputations on the line to preserve all that their shipmate and companion was in life.  It may be unfortunate for those who wanted a few more space dogfights or weaponry that they failed to appreciate the simple dignity of this tale.

The film opens with a few of the final scenes from number II, whereby we are reminded that Spock (Nimoy) gave his life to save the Enterprise and her crew.  We are also reminded that Spock's body was jettisoned onto the newly forming Genesis planet…a once dead world made live from a startling new invention created by Kirk's son David (Butrick).  The battered and weary ship is now returning home.

Soon, it is discovered that McCoy is carrying Spock's essence, placed there by his Vulcan friend via a mind meld before his death.  It turns out, Vulcans have a way of preserving their knowledge and experiences beyond death, to be shared by others.  All that is needed is the information McCoy now carries in his head…and Spock's body.

Because the Genesis device has come under scrutiny, everything associated with the project has been made confidential, and Kirk and crew are denied permission to return to the new planet.  Naturally, they disobey orders, steal the Enterprise, and make their way back, only to learn two things:  the planet is unstable and aging rapidly, appearing to have strange effects on their once dead comrade, and a team of renegade Klingons led by Kruge (Lloyd) have plans to steal the Genesis technology to use for weaponry.  Severely undermanned and unassisted by the Federation, Kirk realizes that he cannot hope to repay his debt to Spock without sacrifice.

For my taste, there's much more to this film than just a lengthy segue into the series' most popular entry in number IV.  This picture is not about loose ends being tidied up.  It's a story about real courage and commitment, about the price of honor and the reward of loyalty.  For me, it is the film that most demonstrates what was so great about this group of people, and why many years later, we still follow their adventures.  This was a quiet, shining moment for them all.

Video ***1/2

Even with their previous release of this title, I considered Star Trek III to be the best looking DVD offering for the older series' titles.  The picture looks extraordinary throughout, with sharp, clean images and excellent coloring, even in the more radically shaded shots.  Color zones exist one beside another in various locations with very little noticeable grain, and no bleeding, or compression anywhere.  Except for the youth of the actors, you would not guess to look at this disc that the movie was sixteen years old.  Impressive job.

Audio ***

All of the Star Trek DVDs have served well in this department, and this entry is no exception.  The 5.1 surround is a mostly remarkable listening experience, with James Horner's dynamic score spread powerfully across the channels.  Many sequences, such as the warp flights and the disintegrating planet near the end make effective use of the surrounds, and the .1 channel adds good bottom end to the sequences, but also keeps the sounds of the spaceships alive and humming throughout for a nice ambient effect.  The only real complaint is that in some of the quieter scenes, the dialogue resides mainly in the front center channel, and sounds a bit thin in comparison to the rest of the audio…it is the only aspect of the film that tends to show, or sound, its age.

Features ****

Paramount continues to impress heartily with their Special Edition re-releases of the Star Trek films.  As with the first two, you get a gem of a feature with the text trivia commentary by Star Trek Encyclopedia authors Michael and Denise Okuda.  It's a subtitle feature that throws as much informative and entertaining information at you as you can handle while you watch the film...did you recall, for example, that this movie marked the first ever appearance of a Klingon Bird of Prey?  There is also a terrific audio commentary featuring Leonard Nimoy, writer/producer Harve Bennett, cinematographer Charles Correll, and co-star Robin Curtis.  Though not recorded as a group, it's still a track that edits together well and has a good flow.  Nimoy does most of the talking, and his recollections and affinity for the project make for an enjoyable listen.

The rest of the features are on Disc Two, starting with "Captain's Log", a fresh look back at the making of the film, featuring new interviews with Nimoy, Shatner, Bennett, Curtis, and even the inimitable Christopher Lloyd.  Shatner's memory of 'teaching' his comrade Nimoy to direct is particularly amusing!  There are also featurettes on speaking Klingon (this was the first feature to really delve into creating a useable language for the Federation's foe), the special effects and models, costuming and make-up, a look at the real-life counterpart to the Genesis project: terraforming, plus storyboards, a photo gallery, and trailers for this film and Star Trek:  Nemesis.

Summary:

Star Trek III is more than a parenthetical entry in the series, and with this quality DVD available, I would implore fans who maybe haven't watched it in awhile to take this opportunity and look at it with a fresh perspective, and remember that underneath the spectacle and adventure of Star Trek, there always laid a heart.