“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” nearly sunk the space franchise before it could successfully relaunch.
“The Wrath of Khan” saved the day. “The Voyage Home” proved consistently hilarious, even to non-Trekkies. The 2009 “Star Trek” reboot showed the saga could continue with young blood.
And “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” told us Williams Shatner shouldn’t be put in charge of any “Trek” feature.
So what about “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock?”
The 1984 film is often overlooked in the “Trek” film canon. That’s a shame. It certainly isn’t our heroes’ finest hour. It’s still a worthwhile chapter to the beloved franchise.
Watching it anew brought these lessons to mind.
- Man, Those Sets: While the third “Star Trek” film was made nearly two decades after the original series started, the special effects were hardly special. Yes, the Klingon Bird of Prey was officially “cool.” What about the sequences on Planet Genesis? Those woefully artificial snow banks? The sad looking vines? Those moments were too reminiscent of the TV show’s hokey sets. Yikes.
- Saavik, and What Might Have Been: The “Star Trek” films haven’t introduced many new characters of consequence. Persis Khambatta got lost in the snooze-fest that was “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus inexplicably appeared in her underwear during “Star Trek Into Darkness” and didn’t make the cut in “Star Trek Beyond.” Even the villains haven’t been as memorable as “The Wrath of Khan’s” Ricardo Montalban. Yet Kirstie Alley gave us a “fascinating” new Vulcan/Romulan hybrid with Lt. Saavik. Too bad she got replaced in “Star Trek III” by Robin Curtis over a money dispute. The new Saavik isn’t a disaster, but the continuity problem, combined with Curtis’ charisma deficit, doomed the character’s chances of becoming part of the “Star Trek” family.
- It’s All About Bones: DeForest Kelley didn’t build a memorable career outside of the “Star Trek” franchise as Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner did. He still kept the Enterprise afloat with his crusty observations and pinpoint comic timing. He gets plenty to do in the third installment, carrying comic sequences as well as some poignant moments. He proved the franchise’s quiet MVP.
- Nimoy Could Direct, Too: “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” remains an ebullient example of what “Trek” does right. Humor. Heart. Simple, effective storytelling. Message movie making without the overt hand wringing. Nimoy brought some of those strengths to his first “Trek” feature behind the camera.
- Kirk’s Human Side: No other “Star Trek” story captured the decency, and loyalty, of James T. Kirk than “The Search for Spock.” Kirk’s commitment to his late friend permeates the story. His willingness to put his career on the line isn’t taken lightly by the character or the script. Sure, Kirk could woo the ladies and had a Trump-like swagger. Deep down, he was a good human being. “The Search for Spock” proved it.
- Isn’t that Just Perfect: The saga of the cursed Genesis project, helped bring Spock back to life in more ways than one. The man who famously wrote “I Am Not Spock” doesn’t get much screen time in the new film, but the story shrewdly makes his regenerating form stop aging at roughly the same age as Nimoy was at the time. Coincidence? More like pretty shrewd writing.
- No Sloganeering, Please: “Star Trek” has always been about more than cool weapons and slick spaceships. Yet the third film focused on eternal themes of friendship, hope and commitment, not any heavy-handed talking points. The subsequent film, “The Voyage Home,” would pack a strong eco-bent. The current movie, “Star Trek Beyond,” changes Sulu’s sexual orientation, a clunky attempt to appease social justice warriors. “The Search for Spock” avoided those divisive elements. Instead, it’s the most deeply personal “Trek” tale.