Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Fistfight at The Edge of Forever

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984, directed by Leonard Nimoy) was set up at the end of the previous installment in a naked bit of franchise building. This film begins where that film left off--indeed, it re-uses a fair amount of footage from its predecessor. It's also the middle film of a trilogy, and it suffers from the awkwardness of middle films.

The story here finds Dr. McCoy carrying around Spock's consciousness after a Vulcan mind meld at the conclusion of the previous film. Spock's body, meanwhile, has been launched to the Genesis planet, where it has regenerated itself, much to the surprise of the scientists who are monitoring the project. Sarek implores Kirk to retrieve Spock's body so it can be conveyed to Vulcan for a proper Vulcan ceremony. Unfortunately, Star Fleet won't let Kirk take the Enterprise back to Genesis, so he and the crew steal it. Meanwhile, a Klingon Bird of Prey has arrived at Genesis to steal its secrets.

In spite of the Very Serious Themes this movie tries to convey about grief and friendship, it all comes down to a fistfight at the end. This represents a failure of imagination for the series, but it won't be the last such failure (see also the recent J. J. Abrams film). There are no fisticuffs of any kind in either of the first two films. Still and all, I like this installment better than Number 4, which I thought was goofy. I remember seeing this the week that it opened and getting a little choked up when the Enterprise, rigged to self-destruct with a Klingon boarding party on board, streaks across the sky. It's the movie's best moment. They tried that stunt again more than once as the series moved on, but it works here.

Following the lead of the previous film, Star Trek III has an obvious villain (without any metaphysics to interfere with his villainy) in Christopher Lloyd's Captain Kruge. Casting Lloyd might have been a mistake--it's hard to watch him without flashing on his other screen personae--but he charges through the role with bluster. The Klingons get a serious overhaul here (more so than in their brief appearance in the first film), complete with a subtitled language and interesting chain of command. John Larroquette plays one of the Klingon subalterns and Miguel Ferrar plays a Star Fleet helmsman, establishing a pattern of familiar faces in the background of these movies. The movie goes out of its way to give the secondary crew members their moments: Sulu gets to show off his judo, Uhura has an amusing run in with a young subordinate, Mr. Scott has a twinkle in his eye after sabotaging the next-generation Excelsior, and Chekov gets to puzzle over the controls of a Klingon warship. This is really the film where Shatner starts to exaggerate his Shatnerisms, which isn't to the film's benefit, really.

Structurally, the film has a big problem. Having provided the audience with a big special effects climax, the movie grinds to a screeching halt fifteen minutes from the end as we are shown in detail the Vulcan ritual for the dead (and the resurrected). The movie's other big guest star, Dame Judith Anderson, shows up here in Vulcan drag. When I first saw the film, I hadn't seen Hitchcock's Rebecca, but now I can't see Anderson without seeing the monstrous Mrs. Danvers in everything she does. Interesting that the filmmakers would take that persona and convert it into Vulcan. In any event, this portion of the film, though necessary for the franchise going forward, causes the mind to wander well before the credits role.


Véro B said...

As you say, the middle of a trilogy. It feels like much of it was designed to bridge between the magnificent II and the goofy (I agree) IV without having a whole lot of personality of its own.

At least I would watch this one again, which is more than I can say for ST V. :)

Vulnavia Morbius said...

I'll be getting to Star Trek V after the horror challenge. The things I do in the name of science...