Star Trek III : The Search for Spock
First Contact might be better, but this is my list of personal favorites, and the original cast trumps the Next Generation almost every time. (Guess which movie with the original cast gets ranked lowest.)
When I was a kid, I loved this one for all its great moments. Stealing the Enterprise, thwarting that jerk captain, and hanging around in weird alien bars. But as I got older, I found those fun scenes to be only bright spots in a movie that just felt like it was a dreary in-between for better movies. And I do still prefer II and IV to this. But I thought of it as only a linking movie, in which nothing really happens. I mean there’s no Khan and there’s no whales. C’mon!
I haven’t watched it in years, but I have thought about it a lot. (That’s usual for me, by the way. I rarely re-watch movies.) On reflection, it’s a totally necessary Star Trek movie. Spock demonstrated his love for his team in the previous movie. He and Kirk showed us how close they had become, and how well they were able to work together. And here we get a whole movie to see Kirk without his Spock. The ramifications of Spock’s death are surprisingly long-lasting for a sci-fi franchise. Characters usually spring back to life (to protect the precious fans?) within the same movie, or story.
The DC Comics published between movies II and III present a fascinating alternate Trek. Saavik becomes the new science officer (and maybe first officer too…I can’t recall). And business carries on. We get what amounts to a whole season of adventures for the Spock-less Enterprise. Then the comic creators jumped the gun and revived Spock, only to learn that they had to hurry up and kill him again if they wanted their stories to dovetail into the beginning of the third movie. They do work it out. For any Trek fans who want to freshen the movies up, reading the comics alongside them can offer another perspective on the whole series.
I will admit that this movie has its problems. Spock’s absence was a brave choice. I know that the first time in the director’s chair occupied most of Mr Nimoy’s time, but excluding Spock from 95% of a Star Trek movie was still pretty gutsy. It worked as far as demonstrating Kirk’s need for a Spock. Shatner plays Kirk confident, as usual, but he seems lacking something in his confidence. Maybe it’s direction? Or structure? Whatever it is that Kirk is missing, it’s apparently present when he and Spock are together. The benefits of showing Spock-less Kirk might not outweigh the detriment of not having Spock around.
I’m very sensitive to the size of the world any given story is set inside of. Not that I can visualize what a light year really is. But I have what I can only describe as a feel for the scope of the world. The old show felt like space was as it is now. We’ve seen the view of earth from the moon, but it is blackness past that. Some pioneers ventured out, but who knows what’s happened to them? (A good few episodes will tell us.) The world of TOS is massive. The crew just huddles inside the Enterprise and rockets (or warps) to the next bright spot. The world of the Next Generation is much smaller. That show has always struck me as less about exploration and more about management. It seems that there are starbases conveniently placed throughout the Enterprise-D‘s supposed path of exploration. Each movie offers another scale to the universe. The Search for Spock presents my personal favorite size of the Star Trek world. Here is Star Trek in the Hyborian Age. Points of civilization are separated by vast deserts of space. Illicit trading is easy because the wilderness is everywhere. The reach of the Federation, which seems all-powerful by the time we get to TNG, is localized around earth but stretches across the quadrant in thin tendrils of occupied space and a thousand unreliable outposts. The wildness of the original series is felt here, but with a peek at the underbelly that would logically exist in a world like that.
Of course the big moment that sells this movie, the pivotal scene that makes this movie soar is the destruction of the Enterprise. Kirk kills his ship to get Spock back. Sort of. I guess he kills his ship to get rid of the Klingons to facilitate getting Spock to life. Spock died to save the Enterprise. Kirk killed the Enterprise to save Spock. There’s something there… Anyway, it gives us one of the great images from any episode. There’s also an intriguing bit of dialogue, which I admit to not fully understanding.
“My god, Bones. What have I done?”
“What you had to do. What you always do. Turn death into a fighting chance to live.”
First of all, is Bones saying that Kirk always does what needs doing? Or is he saying that Kirk needs to do what he’s always done before? Or, am I missing the point that what Kirk always does is what needs doing, which is to death into a fighting chance to live? It’s probably that. McCoy wasn’t talking about the death of the spaceship though. He was talking about the death of Kirk’s only son, a horrible act, being leveraged by Kirk himself to end this battle and ultimately to save the lives of the crew and restore the life of Spock.
Geeks of Christ could spend a whole year in this movie.
I should note that these first four movies on my list are all beloved by me. How one movie gets ranked higher than another is a question of which I like more. The latter eight movies are ranked by which I like better AND by which I dislike more. So far, I only have affection for the movies on the list. These are my top four.
The list so far:
The Search for Spock