Monday, January 6, 2014

Setting the Way-Back Machine. Destination: 1984 Part I

  Welcome to the year 2014, or as I prefer to call it, the thirtieth anniversary of 1984. In retrospect, 1984 was a particularly good year for cinematic science fiction, so over the next few months I will be doing a look back at some of the higher points of that year. (DISCLAIMER: As I have pointed out in earlier articles, these are my opinions. Mine, not yours. I take no responsibility for ruining your childhood.)

  That being said, for this entry, I will be reviewing Star Trek III : The Search for Spock.

  Released by Paramount Pictures on June 1, 1984, The Search for Spock is oftentimes considered by many to be the bastard child of Wrath of Khan, but  that is an unfair comparison. The third entry in the original series' film run stands strongly on its own, with much to offer to both long-term fans, and new followers as well.

  The Search for Spock (To be referenced from here on as TSfS) picks up where Wrath of Khan left off, with the Enterprise returning home to Earth, presumably to repair her battle damage and head back out. Most of the crew has been reassigned, and the Genesis planet has been deemed a quarantined planet. The commander of a Klingon vessel has learned of the Genesis device and wants to obtain this "ultimate weapon" for the good of the Empire. Kirk learns that Dr. McCoy is suffering from the effects of Spock's final mind-meld, and that both must be brought back to Vulcan. When Starfleet refuses to allow Kirk to return to Genesis to retrieve Spock's body, Kirk and crew then steal the Enterprise and head out against orders. Arriving at Genesis, they not only find the Klingons waiting for them, but that Spock has been regenerated by the "Genesis Wave" and is aging in surges in sync with the planet, which is rapidly tearing itself apart. Kirk destroys the Enterprise to keep it out of the Klingon's hands, stealing their Bird of Prey in time to get Spock off of Genesis moments before the planet is completely destroyed. Returning to Vulcan, Spock's katra, or "living spirit", is rejoined with his regenerated body, and the crew is whole once more.

  This film has much going for it; a strong script written by series creator Gene Roddenberry and producer Harve Bennett, strong performances by the main cast and supporting players, and some top-rate visual effects by Industrial Light and Magic. Directed by Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy makes a fine feature film debut. Proving himself with this film, he would, of course, go on to direct the very popular Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and act as Executive Producer on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, as well as directing 3 Men and A Baby and others.

  Most of the main cast have nice little character moments: Scotty's "Up yer shaft!" response to the uber-polite turbolift computer, Uhura putting "Mr. Adventure" in his place (and the closet), and Sulu's famous "Don't call me Tiny." Only poor Chekov is left out of the fun, his main responsibility is to take over Uhura's comm position on the Enterprise. At least this is more than made up for in many good scenes in The Voyage Home.

Christopher Lloyd plays the Klingon commander, Lord Kruge. Quite frankly, not only is it one of his best performances, but he brings a grumbling menace to the character without being over-the-top. Many remembered Lloyd's performance as lovable stoner Jim Ignatowski from the classic comedy Taxi, and feared that his villain would be laughable. Just the opposite. Lloyd's Commander Kruge is one of the best, most memorable villains in the Trek movie franchise, and set a benchmark for all Klingons to follow.

  TSfS is notable for not one, but two, significant, life-affecting events in Kirk's life. The first, and most notable, is the destruction of the Enterprise by Kirk. In order to keep his ship and its secrets of Genesis out of the Klingon's hands, he turns its destruction into "a fighting chance to live." Beautifully achieved by ILM, the Enterprise's self-destruction and immolation in the Genesis planet's atmosphere, is both heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time, but was not much of a shock to fans, since both television ads, and the trailer for the film, touted this as "the final voyage of the Starship Enterprise.", even showing the grand starship blowing herself to Hell.

  More of a surprise, and no less significant, is the death of Kirk's son, David Marcus (Merritt Butrick), by the Klingons. Fighting to protect Saavik and Spock, David is stabbed through the heart. Though bloodless, and partially obscured, the brutal way David meets his death is both sudden and incredibly shocking. I remember the genuine, horrified gasp that arose from the audience when I saw this film on its opening day. We felt we had only just met David, and looked forward to seeing his relationship with Kirk develop over the course of the series. Kirk's loss of his son would be a major driving force behind Kirk's attitude toward the Klingons, especially later on in The Undiscovered Country.
  Robin Curtis takes over the role of Saavik from Kirstie Alley, who left the series due to a fear of typecasting and salary disputes, and does a fine job. Sadly the Saavik character loses momentum from here on. Featured only briefly in The Voyage Home, she was due to be a major player in The Undiscovered Country, but the character was written out in favor of Lieutenant Valeris.

  Star Trek II gave us the first new starship design since the series with the U.S.S. Reliant. This film ups the ante with three new starships to drool over. The science vessel U.S.S. Grissom, the U.S.S Excelsior, and the Klingon Bird-of-Prey.  Afficionados of starship design, such as myself, are left drooling. All three designs would be used extensively in future series and films.

  As dramatic as Wrath of Khan, and as much fun as The Voyage Home, The Search for Spock is a satisfactory middle act in what would later become known by some as the Spock trilogy. Sadly, the rest of the film series became a bunch of one-shot episodes with little to connect them. Perhaps the reboots of the series can bring back the multi-film arc.

  Next in our look back at the year 1984, The Last Starfighter.