Medical Biophysics Graduate Student Association

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As the Star Trek experiment rolls on, we warp forward to the third movie in the Star Trek cannon: Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. As always, my good friend Edwin Chen and I discuss the merits and pitfalls of the movie, while he continues to try to turn me into an obsessed Trekkie…

GREG: Okay, so now we’re getting into dark and scary territory. A third film? And one that has to follow-up what was no doubt most Trekkies’ favourite? The third film of any movie franchise is always the most difficult to pull off, I think. The filmmakers have a greater chance of completely ruining the franchise (see “Spider-Man 3”, “Alien3”, and “Superman III”) than they do of making a movie that actually eclipses those that come before it (see “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”). But I suppose Star Trek may be a bit of an anomaly, since it was a beloved television series first, and thus already had a large cult following that could carry it through anything.

ED: True dat. I don’t think the Star Trek movies can really be viewed as a “movie franchise”, but rather, as movies put out by the Star Trek franchise. I think the better comparison is James Bond. There may be a bigger gap between movies sometimes, they might change a few actors or there may be a re-imagining, but it wasn’t so much as whether there will be a next movie, but when.

GREG: I would say that’s a fair comparison. Anyway, as the movie starts, I get my first shock: Leonard Nimoy is the director of this film? I was not aware that his filmmaking prowess went beyond acting. I’m not sure how I feel about this, since Nimoy was clearly an actor first and is now just trying his hand at directing. But then again, he is Spock, so maybe he can do no harm.

ED: Did you know that Leonard Nimoy also directed “Three Men and a Baby”? Truth be told, I actually find that he directs with a deft touch. He places a heavy emphasis on characterization and has a good sense of comedic timing, both of which I appreciated. I think you see hints of the latter in this movie, but more so in the next one.

GREG: The movie appears to pick up right where Star Trek II left off; the USS Enterprise is still badly damaged (though somehow also repaired…how do they do that in space, anyway?), and Spock is still dead (and we didn’t see Leonard Nimoy’s name in the opening credits). The movie actually rehashes the ending of the previous film, in much the same way as the Karate Kid movies did. So my first question is quite simple: how long are we going to have to wait to have Spock return? Obviously he’s going to be resurrected in some fashion, but I just wonder if it will be sooner or later in the film.

ED: Scotty’s a miracle worker, didn’t you know? He’s like the 23rd century McGyver, except instead of a mullet, he has an ‘80s porn moustache; and instead of bubble gum and a rubber band, he had phase inducers and dilithium destabilisers. As for Spock’s resurrection, I think the writers made the correct choice by eliminating the “is Spock dead or alive?” question from the outset, and essentially making the primary focus of the movie to find him and bring him back to life. And knowing it was unlikely that they’d find his “giant-sunglasses-case” of a coffin, open it up, see his shriveled remains, shrug and head off for a pint of Romulan Ale, celebrating a job well done for their successful search for Spock, we could relax and just enjoy the story awaiting Spock’s return.

GREG: My second shock happens quite soon: why the hell is there a different actor playing Lt. Saavik? What, Kirstie Alley was too popular to return? This makes no sense. As far as I’m concerned, her character wasn’t important enough in the last film that if Kirstie couldn’t return they’d have to re-cast her role. Why not just make this new actor a completely different Vulcan? I hate it when movies (or TV shows) do that. For what it’s worth, this new actor is actually a much better actor than Kirstie Alley was anyway. So that’s a plus.

ED: I never really warmed to Robin Curtis’ Saavik, to be honest. Something just didn’t really ring true. Kirstie Alley’s Saavik was a little more like Spock, I found -- she had more personality. More insecure. More inquisitive. Better sense of humour. Robin Curtis’ portrayal, while perhaps technically more Vulcan, was a bit boring for me. I do agree that it wouldn’t have been that difficult to just write in another random Vulcan – in fact, that’s exactly what happened for the sixth movie when they couldn’t get Curtis back for it. Unfortunately, this isn’t the last we see of Lt. Saavik…

GREG: As the movie opens and the plot moves forward, I found all of the characters to be a lot more relaxed and comfortable with each other. I think this is what you were saying was missing in the first movie, Edwin. And honestly, it seems much more real in this movie than in the last one too. I can actually tell that Kirk, Sulu, Bones, Scotty, and Uhura (who finally has more than one line) are actually friends. This, I think, is the movie’s biggest attribute. There appears to be some actual camaraderie.

ED: More than anything, I’m hoping that what you might glean from these movies, Greg, is an understanding of why Trekkies feel this way about Star Trek. And it’s exactly because of what you say here – these movies are essentially buddy movies in space, with the occasional pseudophilosophy and space battles. And I, for one, just enjoy being with them, and feeling like I’m one of the crew. And that’s the reason why, if asked to choose between Star Trek and Star Wars should I be marooned for all eternity in the centre of a dead and lifeless planet with only one DVD box set, I always vote Star Trek. I know that Star Wars is superior artistry and film-making, but I’d prefer to live in the Star Trek universe.

GREG: I’m gonna pretend you didn’t just say that. Seriously. Moving on. Finally, it happens: the villains are revealed! Klingons! And not just any Klingons – Klingons led by none other than Christopher Lloyd! Oh thank the Lord in heaven, I love it! I actually didn’t know that Klingons were “bad guys”, since they haven’t had any screen time other than the first 5 minutes of the first movie. I mean, they look evil, but isn’t one of the main characters on Star Trek: The Next Generation a Klingon? (I’ve seen enough commercials over the years). Regardless, the Klingons in this movie are great villains, and Christopher Lloyd was perfectly cast, if you ask me. All of his speeches are very grand (certainly not as grand as Khan’s, but nevertheless), and he just seems scary.

ED: The Next Generation actually takes place about 80 years after the classic Trek, and by then, the Klingons and the Federation have forged a tenuous peace treaty. But as of now, consider the Klingons as our mortal enemy. And yes, they really were awesome. It’s difficult without watching the Original Series how reviled they were by the Federation. You’ll actually see hints of that in the sixth movie when, much to many people’s horror, peace talks begin.

GREG: Up until the last 20 – 30 minutes of the movie, I was honestly ready to declare Star Trek III the best movie in the series yet. I found it very entertaining, very fast-paced, and the characters were more interesting than before. Plus, THEY BLEW UP THE ENTERPRISE! That scene alone was worth making the movie. I could just hear Trekkies all over the globe crying into their collective hands.

ED: If I have to reformat my hard drive, I will still whisper under my breath… “Zero… zero… zero… destruct!... zero

GREG: But then the wheels fell off. The final act of the movie devolves into a standard punch-em-up affair, and the punches suck. The fights look far too staged, and far too slow. And then Kirk’s son dies, and no one seems to really care all that much. Sure, he just showed up in the last movie, but he’s still your son, Admiral Kirk!

ED:: “I… HAVE HAD… ENOUGH… OF YOOOOUUUUU!!!” May be the worst unintentionally funny moment in Star Trek history. Sadly, Trekkies are well used to awful fight choreography, which is often so beyond the pale bad, it’s brilliant. But that flimsy justification aside, I can’t disagree that the final act is just plain silly. As for Kirk’s son, he was essentially a glorified redshirt, and his death was treated as such. Although I will say, The Shat has a brief moment there though when he falls back into his chair when he finds out David had died, and then wails: "You Klingon bastard, you killed my son. You Klingon bastard you killed my son! You Klingon bastard!" Sniff.

GREG: And obviously, by it’s very nature, the movie suffers from the complete absence of Spock (other than in a hard-to-understand child form), up until the last 5 minutes. I’m fairly certain that this would have stuck in the craw of the hardcore fans out there. Like I said, I didn’t mind that so much until the end of the movie when everything (literally) started blowing up in the characters faces.

ED: Speaking as one of the hardcore fans, I recall my craw remaining reasonably unstuck. I tend to agree with you in that I never really minded the absence of Spock, perhaps because the idea of Spock was omnipresent throughout the whole movie, so it was kind of like he was there in a way. But perhaps more than it, it may have also been because the movie made so little sense, that it was really difficult to get into it. Of all the Trek movies, this is my least favourite. It’s totally forgettable. Totally idea-less. It’s the most nothing of a movie in the whole franchise. It’s essentially nothing more than a bridging movie, to fix the marketing error of killing Spock made in the last movie, to put things right that once went wrong, and hoping that the next leap would be… the “Voyage Home” (Eh? Eh? Props for the extra dose of geekery, no?)

GREG: Really? Your least favourite? I find that surprising. In the end, I did enjoy this movie much more than the first movie, but not as much as the second. I liked the questions it was posing with respect to science, i.e. at what point does scientific curiosity lead to disaster, as with the Genesis planet? However, the filmmakers only just scratched the surface of this topic. I would give this movie a 7/10. But now, Spock is back and all is right with the world…until Star Trek IV, anyway.

BlogGregStar Trek, Movies