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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 4/11/00



Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
1984 (2000) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock Film Rating: C

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/D-

Specs and Features
105 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (11 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned



"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…"

Okay, that's not a quote from Star Trek III. Trek fans out there know that it's actually a Dickens line (from A Tale of Two Cities) used in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But I think it applies to this film very well. The Search for Spock is alternately a moving and gripping sci-fi adventure film… and a completely hokey and frustrating bore.

The story picks up where the events in Star Trek II left off. Kirk and company have defeated Khan, and are limping home aboard a badly damaged Enterprise. But Spock is gone, having given his life to save the ship from Khan's last gasp - the stolen Genesis device. Per Starfleet custom, Spock was "buried in space", his body fired in a casket (fashioned from a photon torpedo) into the atmosphere of the newly-formed Genesis planet. As if the loss of their friend wasn't bad enough, upon their return to Earth, our heroes are informed that the Enterprise is to be decommissioned, and the crew disbanded.

But in Captain Kirk's darkest hour, comes a glimmer of hope - Spock's father informs him that Spock may not truly be gone after all. Just before his death, Spock managed to transfer his soul to Dr. McCoy in a Vulcan mind-meld. If Kirk can retrieve his body from the Genesis planet, the Vulcans may be able to reunite body and soul… and Spock may live again. But there's a problem - Starfleet has quarantined the Genesis planet, and has denied Kirk's request to take the Enterprise on one final mission. Kirk and crew are therefore forced to make a choice - steal the Enterprise and destroy their careers… or lose their friend forever. To make matters worse, they'll also have to face a rogue Klingon captain, who is determined to steal the secret of the Genesis device for the Klingon Empire.

This third installment in the Star Trek feature film series is extremely frustrating. As written and produced by Harve Bennett and directed by Leonard Nimoy (no less than Spock himself), the film starts off well, with our victorious (but emotionally-beaten) heroes licking their wounds. Sarek's appearance adds a measure of mystery and hope, and the Klingons enter the picture for a dash of danger and drama. And once the action kicks in, it's pretty good - the sequence where Kirk and company steal the Enterprise is first-rate. But then the film hits the skids hard, with a really poorly-written subplot involving Kirk's son David and Lt. Saavik exploring the Genesis planet and finding Spock's body, now regenerated into a rapidly aging boy. Some of their dialogue is really terrible. Try this on for size:

Saavik: "It is time for total truth between us. This planet is not what you hoped."

David: "No."

Saavik: "Why?"

David: "I used proto-matter in the Genesis matrix."

Saavik: "Proto-matter… an unstable substance which every ethical scientist in the galaxy has denounced as dangerously unpredictable."

Boy, that's some riveting exposition there, huh? It doesn't help matters that Robin Curtis, the actress who took over the role of Saavik from Kirstie Alley (when the latter asked for more money than Shatner to reprise the part) is simply terrible. In addition, due to budget limitations, most of the Genesis planet scenes were filmed on a soundstage and they look like it - the middle of this film sometimes feels like a bad episode of Lost in Space. Add to that another lame subplot about Spock's body going through the Vulcan equivalent of puberty, and you've got more than enough to kill this film (or ANY film for that matter).

But there are still bright spots. Christopher Lloyd is terrific as Kruge, the Klingon captain who pits his tiny Bird-of-Prey against Kirk's Enterprise. Their head-to-head conflict in this film is outstanding, and results in some serious repercussions for both Kirk and Trek fans in general. And there are some very endearing moments of humor with Trek's familiar supporting cast - McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura. These elements almost, but not quite, make up for the film's deficiencies. And that's what makes Star Trek III so frustrating in the end - you find yourself alternately enjoying and hating it at the same time.

As DVDs go, this disc from Paramount is of very good quality, with just a few minor issues. The anamorphic widescreen film transfer is very nice looking, but the print is occasionally a bit lacking. It starts off showing a lot of rough grain, and there are plenty of bits of dust and dirt that could have (and should have) been removed. On the other hand, the print gets a lot better, and the color exhibited here is gorgeous - vibrant and true at all times. Better still, the contrast is outstanding, with deep blacks and terrific shadow detail. A touch of edge-enhancement is visible, but it's not at all distracting. This is almost (but not quite) outstanding DVD video - it's really easy on the eyes.

The disc's audio also doesn't disappoint. All of the Trek films on DVD thus far have featured very active Dolby Digital 5.1 sound fields, and this one is no exception. There's plenty of nifty panning and directional effects in the mix, and the bass is simply thunderous. Just listen to the sound of the Klingon ship decloaking in chapter 1 (about 9 minutes into the film) - it's just outstanding. My only complaint is that the dialogue occasionally sounds flat and lifeless, isolated in the center channel, and it's slightly too understated compared to the rest of the mix. I had to increase the volume on my stereo system more than once to catch everything being said, and when I did, the effects were then slightly too loud. While I really dig the effects mixing, the dialogue problem is distracting. It's a small bit important issue.

As for extras… well, true to most of the other Trek DVDs, there aren't any to speak of. You do get a theatrical trailer. Despite its poor quality, I'm glad it's on the disc - it's pretty cheesy in a good sort of way. But that's it. I wish there was something else - anything else - but there isn't.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock isn't the best film in the series, but it's far from being the worst either. If nothing else, it serves as an adequate bridge between two of the best Trek installments, and is notable as Nimoy's first effort behind the camera. I have to tell you, having this film on DVD makes me very excited, because it means that my favorite film in this series is up next for release on the format: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Star Trek II is big-screen Trek at its very best. It's by far the film that fans want most on DVD, and it needs to be a home run - I really hope that Paramount understands this. I'd actually like to see the disc include the longer cut of the film, that appeared on ABC a number of years back. Consider my fingers crossed. In any case, The Search for Spock makes for a nice little DVD snack to hold us over while we wait for the main course.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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