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review added: 10/17/02



Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Special Collector's Edition - 1984 (2002) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - Special Collector's Edition Film Rating: C

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

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
105 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), dual keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director Leonard Nimoy, writer/producer Harve Bennett, DP Charles Correll and actress Robin Curtis), subtitle text commentary by Michael Okuda (co-author of The Star Trek Encyclopedia), booklet, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (11 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0 Surround) and French (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired), Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
5 documentaries: Captain's Log (26 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), Terraforming and the Prime Directive (26 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), Spacedocks and Birds of Prey (28 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), Speaking Klingon (21 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0) and Klingon and Vulcan Costumes (12 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), theatrical trailer (16x9, DD 2.0), Star Trek: Nemesis teaser trailer (4x3, DD 2.0), Easter egg (featurette on creature effects - 7 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), storyboard archive (for 10 scenes - 16x9), production photo gallery, animated film-themes menus with sound and music, subtitles: English


"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, Sarek (Mark Leonard), 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 (Christopher Lloyd), 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 is the trend with all the films in the Star Trek franchise, Paramount previously released a bare-bones version of this film on DVD, and has now created a 2-disc special edition to make fans happier. The anamorphic widescreen film transfer on this new DVD is the same one that was featured on the previous edition, simply spread over 2 layers of a disc rather than one. The video is generally 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 does get 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. On the whole, the disc is quite nice looking for a 1984 film released on DVD.

As with the previous DVD, this 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. Thankfully, the dialogue level problem seems to have been fixed from the 5.1 mix on the previous release. On the old version, dialogue was a little lacking in the mix - now it seems to have better presence.

As expected, Paramount has produced a substantial batch of bonus material for this re-release. Disc One includes a decent audio commentary track by director Leonard Nimoy, joined often by writer/producer Harve Bennett, and less often by cinematographer Charles Correll and actress Robin Curtis. Nimoy is fun to listen to, and chimes in with lots of interesting insights and anecdotes. This film was his first foray into directing, and the story he tells on how he got the job is quite entertaining all by itself. Let me just say that there are several references (both here and in the featurettes) to then Paramount head Michael Eisner that, while polite, really make the guy seem like a buffoon (anyone surprised? No? I thought so.). I'll let you enjoy them in greater detail yourself.

As with the previous Trek special editions, in addition to the audio commentary, there's also another great text commentary on Disc One by authors (and Trek consultants) Michael and Denise Okuda. There are enough interesting factoids here for even the most ravenous Trekkie/Trekker (for example, did you know that the Klingon Bird of Prey is roughly the same length as the Saturn V rocket that launched astronauts to the Moon? No? I thought so.).

Sadly, while Disc One doesn't disappoint, Disc Two once again features the same kind of uninspired, "talking heads" featurettes we saw on the Star Trek II: CE. Don't get me wrong - there's still interesting stuff to be found here, and the interview subjects are all fairly interesting. They're also all presented in 16x9, which I appreciate. But the production quality of these featurettes again shows a real lack of both enthusiasm and basic camera skills. Once again, the camera is zoomed in too tightly on people's faces, you have shaky hand-held footage, interviews are staged with people sitting in shade against a brightly lit sky, the footage is washed out looking... etc. I could go on, but it would frankly take more energy that I care to apply to the task. Given the high quality of the documentary work we're seeing on most other DVDs these days, this kind of lackluster effort really sticks out like a sore thumb. I'm hoping Paramount makes some badly needed production team changes for future Trek special editions.

But... let's deal with what we have. Captain's Log takes a general look back at the production, featuring mostly talking heads intercut with a little film footage and production stills. Interviewed are Nimoy, Shatner, Bennett, Curtis, Christopher Lloyd and other production team members. And yes, Shatner still is a ham (ya gotta love him). Terraforming and the Prime Directive features talking head interviews with JPL scientists and sci-fi author David Brin. I'm a real space exploration buff, and so all of the stuff discussed here is Space Science 101 to me. But this could have been a really interesting look at the real science behind the ideas in the film for the uninitiated. Unfortunately, this featurette makes it all seem about as exciting as watching paint dry. I had more hope for Spacedocks and Birds of Prey, Speaking Klingon and Klingon and Vulcan Costumes (which take a look at the ILM special effects, the development of the languages seen in the film and the costumes, respectively). I mean, here's a cool chance to visit the achives, crack open a few dusty crates and get an up-close look at some of the amazing models, props and costumes from the film, right? Wrong. Other than a few small study models, sketches and production photos, you don't get to see much here. Once again, it's mostly talking heads. Frankly, the best extra on Disc Two is a gallery of the storyboard art for every major scene in the film (10 in all). You also get a gallery of photos (broken into behind-the-scenes production shots and film images), an anamorphic trailer for this film and a non-anamorphic preview trailer for Star Trek: Nemesis (a non-anamorphic trailer for the newest film?! Doh!). Finally, there's an Easter egg on Disc Two, that lets you view a featurette on the film's creature effects.

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 turn behind the camera. Given that, it deserved a little more effort in terms of the special edition materials on this DVD. The picture and sound are nice, and the commentaries are welcome. But Paramount really needs to get someone who knows how to produce decent documentary material (and who actually has an emotional investment in it) for the Star Trek IV disc and other future Trek special editions. Phoning it home might have been okay for good old E.T., but in the Trek universe, it's likely to result in a squad of pissed off Klingons banging down your door.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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