I'm still unsure why many don't seem to be fans of the third entry in the "Star Trek" series. Although clearly not the finest hour of the original cast, it's still a film that provides the usual mix of action, adventure and themes such as friendship, loyalty and courage. After watching the most recent "Trek" effort, "Insurrection" on TV recently, that's the one effort that continues to stand out - in my opinion, at least - as the most lackluster.
Anyways, "Trek III" opens up after the events of "Star Trek II", where Spock had given his life to save those of his crew. His body was then given a proper funeral and shuttled off to the Genesis planet, created in the midst of the battle between Kirk and Khan. As was discussed on the supplemental featurettes on the "Wrath Of Khan" DVD, fans of the series were none too pleased with the passing of one of the favorite characters in the series. Given the reaction and success of the second feature, the creators were unsure of how to proceed.
Thankfully, the third film does manage to overcome this potentially awkward story hurdle with success. Although the opening thirty minutes of "Search For Spock" is a little on the slow side, the film sets up the story nicely and then finally kicks into high gear. Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) has started to act strangely as the film opens and a visit by Spock's father reveals that Spock's soul has inhabited the body of McCoy - and that it must be brought out and returned to Spock's body on his home planet. Breaking the rules set forth by the Federation, Kirk and crew steal the soon-to-be-docked Enterprise (in a scene that's certainly one of the highlights) and head off to reunite their old friend with his spirit. Unfortunately for the crew, a rebellious Klingon named Kruge (Christopher Lloyd, not really one of the better villians in the series) is also on course to Gensis in an attempt to steal the weapon.
I've always kind of been amazed with charges of overacting from Shatner. While his ridiculous (and short) turn as the host of the US version of the "Iron Chef" show was embarassing and some of his interviews can be a bit much, his performances in the "Trek" feature films have always impressed me. He clearly portrays the awe of the kind of missions set before him, presents terrific slow-boil anger at his enemies (see "Khan") and convincingly offers the sorrow of the loss of his best friend at the opening of "Star Trek III". Although Nimoy obviously isn't really in this one given the story (and also given the fact that he's directing), the usual "Trek" players all offer fine performances.
Although not always as successful as the prior picture (Lloyd doesn't make for a particularly interesting villian, the first thirty minutes could have gone faster), "The Search For Spock" still provides a handful of marvelous action scenes (heightened further by James Horner's marvelous score), a few great dramatic and/or emotional moments and a great deal of fun, accompanied by occasional witty humor. While one of the lower-budgeted efforts in the series, technical credits are still quite nice, as production design is generally convincing and cinematography by frequent TV director Charles Correll ("Melrose Place", "CSI") often boasts some effective compositions. Leonard Nimoy also proves to be a superb director, confidently helming material he's at home with and leading actors confident in his talent.
While maybe not the "favorite" of fans, this third adventure in the "Star Trek" series is still fine, intelligent entertainment that its creators should be proud of.
VIDEO: "Star Trek III" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Those searching for improvements in the picture quality over the prior release will likely not find a great deal of those here. While there are still some concerns present that were seen in the prior release, the positives of that release have seemingly been improved a bit. Sharpness and detail are slightly better, as the picture seemed to boast image quality that remained a bit more clearly defined than before.
The main fault with the image included a few little specks on the print scattered throughout the presentation. Edge enhancement remained very slight, while pixelation was not noticed. Slight-to-mild grain was present on occasion throughout the film, but the grain never became bothersome or gave the image a rough appearance.
Colors looked a little more crisply and clearly rendered here, with nice saturation and no instances of smearing. Black level remains solid, while flesh tones looked accurate and natural. Still a few little flaws, but otherwise a pretty superb effort.
SOUND: "Star Trek III" is presented here with the same remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that was included on the prior release. While this certainly isn't up to the level of modern soundtracks, Paramount's enjoyable repurposing of the soundtrack does liven up the audio and make it sound fresher than the film's age would indicate. The bold and wide front soundstage really brings out the best in James Horner's terrific score, while also clearly presenting dialogue and the various sound effects. Surrounds kick in fairly frequently, offering sound effects and music with nice depth and clarity to the audio. Dialogue sounds crisp and clear, while Horner's score has nice warmth and fullness. Although it's almost twenty years old at this point, the audio is pretty dynamic at times, delivering an unexpected kick now and then.
MENUS: As per usual for these new "Trek" Special Edition releases, the new 3D animated main menus are classy and enjoyable.
Commentaries: This set offers a full-length audio commentary from director Leonard Nimoy, writer/producer Harve Bennett, cinematographer Charles Cornell and actress Robin Curtis. For such a low-key (although very good) actor, Nimoy is surprisingly energetic on this commentary, enthusiastically chatting about all things "Search for Spock", including directing, the story and a lot of the technical/production obstacles involved in the making of the film. Bennett's involvement with the series has been remarkable and extensive (having producing, writing and even a couple of acting credits on many of the feature films) and his comments here do a nice job of highlighting the themes and story of the picture, as well as some additional information about the production. Cinematographer Cornell offers some technical tidbits, but he and actress Curtis do not speak that often throughout this track. Although there's occasional gaps of silence and a few slow patches, this is the least "dry" of the "Trek" commentaries that I've listened to and I certainly recommend a listen for "Trek" fans.
Also included on the first disc is a text commentary from Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda, co-authors of the Star Trek: Encyclopedia. This subtitle commentary, which provides some fascinating tidbits about the production, can be played along with the audio commentary.
Captain's Log: The second disc starts off with "Captain's Log", a 25-minute documentary that provides a good general overview of the making of the feature. However, as per usual on these "Trek" featurettes, the real highlight is wondering what incredibly hilarious and somewhat smirky comment William Shatner will offer next - his first comments about Nimoy are incredibly funny. While Shatner provides the humor, Bennett and Nimoy provide insightful remarks about dealings with the studio and how they approached continuing the series. As informative as this documentary is, Shatner's occasionally brilliant ability to lightly goof on himself and "Trek" is the highlight here.
The Star Trek Universe: This section provides three additional featurettes, the highlight of which is "Space Docks and Birds of Prey", which interviews some of the effects wizards at ILM on their work in the film. While a little bit slow and technical, this piece still provides an interesting look at the work on the more primitive effects and design of this 1984 picture. "Speaking Klingon" seems like not enough of a topic to fill 21 minutes, but this interview with the creator of the language actually manages to be a bit more interesting than I'd expected (and I certainly didn't expect much, given the topic.) Last, but not least, we're offered "Klingon and Vulcan Costumes", which provides a solid look at this area of the film's costume design. All three of these pieces add up to a little over an hour of material.
Also: Rounding out the disc is a final featurette, the 25-minute "Terraforming and the Prime Directive", which was a nice departure away from the look at the film and towards the topics it explores. Participants from NASA and other scientists offer their opinions on the possibility of life on planets other than our own. Also included is the standard "archives" section (which provides loads of storyboards and production photos), as well as an awful trailer for "Star Trek III" and a trailer for the upcoming "Star Trek: Nemsis" that looks promising.
Final Thoughts: "Star Trek III" starts off rather slowly, but quickly turns into one of the more exciting entries in the series, offering entertaining action scenes and great performances. The third of the studio's Special Edition re-releases is another top-notch effort from the studio. The audio/video presentation is very enjoyable (if about the same as the prior release), while the supplements provide a clear and insightful look at both the making of this film and its place in the "Trek" universe. Recommended, although those who own the prior release and aren't interested in extras should stay with the older edition.
The Film ***