Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984)
I was 15 when this movie came out and I was super-stoked in anticipation for it. It was the first movie I followed the hype. I had just fallen in love with Star Trek II and I had become a hard-core Trekkie. AS soon as I heard that the sequel was coming out, and it was going to be directed by Leonard Nimoy, I was super stoked. I read all the interview and articles in Starlog magazine.
Also, in 1983, Cable TV aired a documentary called Leonard Nimoy Star Trek memories. This was SO COOL. It was an hour long show where Nimoy talked about the behind the scenes of Star Trek, and he interviewed cast members and showed clips of the show. Nimoy really seemed enthusiastic about Star Trek and science fiction, and his enthusiasm was contagious. Also, you really got a sense of Nimoy's personality, and he really came across as a cool, laid back regular guy. It was so much fun. It was apparently a local UHF show that Nimoy did in his home town of Boston, and they got Paramount's blessing to show actual clips. It was a huge marketing success and helped Nimoy the actor reconnect with fans. If you're curious, you can google this and watch it on YouTube. It's still a great watch!
When it came out in the theaters, I saw it opening night. It did not disappoint.
I remember watching this movie and loving it. It was a very fast moving film. Not only is it one of the shortest Star Trek films, coming in at a breezy 1 hour and 45 minutes WITH the credits and flashbacks, so we're really only talking about an hour and 20 minutes of actual movie. But the movie is also very linear, very accessible, and very fast-moving.
One of the biggest changes I remember noticing was the change in Saavik. Now keep in mind that I followed Starlog, so I knew they were going to change
-I loved the Sulu scene where he flips the guard and coolly says "Don't call me Tiny." I think it was a character defining moment.
I've always loved this movie, and the semi-trilogy of Star Trek II: Wrath of Kahn, this film, and Star Trek IV: Voyage Home was, for me, almost up there with Star Wars. I must have seen this trilogy at least twenty or thirty times, maybe more.
It was weird watching this movie today. Overall, this movie still holds up as a great film, although it is the weakest between the 3 films, Wrath of Kahn, and Voyage Home. Still, it's still very good.
The acting is top notch, and the characters are all great. Christopher Lloyd as Kruge is fun. I enjoy his hamming it up. He has one of the greatest villain lines in cinematic history. Kirk says "You should take the Vulcan too" and Kruge says, "No." Kirk asks, "But why?" and Kruge says "Because you wish it." I loved that. It really gets down to the core of his character. Just an evil bastard.
-The special effects of the Enterprise and Space Dock really look good.
-The point at which the Excelsior is chasing the Enterprise looks as good as anything that comes out today. I think it helps that they used actual models.
-I think that's the advantage of using models. Whenever they use computer CGI for special effects, I think our brains advance with the technology so CGI of the present always looks great, but CGI of the past always looks outdated. Think of the CGI in Star Trek Next generation or Babylon 5 which looked great in 1995, but looks like a hand drawn cartoon these days. However, with models, you don't get that. They have the potential to look just as good now as they looked back then, and the models in this film look great.
On the other hand, some of the other special effects simply don't hold up. Anytime they showed a computer screen, the resolution looked like you were looking at an Atari 2600. Ridiculous. Also, anytime they showed the Genesis, the sets look like something you'd see on a stage show, not a big budget Hollywood film.
The scene on Genesis where a boulder shoots out of the ground. Now I know for a fact that I used to think this looked good. I watch it now, and it looks like something you might see at a Universal Studios ride.
And of course, there's Klingon Kruge's pet dog. This is just bad. I really couldn't for the life of me remember if I thought it looked real when I was younger, but I couldn't get over how bad it looked.
Here's a cool thing I noticed today.
Everyone remember toward the beginning of the film, the battle damaged Enterprise has reached Earth and has just docked in Space Dock. A Cadet approaches Admiral Kirk and asks, "Sir... I was wondering..." "Are they planning a ceremony when we get in...? I mean a reception?
And Kirk asks back "A Hero's welcome, son? Well, God knows, there should be. This time we paid for the party with our dearest blood."
Well, I've seen this scene a few dozen times, and I never noticed. The actor, who is referred to as "Cadet Foster" is played by Phil Morris. Phil Morris, who's been in hundreds of TV episodes, but is probably best known as the lawyer "Jackie Chiles" in Seinfeld. He's played Martian Manhaunter Jon Jonz in 11 episodes of Smallville. He's a legend in Geek fandom. He's the voice of Nick Fury in Ultimate Spiderman. He was the voice of Saint Walker in Green Lantern The Animated Series. He's voiced characters in almost every animated movie from both DC and Marvel. He's been on Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek DS9, and Babylon 5. He's had guest roles in every TV show from NCIS, to Will and Grace to JAG to Beverly Hill 90210. He is arguably the busiest man in Hollywood. And this bit part, about a dozen words, was his movie debut. But, this was NOT his acting debut. His acting debut started on TV when he was only 7 years old. His first acting job was for... The original Star Trek TV series, in the episode Miri, he is one of the cute kids in the background, but you can tell it was him. I think this elevates him to the status of Geek-culture God.
There are also some other cool cameos. James Sikking, aka Doogie Howser's Dad, is Captain Sikes of the USS Excelsior. The First officer is Miguel Ferer from Robocop. John Larroquette plays the Klingon Maltz.
Also, we get a Star Trek cameo, Grace Whiteny, who played Yeoman Rand makes an official cameo appearance in Space Dock, presumably as her character Janice Rand.
Let's talk about how this movie got made.
Due to the critical and box-office success of Star Trek II: Wrath of Kahn, Paramount gave Harve Bennett the approval for a sequel on the night of Star Trek II’s premiere. Bennett said this was the fastest green-light he had ever received.
For director, the executives were considering… James Goldstone. James Goldstone was a Hollywood staple.
When Paramount went to Nimoy and asked if he wanted to be in the next Star Trek movie, he reportedly told them, “You’re damn right [I want to be in it]. I want to direct that picture!”
The producers seemed to like the idea, and basically gave Leonard Nimoy their blessing. Nimoy went home and waited for the call from his agent. No call came until weeks later and they finally scheduled a meeting with Michael Eisner, the then, head of Paramount.
Michael Eisner LOVED the idea, especially from the marketing point of view. Leonard Nimoy directing the return of Spock. It was a really cool concept. And it also created a little bit of a mystery. Maybe Nimoy is just directing the film. Maybe Spock doesn't come back. It was a great idea. They shook hands, and Nimoy thought it was a done deal.
He went home, and waited for the call. And again, no calls came for weeks. Finally, Nimoy called Michael Eisner himself and asked, "I thought you liked the idea." And Michael Eisner basically answered, "I can't let you do it, because you hate Spock."
Nimoy insisted that he didn't hate Spock. And Eisner answered, 'But you even had it written in your contract that you'd return for Star Trek II only if Spock died.
Leonard Nimoy had agreed to play Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn only on the condition that Spock be given a great death scene. However, he became excited about Spock and Star Trek during the premier of Wrath of Kahn. So of course there was a rumor in the Star Trek fandom that Nimoy hated the character. (It should be noted that Nimoy had even a book titled “I am not Spock”.) Personally, I think they kind of had a point.
Nimoy basically said, "I don't hate Spock, I love Spock." "It is nowhere in my contract that they kill Spock. You have a copy of the contract. You can verify that there is nowhere in the contract where Spock must die." It worked. Michael Eisner was convinced, and Nimoy got the job.
Now Nimoy thought that the entire cast would be glad to have him at the helm. He thought of it as, "One of our own is finally directing the film." That is not how he was received. The entire cast was very skeptical and basically had the attitude, "Okay, what is THIS about." Fortunately, I feel Nimoy proved himself.
Leonard Nimoy envisioned Star Trek III as being a space opera. He wanted a grand scope about life and death, with broad emotions. I think he succeeded. Star Trek III does indeed have an operatic, almost poetic feel that is difficult to describe. Nimoy also wanted Star Trek III to be about friendship, and the sacrifice one is willing to make for a friend. He felt that the true Star Trek was not about a journey into space and fighting aliens, but rather about the friendship between the Enterprise crew. This is further explored in the sequel Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
To Nimoy’s brilliance, he gave every character his shining moment. Uhura gets to man-handle and humble a young cocky Starfleet officer. Scotty sabotages a pursuing starship. The best scene involves Sulu, who gets to demonstrate his martial arts by throwing around a security guard who had insulted him earlier.
Incidentally, Sulu actor George Takei didn’t like the scene. He didn’t understand why the guard called him “Tiny” since his character was of normal height, and had never been referred to as “Tiny” before. Takei said that he didn’t understand why Sulu would seem to get upset and say, “don’t call me Tiny”. Nimoy assured him that that was a reference to the guard’s tall height, and not Sulu himself. Takei wasn’t so sure, but he trusted Nimoy and id the scene. Apparently George Takei didn’t think much of it, until the premiere, the scene caused the audience to break out in applause, and it was at that moment, he understood what a great scene it was. It probably remains one of THE best Sulu moments, but also one of the best Star Trek moments, as well.
One of the odd things I noticed was that the Klingons were flying a Romulan Bird of Prey. Cloaking was primarily a Romulan technology, not Klingon. Did anyone else notice this discrepancy? Since then, the little green Klingon Bird of Prey has become an iconic Klingon ship, with the new Romulan ships looking quite different. I investigated behind the scenes of this movie, the ship was in fact originally designed to be Romulan.
In the original script, the Romulans were the villains. A sleek new modern-looking Romulan Bird of Prey was designed (by Nimoy himself). Nimoy had the idea of a modern version of the Romulan ship seen in the episode balance of Terror. Nimoy thought it would look more threatening and menacing if the ship looked like a body-builder flexing his arms and shoulders, flexing his trapezius muscles. He also drew a bird logo on the bottom as a further homage to the Romulan ship in Balance of Terror.
However, the studios executives insisted that the villains be changed to Klingons, who were better known. Harve Bennett and Leonard Nimoy agreed, but did not have the budget to recreate a new Klingon ship. He instead changed the script so that the Klingons are attacked by Romulans, they board onto the Romulan ship, kill the Romulans and take the Bird of Prey ship over. This scene was not filmed.
When the movie premiered, many fans remembered that there was a treaty where Klingons and Romulans shared ships and technology. IN an episode of the original series, when Romulans attack, they attack in Klingon warships. The crew said it was because the Klingons and Romulans were sharing technology but in reality, the TV producers did it simply to save money. Hence, the green Bird of Prey became a Klingon ship.
Since then, the “Klingon” Bird of Prey has become iconic and has defined the look of the Klingons for the rest of the series.
Different, more rounded ships were re-designed for the Romulans. In Next Generation.
Nimoy, and Harve Bennett hired linguist Mark Okran to return for Star Trek III to create a Klingon language. Okran was very excited and really took the job seriously. He used the Klingon dialogue from Star Trek the Motion Picture which was created by James Doohan, and also referenced the original TV series. Now in the original TV series, the Klingons all speak English, but we got the Klingon names. Kang, Kor, Koloth, and Korax were the four Klingons that were named in the original Series, so this gave Mark Okran the idea to have the Klingon language have lots of hard K's, and Ch's sounds and K sounds. He also created a completely consistent grammatical structure that was intentionally different from English.
I think that's why it sounds so real. In a lot of sci-fi movies, when an actor speaks an alien language, it always sounds so awkward to me. It's because they're not speaking, they're just pronouncing random syllables, but I think our brains are able to tell that, and it sounds weird. That doesn't happen here, because this is an actual language. I think Mark Okran deserves a lot of credit. And Nimoy and Bennet deserve credit for choosing him.
Another new ship was the U.S.S. Excelsior, which was introduced as superior to the Enterprise. Nimoy and Bennett wanted to present the next generation of starship, the natural evolution from the NCC 1701. They went to designers and asked for “another Enterprise as if it were designed by the Japanese.” The designers came up with the sleek new Excelsior. The ship became a fan favorite and would appear again in Star Trek IV, Star Trek VI, and multiple times in the Next Generation.
For the role of Kruge, Leonard wanted Edward James Olmos, who is now known as Admiral Adama in Battlestar gallactica, at the time he was only known as the Police Chief in Miami Vice. Harve Bennet wanted Christopher Lloyd, Nimoy later agreed on Christopher Lloyd because he played it much broader, and more operatic. However, makes you wonder about Edward James Olmos. That could have been really cool!
The studio producers were a little worried since Christopher Lloyd was basically known for his 5 year role as Reverend Jim in Taxi. They thought of him as a stoned goofy comedian. They basically objected. However, Leonard Nimoy stood his ground. Keep in mind, Nimoy of all people understands getting type-cast and insisted that Lloyd be in this picture. The producers caved and Lloyd was Kruge.
I thought Lloyd did a great job. I remember loving him when I saw it in the theaters. And to be honest, when I saw it today, I gotta admit. He IS Kruge. He is having a great time, so larger than life, and he is so evil in this. And when he speaks Klingon, it sounds like he is speaking an actual language. Remember, the Klingon language was created for this film.
There is an interesting theme is this film, that mirrors Star Trek II Wrath of Kahn. In many ways, it's like an answer to Wrath of Kahn. Let me tell you what I mean. It's about the sinful nature of humanity and the fall of man, and whether man can play God. For me, what makes Star Trek unique is its positive vision of the future. If you look at most visions of the future before Star Trek, it is always a bleak future. Even the Bible has a future story called Revelations, and it is bleak. Think of Planet of the Apes, Omega Man, Soylent Green, and Logan's Run. The future is always bleak, but Star Trek has a very positive future.
In many ways, it is a reversal of most cultural beliefs in a Golden Age. Most societies believe in a Golden Age. Our society, if we take Star Trek as our culture's mythology, places our Golden Age in the future. It's quite remarkable.
Well, Wrath of Kahn posits that in the future, we will harness the power of God, the power to make planets and make life. And this power will make us feel young. It's very optimistic and terrifying at the same time.
And here we get the mirror image of that. Genesis becomes a Frank stein’s monster that kills his creator David in the process. Here we get the warning saying that man should never play God. I found that theme fascinating.
The film was both a critical and commercial success. Made on a low budget of $16 million, it grossed over $76 million in the U.S. After a successful opening weekend, Paramount Studios gave Leonard Nimoy a blank check to make the fourth Star Trek film. It is said that they approached Nimoy and said, “Okay, give us your vision of Star Trek.
And he did!