Welcome to Reel Rewind, a monthly column in which I’ll take a look back at some of my favorite films, bringing along artists that I can’t get enough of. We’ll team up for some fun collaborations and bridge the gap between film appreciation and art. To commemorate Star Trek Into Darkness, Matt Ferguson and I are looking back at the original crew’s first 6 films. Energize!
Director: Leonard Nimoy
Writer(s): Harve Bennett
Region of Origin: U.S.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
35mm, Color, 105 mins
(Warning: spoilers everywhere! You just can’t talk about this film without ‘em!)
After a game-changing sacrifice midway into Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Admiral Kirk turns to long suffering cohort “Bones” McCoy looking for consolation and asks: “What have I done?”. The answer of course, is a wonderful metaphor which mirrors what the actual film has managed to do: “Turn death into a fighting chance to live.”
With Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan almost bringing the end of an era by confronting death head on, there was no way that a follow-up could be as monumental or earth shattering as it’s predecessor. As it turns out however, that’s entirely okay, because what this film does instead is achieve a fresh start for a crew that could’ve ended their journey a long time ago. While it’s true that there isn’t as much mass appeal this time around, this is still a big adventure for Trek fans, underplaying the spectacle of it’s big setting to focus intimately on the heart and unwavering loyalty that the Enterprise crew has for each other.
The story picks up immediately after the events of Trek II. Spock has just sacrificed himself to save the ship and his body’s been launched into space. The Enterprise is badly beaten and only carrying a skeleton crew including a very disillusioned Admiral Kirk, who might’ve beaten his greatest enemy Khan, but at a great cost. Soon enough, Bones begins acting strangely, taking on Spock’s personal traits. As it turns out, Spock was able to initiate a Vulcan mind meld on Bones before his death, resulting in his katra (essence) being temporarily stored within the doctor for the purpose of preservation. Unbeknownst to the crew, Kirk’s son David and half-Vulcan Lieutenant Saavik have discovered Spock’s casket marooned on the Genesis planet along with a rapidly aging Vulcan child. When the Enterprise is docked and to be decommissioned to the surprise of it’s aging crew, it’s up to Kirk and team to find the link between Spock and the Vulcan child, as well as delivering Bones to Vulcan to undergo a ritual which will save Spock’s katra while giving Bones peace. Oh, and there’s also a rogue Klingon war bird hunting them at every turn. If the plot sounds pretty complex, it is, which is mostly why this installment won’t make a lick of sense to you unless you’re already invested in the characters and know what happened previously.
While the film may lack the outright thrills, accessible story and rapid pace of it’s predecessor however, it more than makes up for it with character moments which no Trek fan should miss. For starters, the first act in which the crew get to collectively go renegade against Starfleet and steal the Enterprise plays out like a great heist flick. Each member gets their fair share of quips and moments, with Uhura sassing a young Lieutenant, Kirk breaking Bones out of a detention area while decked out in a snazzy leather jacket and upturned collar and the crew confronting the fact that they’ve just put their jobs and lives on the line all in the name of loyalty to each other. Later, Kirk destroying the Enterprise to outsmart the Klingons is potent stuff, leading to the aforementioned quote up above. If I wanted to, I could also spend an entire article on how brilliant it was to have Bones struggling with Spock’s katra the entire film, but I’ll only slightly elaborate in just a bit. I also enjoyed the way we got to see a bit more Vulcan culture, expanding on the original series episode Amok Time. All of this leads to the immensely satisfying reunion at the end where Spock begins to regain his memory and friendships in front of a crew who’ve all paid dearly just to get him back. Ultimately, the fact that this film can make all of these moments feel bigger than any grand explosion or action scene is saying quite a lot.
As mentioned, if there’s one character that gets to steal the show it’s definitely Bones, played with more lovable sarcasm and wit than ever by DeForest Kelley. With the Kirk/Spock/Bones trinity as the center of the series, getting to see Bones singled out and coming to terms with everything that he lovingly hates about Spock provides so many memorable one-liners and all-out hilarity as Kelley continuously slips in and out of madness. This time, Kelley gets to have the most fun out of the bunch and even has a few intimate and poignant moments, such as when he tells an unconscious Spock that he couldn’t stand to lose him again. Of course Bones’ greatest test comes during the film’s climax, when the sole decision is given to him whether or not to undergo the dangerous fal tor pan ritual which may bring Spock back or kill them both forever. I love the way Bones doesn’t skip a beat in agreeing to the ritual, and it’s arguably one of the series’ finest moments.
In the scheme of things, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock positions itself as the middle of a loose trilogy, which is always the toughest chapter of any series. Still, what first time director and cast member Leonard Nimoy has pulled off is pretty impressive, and not without it’s fair share of risks and rewards. Making the story a personal conflict was a stroke of genius, and a smart way to introduce elements to the characters that we really hadn’t seen much of before. Sure there are a few wasted elements such as the death of Kirk’s son, the somewhat colder Saavik (now played by Robin Curtis) and some kinda crapy villains (sorry to Christopher Lloyd and his demon dog), but all in all, the film remains a nice tribute for the fans; one that knows it’s strengths and utilizes them well. Welcome back Spock, here’s to new beginnings.
Crome Rating: 3.5/5
I just totally love this poster from Matt. He unwittingly picked one of my favorite moments from the film and intelligently used it to integrate Spock’s face. I love the parameters he’s set for himself throughout this entire project and keeps surprising with the way that he keeps things fresh. It might be my personal favorite of the entire series, but don’t worry, he’s still got plenty of killer stuff on the way! Check out Matt’s website for more art, follow him on Twitter and read a bit about his process down below. Matt also did the art for the recently released Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One box set.
From Matt: The Search For Spock is probably the best of the “odd” numbered Trek films (but I really love them all!!). I have always loved the operatic scale of the film and the fact that Kirk had the brass balls to blow the Enterprise up. Without a doubt I knew I had to paint the Enterprise falling to her demise. I wanted to get the Genesis planet into the composition as well as it is the central location to the film. Also on this one I was oddly influenced by the classic posters for Rosemary’s Baby and Empire Of The Sun!
See our entire Trek retrospective here: Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek (2009).