In the middle of the larger picture of the “Star Trek” movie franchise, there exists a genuine trilogy of films with the original cast members. It started with “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” and ended with “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” which I will review next summer. Today, I would like to take a look at “The Search for Spock,” the third “Trek” film, but the middle part of the trilogy.
At the end of “Khan,” Spock (Leonard Nimoy) gave his own life for the crew of the Enterprise after a battle that left the ship a wreck. His body was torpedoed onto the newly-formed Genesis planet. Meanwhile, the crew of the Enterprise returns home. Unfortunately, the ship’s medical officer, Dr. “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) has been exhibiting odd behavior regarding Spock’s demise. It turns out that before his death, Spock mind-melded with McCoy, leaving his essence with the good doctor. Now, Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) must return to Genesis to find his friend’s body, and get it and McCoy to Vulcan so that body and soul can be reunited. But Kirk isn’t the only one interested in Genesis.
This film was directed by Leonard Nimoy, who didn’t try to top “Khan” with this film, but tell an exciting story of friendship, life, and death within the framework of a space opera. The screenplay by Harve Bennett is intelligent sci-fi, emotional philosophy, and energetic adventure in equal parts, and Nimoy was a great choice to direct. He understands what makes this franchise special, and his long history with the characters and actors means that fans of the series won’t have to endure someone mucking up the works with their own ideas. Nimoy made a better, and more entertaining film, with “The Voyage Home,” but “The Search for Spock” isn’t merely a placeholder between two great films; it’s an important canonical entry in a franchise that has found its space legs again with J.J. Abrams at the helm, but wasn’t always as good as it could have been.
As with “Wrath of Khan,” “Spock” has a terrific villain to operate as a foil to Kirk. Whereas the previous film had the benefit of a proven character from the original television show, “Spock” has a new one in the form of Klingon commander Kruge. He is played by the great comedic legend, Christopher Lloyd. This isn’t a manic performance like he gave previously on “Taxi,” or the next year in “Back to the Future,” but a cold, menacing piece of character acting. It’s one of his very best performances, and no doubt, one of the most memorable in the franchise’s history.
More than the terrific special effects, thrilling James Horner score, and adventure, what really brings “Search for Spock” to life, as I mentioned before, is the story, and the emotional journey we’re taken as Kirk and co. do their best to save their friends, even if it means destroying their trusty ship to do it. The final 15-20 minutes is among the most affecting in the series’s history, as we see Kirk keep his promise to both Bones and Spock, and rewarded with the returning of both of his friends to him, ready to, once again, boldly go where no man has gone before. And we’re ready to go with them.