"The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many."
Simply by virtue of its position in the series, 'Star Trek III: The Search for Spock' is often written off as a lesser effort by fans who believe in the franchise's so-called "Odd-Numbered Movie Curse." I'm not one of those people. Although far from perfect, 'Search for Spock' is a strong 'Trek' entry, easily superior to either of the next two films to follow. I will admit, however, that in many ways the movie is a big cop-out.
As we last left things at the end of 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan', beloved character Spock had valiantly sacrificed himself to save the Enterprise. By most accounts, Leonard Nimoy had tired of playing the role and felt that the character had run its course. Then the movie became a big hit, and Paramount immediately greenlit a sequel. However, nobody wanted to make a 'Star Trek' movie without Spock. Producer Harve Bennett promised Nimoy that he'd come up with a good excuse to resurrect the character, and the studio further enticed him with an offer to direct. Nimoy was back in. Thus began the process of desperately unwriting the climax of the last film.
'Search for Spock' is a direct sequel that picks up immediately after the events of 'Khan'. Sporting heavy battle damage, the starship Enterprise returns to Spacedock, upon which Admiral Kirk and crew are informed that the ship will be decommissioned. The brand new USS Excelsior, with its fancy trans-warp drive, will be taking over as Starfleet's new flagship. As if that weren't enough of a blow, Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) has been behaving quite oddly as the result of a last-minute mind meld that his Vulcan friend inflicted on him before his death. Conveniently enough, it turns out that McCoy is now the possessor of Spock's "katra," basically the Vulcan equivalent of a soul. Ritual requires that he journey to the Vulcan homeworld to purge himself of this burden. There's just one catch: he's supposed to bring Spock's body with him. Unfortunately, that body had last been jettisoned onto the new Genesis planet, which Starfleet has now quarantined.
Naturally, regulations and orders aren't about to stop Kirk, McCoy and the rest from honoring their friend's last wishes. Hijacking the Enterprise, they jet off to Genesis to retrieve his body, only to find that the new planet's unstable development has had some very unexpected side effects that will directly affect their mission. All the while, Klingon commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) desires to capture the secrets of the powerful Genesis Device for himself, and has kidnapped Kirk's son David to accomplish that goal. You can imagine that Kirk won't take that too well.
Nimoy's direction of the film is adequate, if rather workmanlike and not particularly noteworthy. In one especially lazy device, he replays footage from the last movie as if it were "flight recorder" video. Where were all those cameras when the action happened, that were able to capture the events in so much reverse-angle-reverse, wide establishing angle, and close-up coverage? (He'll do the same to an even more ridiculous extent in 'Star Trek IV'.) Most of the ILM special effects are pretty good, especially the complex Spacedock interiors. But some of the costumes look a little cheap, and the Genesis planet sets are too stagy. Allegedly upset that the producers wouldn't meet her salary demands, Kirstie Alley declined to return as Saavik; she's replaced here by actress Robin Curtis, who's fine in the role but looks nothing like Alley.
'The Search for Spock' is, quite frankly, a placeholder entry in the series. The movie amounts to little more than an excuse to reintroduce a character who had previously made a worthy exit. To that end, for the most part it's competently scripted and put together, with enough good character moments, solid dramatic developments, and reasonably exciting action to merit a pass. The movie has strong operatic overtones, and is the emotional peak of the trilogy of films comprising the "Genesis Arc." The cheat of Spock's resurrection is offset by losses elsewhere. Lest we forget, this is the 'Trek' film that, in a moment of devastating impact, features the death of what is perhaps the series' most important character of all. (No, I don't mean so-and-so's little tussle with an anonymous Klingon; I'm referring to the really big, shocking death that comes later.) For that reason alone, 'Star Trek III' rates as, if not exactly one of the best 'Trek' movies, certainly an essential one.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Star Trek III: The Search for Spock' has been released on the Blu-ray format as part of two separate box sets from Paramount Home Entertainment. The film is included in both the 7-disc 'Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection' (which includes the first six films in the series), and the 3-disc 'Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy' (which includes only the second through fourth films, comprising the "Genesis Arc"). In either case, the 'Search for Spock' disc itself is identical.
Annoyingly, every single disc in the 'Original Motion Picture Collection' set automatically starts with a very loud trailer for the 2009 'Star Trek' feature film and an ad for the Blu-ray release of 'Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 1' before the main menu.
This is where we start to run into trouble. According to the 'Original Motion Picture Collection' packaging, only 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' was "fully restored" for Blu-ray, with the rest of the films in the box set being merely "digitally remastered," whatever that's supposed to mean. Regardless, both of the first two movies look pretty terrific. With 'Star Trek III', unfortunately, it becomes evident that Paramount has taken an older HD master (perhaps struck for the DVD or broadcast) and applied some digital tweaking to try to clean it up. It doesn't look terrible by any means, but it does have a more visibly processed appearance than the earlier entries.
Aside from the opening credits, which are windowboxed to an aspect ratio of approximately 2:1, the majority of the movie is presented at the 2.35:1 theatrical ratio. In its favor, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is fairly sharp and detailed. In fact, I'd say that it's tremendously more detailed than the previous DVD edition. The model effects shots in the Spacedock interior resolve all the little windows and lights in much greater clarity than ever before. Colors are quite strong. (Gotta love those burgundy uniforms.) The contrast range is very good, with rich blacks during the space scenes. Paramount has also put in a tremendous amount of work cleaning up or digitally painting out the dirt and debris commonly associated with optically-composited special effects of the era.
On the other hand, the disc has obviously had a lot of Digital Noise Reduction applied. This has some clearly negative consequences. In addition to removing grain and noise, some fine object details, such as skin pores, have been wiped away. That often leaves facial features with a plastic texture, more so here than any of the other movies in the set. When film grain is visible, it frequently freezes in place in unnatural patterns that detract from the desired filmic look. A bit of artificial sharpening has also been added, which causes mild edge ringing from time to time.
The transfer isn't awful. In some respects, it's very impressive. It's absolutely the best-looking edition of the movie to appear on home video, indisputably superior to the DVD. I'm sure that viewers with smaller monitors won't be as troubled by its flaws. But it is problematic. The larger your display, the more evident the shortcomings are. This is a disappointment coming after the much better work performed on the first two films in the series.
The lossless Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack is similar in character to that of the prior movie, 'Star Trek II'. The audio is loud and clear, but feels a little constrained in fidelity. Even though it hits both the highs and lows, it seems to be missing something in the middle.
The track is bassy, yet at times a little shrill. Many sound effects, especially the transporter beam and phasers, are well delivered. As a movie from 1984, surround usage is moderate at best. Nonetheless, there are a few good ship fly-bys, and wind on the Genesis planet blows through all the rear channels. James Horner's score has solid stereo separation, though not much delineation of individual instruments. Still, all in all, the audio sounds pretty good.
A few scenes in the movie have subtitled alien dialogue. The subtitles are all contained within the Scope movie image, and are safe for viewing on 2.35:1 Constant Image Height projection screens.
Just about all of the bonus features from the 2-disc Special Collector's Edition DVD released in 2002 have been carried over to the Blu-ray.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
The Blu-ray also has a bunch of exclusive features.
Will Work in Any Blu-ray Player
BD-Live: Requires Profile 2.0
The Cutting Room Floor: What Didn't Make the Blu-ray?
The only item missing from the 2-disc Special Collector's Edition DVD released in 2002 is the text trivia commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda. The information in that track was mostly consolidated into the new Library Computer feature.
The 'Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection' contains six feature films and an almost overwhelming volume of supplemental content, both old and new. Although the video quality of some of the later movies in the set is a bit uneven, all are significant improvements over their old DVD editions. Even with its high list price, the set is an easy recommendation for fans. Those who only care for the "Genesis Arc" will find the 3-disc 'Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy' a more affordable alternative.
'Star Trek III: The Search for Spock' may not be among the best films in the series, but is generally underrated. The Blu-ray has a disappointing video transfer, but reasonably good audio and a lot of quality supplements.