The third Star Trek film is, with the exception of Wrath of Khan, my favorite of all the films. Actually, I think I like it just as much as the second film, and slightly more than the fourth. You could make an argument that the second, third, and fourth movies represent the best story arc in the entire franchise. The last few seasons of Deep Space Nine are a close second, brought down by some typically bad Ferengi episodes.
The second movie is a movie I consider to be a perfect viewing experience (as is this one), the fourth one is just plain fun (to say nothing of a nice breather after the intensity of the previous two films), and the third movie is a wonderful mix of action, drama, and humor.
Let’s take a closer look.
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Notable notes on the film:
Interesting way to catch the audience up, as the recap of the previous movie’s ending is given a little bit of visual flair, as the images begin small with a pale blue tint before gradually coming into the entirety of the screen in full color. It’s an interesting touch that gives the film a little bit of a unique quality.
James Horner’s score is good, as it was in the previous film, which makes sense, because it’s pretty much the same damn score only with a few new themes in it. I actually don’t have a problem with this. In an odd way, it makes sense, since the film is about the shaken and distraught crew coming to terms with the loss of Spock (granted, going against direct orders to get his body so they can toss his soul back in it is an odd way of coping, but who are we to judge?). Hell, why not have the score follow suit?
Or I could just be full of shit, and it was just cheaper to tell Horner to go the Corman route and compose a little new music while they reused stuff from his previous score. Either one is quite plausible.
Christopher Lloyd as our villain for the day is great, though in an entirely different way than Ricardo Montalban was in the previous movie. While Khan was a wonderfully obsessed villain from the past, Lloyd’s Commander Kruge is great, since he’s such an unknown commodity. All we know about the guy is that he’s a Klingon... And a rather unpleasant one, at that.
Lloyd plays the role with a hammy relish that’s just entertaining as hell, even though nowadays it’s a little hard to not think of tons of Back to the Future jokes every time he appears. This isn’t anything new, as Lloyd got the role right after Taxi went off the air.
I also love the Klingon Bird of Prey. It’s just a cool ship.
Equally cool is Kruge’s pet. I love that even his crew is nervous about it, as we can see at the end of the scene where Kruge orders a crewman to feed the beast.
The introduction of the new starship Excelsior is a fun addition, as it’s a cool looking ship. It helps that it’s built up and presented in much the same way the asshole jock character in a teen comedy from the same period is shown. Makes what happens to it later quite amusing.
Performances are uniformly excellent for the most part, but I have to note what a terrific job DeForest Kelley does here. It’s not an easy task he has (playing McCoy and Spock, to an extent), but he pulls it off with considerable skill.
Leonard Nimoy directs the film with a surprisingly assured hand, given that this was his directorial debut. He keeps the pace nice and tight, the humor actually works (it helps when you let the laughs come from the characters rather than the situations they’re in), and he gets solid work from all but a few of his actors.
I get a personal kick out of Night Court’s John Larroquette as one of the Klingons. I always liked the guy, and the fact that two of our bad guys are Reverend Jim Ignatowski and Dan Fielding is quite funny to me. My only regret is that they couldn’t snag Richard Moll to play a Klingon.
Why yes, I am an ‘80s geek. What gave it away?
If there’s anything that could be considered a weak link in this movie, it would be the appearance of Kirk’s son David (Merrit Buttrick) and Saavik (Robin Curtis) from the previous film. Both characters figured prominently in the previous movie, as they do here, but the actors turn in rather stiff performances. Nothing outwardly horrible, they’re just a bit on the stiff side. Still, there are one or two good moments from them here and there, and their first scene leads to the revelation that Spock may still be alive, so it’s all good.
On a side note, am I the only one who found the captain of the science vessel just a tad on the annoying side? I’m all for making sure the new planet you’ve discovered doesn’t melt the gonads of the away team you send down, but come on!
Come to think of it, pretty much every person in Starfleet not on the Enterprise comes off as either overly strict (the unseen council that’s clamped down on the Genesis planet issue), a smug ass (the Excelsior captain), or sort of a pussy (the Grissom captain). Sort of weird.
The mind meld scene with Kirk and Spock’s father Sarek (Mark Lenard) is a nice bit of acting from both men.
The way the Genesis planet is used is pretty neat, as a rapid evolutionary process that turns out to be highly unstable. It’s set up and followed up on quite nicely.
I love the scene where McCoy tries to charter a flight to the planet. While the guy was always a funny character before, having Spock inhabiting his mind in a way makes him even better. The alien he ends up talking to is also... interesting.
The best sequence in the entire movie is the ten-minute stretch (give or take a minute or two) where Kirk and company steal the Enterprise. Having the ship set to be decommissioned is a nice setup for the events, and the cast and Nimoy handle the entire sequence with a deftly light comic touch.