Star Trek: Adventures on the Big Screen (Part 2)

 Time to move on in our epic voyage through the known and unknown, through the wonders and blunders, that is Star Trek writ large for the big screen. Oh yes. Third on the list is…

Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

Some might level the accusation at the writers that, seeing as Spock died at the end of the last outing, calling the movie The Search for Spock might be giving away a rather large slice of the plot. Just saying, that’s all…

Plot: The crew of Enterprise are back on Earth, and have been forced into semi-retirement. Only Uhuru appears to still be working full time, as a communications officer (a.k.a. telephonist). Kirk, Scotty and McCoy are troubled by memories of their dead friend. McCoy seems more disturbed than most, and it seems Spock is to blame. Learning that they should have taken his body back to Vulcan, Kirk determines to go get it from the Genesis planet. But to get there, he has to steal the Enterprise. Even when he manages this, there’s Klingons after the Genesis secret, who let nothing – not even Kirk’s son- get in their way.

Goofs: It seems picky to mention this, when there are so many reasons for me to dismiss this movie entirely – but the Enterprise is just plain screwy in this movie. For a start, there’s more battle-damage at the start of this movie than at the end of Wrath of Khan – but no explanation why. There’s plenty of work for Scotty to do on the way home, but apparently, he found time to completely redesign the turbo lift interiors! And several times – such as the interior to Spock’s quarters – we see scenes shot in the old, pre-refit days of the Enterprise instead of the new interior.

Also –between the two movies, Kirstie Alley seems to have somehow transformed into Robin Curtis. Scotty MUST have been busy with his engineering team…

Thoughts: This movie is proof that the success of The Wrath Of Khan wasn’t just down to the use of primary colours. Nor was it the presence of a ‘good’ baddie, as Christopher Lloyd is a surprisingly successful Klingon. No – this movie suffers through a complete lack of pace and effective direction. Leonard Nimoy is a great actor, but he seems to have brought too much of his ‘logical Vulcan’ persona to his directing, because there’s nothing at all throughout the entire movie that surprises you. You know that Kirk and the crew will get back to the Genesis planet. You know that they will escape before the planet explodes. You know that Spock’s katra will be returned to his reincarnated body. You even know that David, Kirk’s son, will end up dying. There’s simply no tension, no pace, the action pretty much all takes place on or near a single planet, and we get none of the grand scale that big-screen Trek is supposed to deliver. Not even at the end, when they sacrifice the Enterprise. Never mind, there’s always….

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Plot: Once again, we’re talking the threatened destruction of good old Planet Earth. Instead of a long-lost deep space vessel returning home, this time there’s a large, dark cylinder approaching Sector 001, which drains power from all vessels and space stations that come within range. When it reaches earth, it begins transmitting some kind of signal, which has the effect of vaporising the oceans. Soon, the cloud cover will block the sun and cause devastation to all life on the planet. The only ship that appears to understand what’s going on is the Klingon ship carrying the crew home. Surmising that the transmissions are aimed at the oceans, Spock discovers that the signal is the call of the long-extinct humpbacked whale, and the only way to respond is by going back to the mid-80s and getting some. So they do….

Goofs: The IMDB lists many, many goofs in this movie. 44 to be precise. There are numerous instances of the film crew showing up in the movie (whether reflected in the bus or store windows, or in one case holding the broken wiper-blades of the helicopter and waving them back and forth.) There are continuity and equipment errors. But my two favourites are just silly. When Kirk and Spock are ‘walking back to San Francisco’, the scene is shot in San Francisco already. And in the Plexiglas factory, there’s no way that Scotty could call up such a complex chemical formula on a 1986 Mac!

Thoughts: OK, let’s get this whole time travel thing out of the way first. From what I see, it’s easy. In the words of Doc McCoy: “you slingshot around the Sun, pick up enough speed – You’re in time warp”. I’m not quite sure how this differs from the elusive Warp 10, or the Borg trans-warp conduits, that apparently allow you to go anywhere real quick, but not anywhen… it’s a blatant plot enabler, and rates as one of the most obvious Deus ex machina devices ever shown on screen.

But never mind, because without it, we wouldn’t have got to see Spock swimming and mind-melding with whales, Kirk eating pizza and drinking beer with the first woman they see (who just so happens to be an eminent whale expert), Uhura and Chekhov trying to steal nuclear particles from a US Navy wessel, Sulu stealing a helicopter, and McCoy and Scotty revealing the secrets of transparent aluminium in trade for enough Perspex top build a whale tank.

The Voyage Home was played for laughs. You had a serious start, and a serious ending, when the successful crew returned to face the music over the whole Genesis affair. But the movie shows what Nimoy could do when given the chance to direct a well-written, funny script, with something for the characters to actually do. Watching Spock trying to ‘fit in’, and seeing Kirk’s inept attempts to explain exactly why he wants the whales, are just two elements of the charm that The Voyage Home has, and that The Search For Spock severely lacked.

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2 thoughts on “Star Trek: Adventures on the Big Screen (Part 2)

  1. Stitchgroover says:

    You’re right that the audience always “knows” what’s going to happen in “Search for Plot, I mean Spock”. But I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. TNG often had the same issue – you knew the Enterprise would be safe, you knew Picard’s impassioned speech would win out, you knew that Beverly would find a cure for the disease of the week just in the nick of time. The enjoyment was in seeing how they managed it, what steps the crew had to go through to get there, and what lessons could be learnt at the end.

    1. I get what you mean – I’d need to qualify the ord ‘enjoyment’ in this context though, because there really wasn’t much there to enjoy – no real substance, and no real engagement with the audience. Nobody cared when David was killed, or when the planet blew up – there was more upset about the Enterprise crashing and burning that when Kirk’s son was murdered, and that says everything there is to say about the tension.

      The fact that they were able to review the entire storyline in 20 seconds during the Starfleet Headquarters scene in Voyage Home is not a good thing….

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