Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Nitpickery: The Search for Spock

Hey y'all.  So while I'm on this Star Trek kick, I thought I'd go ahead and review the bona fide sequel for Wrath of Khan.  Now, there's always been a saying for the Star Trek movies, that the even ones are good and the odd ones aren't so good.  While that saying is generally true, and this is the third of the Trek movie series, it's actually a pretty good movie.  Sure, it does have several flaws, but the acting is good, and the story isn't as bad as the Star Wars prequels.  Not even close.

So this movie goes that Spock's father, Sarek, wants to know where his son's katra, or soul, is.  Sarek presumes that Kirk has it, but he doesn't.  Instead they discover that Spock's personality is trapped within McCoy's mind (it's not as off the wall as it sounds) and that McCoy, now appearing crazy, has a sudden desire to go back to the Genesis planet, which was created in the last movie when Khan set off the Genesis device at the end.  The crew of the Enterprise then take their ship illegally out of a space station and head to Genesis, hoping to find out if they can save Spock.  Only now a Klingon who found out about Genesis is in their way, and both Saavik and Kirk's son are caught in the middle.

And now...

----- Ten Things I'll Say about The Search for Spock -----

10.  This movie reverses everything done in the previous one.

Wrath of Khan left me, and probably most viewers, with a lighthearted feeling of happiness and an impression of how precious life really is.  This movie?  Not so much.  It left me feeling mildly grungy on the inside, and iffy about life and such.  It's mildly depressing, in fact.  Everyone in the movie sacrificed so much to save Spock, and Spock is still a little weird from having died and being reunited with his body at the end.  This sort of mutes the ending, and it feels weird.  This movie is clearly a story for the fans or people who wanted to see more after Star Trek II.  It's not as open audience as the first.

But it's not just the mood that switched around.  In Wrath of Khan, the Federation gained the ability to turn dead rocks into pleasant worlds -- but now the Genesis device is dangerous and a failure, and of no use to anyone not interested in killing people.  Spock was dead, and now he's not!  Kirk has a son -- oh wait, he dies.  What, did you think the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?  Now the needs of the one outweigh the needs of many!  Regulations were respected in Wrath, even if they weren't always followed to the letter.  In Search for Spock, rules are now bad and so are the people that make them.  The Genesis planet was created last time, but now it's going to blow itself up.  Uh-huh.

It does hurt the movie that so much of what Kirk and company learned in Wrath of Khan gets annulled.  After all, Kirk learned about the consequences of his actions in that he has a son, and then he had to start considering how he needs to reach out to him.  That learning opportunity is stolen with David's murder, and thus the consequences of Kirk's philandering disappears.  In fact, so much happens in this movie that is really out of Kirk's control.  He had no way of saving his son, and in the end he has to trick the Klingons into helping his crew escape the Genesis planet.  We never feel Kirk taking control of any given situation and commanding from his intelligence.  He's just kind of letting luck guide him and taking advantage of it.

Also, where is Carol Marcus?  Wasn't she the one who organized and ran the Genesis project?  Why isn't she still there?  We went from having a confident woman in charge to having her uncertain son manipulate the project just to make it work.  The way David acted in the first film almost implies a purity of belief in science, what with his reaction to the Federation's interference.  It seemed like he's the kind of guy that would try to get it right, not cheat his way into apparent success.

It's pretty understandible that some of these things would turn people off of this third movie.  However, this has become a pretty commonplace Hollywood problem these days: Hollywood will fail to understand why the audience liked a movie and then turn their favorite franchise into something it's not.  Like for example, the Matrix sequels.  The audience there wanted a super cool adventure, not a drug trip into depressing philosophy.  The first Die Hard was fun because it felt like John McClane was doing realistic things to defeat his enemies, and now later on they made him so tough that it feels like he's a cartoon running around, and all that blood on his face is just for decoration.

Granted, the Search for Spock was never that bad.  It's fun to sit down and watch, it's great that we get to see Spock again, and Nichelle Nichols has really great earrings in that one scene.  I'm sorry, but they are pretty dang awesome.

9.  Why did they repeat the dialogue from Wrath of Khan four times?

Seriously, beginning the next movie with the ending of the last one really destroys the impact of the previous, as well as cheapening this movie to make it depend too strongly on another film.  It makes it hard to enjoy this as a standalone film.  You can watch Wrath of Khan without having seen a second of anything else related to Trek.  This film?  It feels almost like you're watching an episode of Lost in the middle of the season, where you have to catch up to get on the level of the constant viewings.  Which is ironic, considering that it was added to keep newcomers up to speed.

But the trouble is, there are four times when they do this.  One is the opening, the second is when Sarek is mind-melding with Kirk, the third happens shortly when Sarek and Kirk watch security footage, and the last happens when a recently revived Spock begins to remember who Kirk is.  It's really annoying, especially when you're on a Star Trek binge and you just watched the previous one a minute ago.

A simple monologue on Kirk's part would have sufficed to replace the first mention, and in fact Kirk does such a monologue in the next scene.  Sarek should not have quoted the things his son said in the second mention, though there's no quick way to replace the viewing of the security footage.  That mention I'm mostly fine with.  Or possibly Kirk could have been told about McCoy's episode at the bar, and Sarek, already having a clue to what's going on, follows him.  Possessed McCoy recognises Sarek and calls him "father".  There's a nice alternative, though perhaps just seeing the footage is better, as the audience already knows that Spock is inside McCoy and they just want the film to move on.

As for the quoting of the lines at the end, that really only could have worked if the lines had never been repeated earlier in the film.  It could have been a powerful signal that Spock remembered Kirk, but it's rendered useless by the earlier scenes.  Either it should have been replaced by other touching dialogue, or the earlier references should have been eliminated.

My guess is that these clunky references were one of the major reasons why the fans aren't as enthusiastic about this film.  They're really unnecessary, and it makes the writers seem unskilled when they can't rise above taking direct dialogue and clips from the previous film.

8. Why does Valkris admit that she watched the Genesis information?

At the beginning of the film, Nimoy arranged a scene where the Klingon Captain, Kruge, is getting information on Genesis from a Klingon woman named Valkris.  This woman hired a ship of non-Klingons to go and see him, and after the transfer of information is complete, she says that Kruge will find the information useful.  This tells Kruge that she has seen it, and after a very dignified goodbye, he shoots down her ship.

This is an entertaining and well-acted scene.  It just bugs me that Valkris admits she saw the information.  Why should she tell him?  And if she knew Kruge was the guy that would kill her over it, she shouldn't have looked at all.  Still, Valkris is loyal to Kruge to the point where she accepts her death and does not argue with Kruge's right to kill her.  What does Kruge gain by killing someone who is not only very loyal to him, but also his love?  Surely she wouldn't have told anyone he had the Genesis information.

Bah, whatever.  Maybe I'm being too nitpicky.

7.  Every Starfleet authority in this film is a jerk.

Seriously.  Check it out.

Saavik and David Marcus are on the Federation ship Grissom, and the captain of this ship seems almost to glee in saying no to their requests.  Try to imagine a guy saying, in a smug a voice as you can muster, "If the captain decides that the mission is vital and reasonably free of danger."  Seriously, he's almost smiling as he says no to Saavik, and it's like she and David have to beg him to get anything done.  Or how about, "Exercise caution, Lieutenant.  This landing is Captain's discretion and I'm the one who's out on a limb".  It's like he doesn't even care that Saavik and David are the ones down on the planet and at risk for whatever's down there.

It's also weird that they're the only ship attempting to enforce a quarantined planet.  Why did Starfleet send them out alone?  It's like they're asking the Klingons to show up and cause trouble.

Anyway, he's not the only needlessly pompous guy in this film.  So Kirk wants to go to Genesis and try to figure out how to get Spock either back or to his resting place, and he asks a guy if he can do it.  The guy refuses because....well, I guess it's because he's a materialistic mofo that doesn't believe in souls, or something.  "I am commanding in Starfleet and I don't break rules!"  Um, okay....

Seriously, Kirk is partly responsibly for Genesis' creation.  Why wouldn't he be allowed to investigate it?  Heck, why wouldn't he be ordered to investigate it?  That way, instead of bringing a bunch of people to Earth who could potentially talk about a confidential matter, they'd have another ship and more scientists trying to figure out what's the deal with Genesis.

Also, if you're a commanding officer, even if you didn't believe in spirits, why would you deny a request that could strengthen relations between Earth and Vulcan?  It may well be hooey, but the Vulcans don't feel that way.  Especially since the soul in question is the son of the Vulcan ambassador, and anyone with sense can see that McCoy and Spock's brains have merged.  What happened to Star Trek's intellectual curiosity?  Part of science requires the scientist to have neither bias nor opinion as he goes forward, and let the facts reveal themselves.  Surely McCoy's condition is obvious to anyone with eyes.

That brings up another jerk-move.  Starfleet apparently wants to confine McCoy to the "funny farm".  Is that any way to treat a fine officer of the Enterprise?  Wouldn't they at least attempt to leave him with family members, or have him stay with his close friends from his ship before shuttling him off to really go mad in an asylum?  Maybe test him to see what condition he might have?  Sheesh.  Way to treat, your men, Starfleet.

Jerk number four calls Sulu "Tiny".  It's funny, but he's still a jerk.

Number five meets us at the listening post Uhura has apparently asked to be assigned on.  This moron mocks an officer from a famous spaceship for choosing that place, all while apparently knowing who she is.  This is the most pointless antagonization of the bunch.  Okay, maybe that captain at Genesis was risking his career by ordering people down the planet's surface.  Maybe that other officer really was trying just to follow orders by not allowing Kirk to go after Spock.  Maybe Starfleet was afraid that a crazy McCoy would affect recruitment numbers if he were allowed to stay in public.  And finally, maybe Sulu really isn't all that tall.

Granted, these are all stupid reasons for being jerks, but they're at least reasons.  What does Lieutenant moron get for making fun of a woman with a far more interesting career than his?  There's literally no reason at all to be mean to her.  In fact, if Mr. Adventure had been nice, she might have told him some cool stories.  Well, if she weren't busy trying to help Kirk, anyway.

Oh wait, I forgot the Captain of the new ship Excelsior,  who goes "I'm looking forward to breaking some of the Enterprise's speed records tomorrow" to Engineer Scott.  Wow.  That's nice.  Keep in mind that insulting Scotty's ship is basically the only guaranteed way to piss him off.

Now, for the most part, these jerks are entertaining.  Nothing is quite so fun as Uhura forcing a belligerent little punk into a closet.  However, none of them have convincing motivation to be jerks.  It's a matter of people being stupid simply for the sake of being stupid. We'll come to this point again later.

6.  McCoy really takes the cake, but Christopher Lloyd has a slice.

I wish this movie had more McCoy.  Everything about him in this movie makes me smile.  He has some of the best lines.  Like when he finds out that Spock's mind is inside of his:

"That green-blooded SOB.  It's his revenge for all those arguments he lost."

Oh man, what a card.  It's so much fun to see him argue between Spock's logic and his own emotional, renegade attitude.  There's a perfect blend of this when he goes to a bar and tries to score a flight to Genesis (is this a Wars rip-off?), and his reaction to the various people he speaks to is simply amazing.

My favorite McCoy moment is right at the end, when the high priestess of Vulcan is explaining to him that taking Spock's mind out of his head has potentially dangerous consequences for him.  The good doctor then answers, "I choose the danger." This makes it feel like he doesn't quite know what's going on, but he'll do whatever it takes to save Spock.  I just love McCoy so much.

And while we're on good acting, Christopher Lloyd as Kruge is magnificent.  It's so bizarre to hear the voice of Doc Brown say the brutal things that Kruge has on his mind.  Lloyd pulls off this character so well that it's just a treat to watch.  You believe him as a cruel man who would do anything for power and glory.

This is sort of a side note, but I also like how Captain Kruge points out he can use Genesis to help his species survive.  It implies that Klingons have been having trouble, and unintentionally foreshadows Star Trek VI.  The fact that he's trying to use a weapon to improve the Klingon's chances makes it a perfect Soviet metaphor.  Dang it, I miss the days when movies were intelligent.  Oh, and speaking of intelligent -

5.  The Klingons could have accomplished a lot more politically.

The most genius thing the makers of this film did was get Christopher Lloyd to play Kruge.  Lloyd brings a magnificent believability to the character Kruge, who otherwise would have been far more recognised as the idiot he is.  Seriously, Kruge is a moron.  First of all, he kills an extremely loyal woman when really she should have been the queen at his side, or else allowed to continue spying on whomever she got the Genesis records from.

Granted, a lot of Kruge's plans were spoiled when his helmsman accidentally blew up the Grissom (with only one shot?  Starships are that easy to destroy?), but he still doesn't do much in the way of smart things.  After all, surely from the records he gained he would know that the Genesis device itself was destroyed, and that the space station where Genesis was developed would be the place to go to get more specific details.  And the instant he realized that there were three vulnerable prisoners on the planet, he should have beamed them to his ship for interrogation.  Instead he orders his men to kill a prisoner, which results in David's murder.  While it's David's fault he was the one to die, Kruge's order still resulted in them losing the only prisoner that had any information on how the Genesis device worked.  When the Enterprise arrived, he should have left with the prisoners.

Did he?  Nope.  He instead allowed his prisoners to communicate with the enemy, then fell for an extremely obvious trap.  Why would he teleport to the Enterprise when Kirk said it was alright?  Why not insist that Kirk take down his shields right now and then teleport immediately?  Or perhaps shoot the shield array until it was down and then teleport over?  Or just do anything that would put pressure on Kirk and prevent him from having the time to set the self-destruct on the Enterprise.  Surely Kruge would know that Kirk has something on his mind.

Also, how does Kruge know that Kirk has anything to do with Genesis?  Maybe he's bringing the Enterprise over in response to a Grissom transmission.  Maybe he's just passing through.  Kirk did indeed intend to come directly to Genesis, but Kruge doesn't know that.  It's a very real possibility, and in fact the truth, that Kirk has nothing on Genesis that Kruge doesn't already know.  Instead, Kruge acts as though he can acquire "the secret of Genesis" from Kirk, when nothing about Kirk indicates he has it.

Finally, Kruge teleports a bunch of Federation people to his ship when he has only one crewmember left alive.  Come on, why do that?  It's obvious they'll take over his ship.

The ironic thing is that Kruge mentions the very thing that is the more intelligent option: accusing the Federation of using a powerful thing like the Genesis device as a weapon or a means to exploit other species. This method works because it's potentially true.  Of course the Federation is a peace loving organization (jerks aside), and wouldn't use Genesis for bad reasons.  But they could, and therein lies the opening where the political crowbar to manipulate.  The Klingons could negotiate things for themselves, while as it is all they do is lose one of their ships and several men.

In the end, only Lloyd's maniacal performance convinces the audience that Kruge is just nuts and therefore doesn't think things through as much as he should.  So I'm not really complaining about this movie when I point it out.  After all, in real life sometimes your enemies really are stupid, and it's only their brutality that makes them frightening.  This movie does a good job of establishing that a good captain never lets himself get intimidated by someone who appears to be strong or powerful.  The race is not given to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.  A very powerful theme, that.

4. It's such a waste to kill David.

Now, David Marcus was sort of annoying in Wrath of Khan.  He was very stubborn, and he got angry pretty quickly at any perceived injustice.  However, he's a lot like his dad, and I've never seen a character that was such an accurate amalgamation of his parents without being a cheap parody.  Plus, he's a great way to influence Kirk's behavior.  And then they kill the character.  What makes it worse is that it was a toss-up between him and Saavik as whose turn it was to die.  There was no proper effort to really show off and wrap up the character in a fitting and complete way.  First he was alive, and then he was not.

Though I suppose it was a way for Merritt Butrick to not be typecast as a Trek character.  Granted, I'm not sure that would have happened, as Butrick's character was a fairly normal human being, but you never know.  Also, Merritt himself died tragically young only seven years after this film came out, and it's almost poignant how the fate of his character sort of matched his own fate.  It makes the part where Kirk displays his photo in Star Trek IV very poignant, and also a way to help fans remember Butrick for many years to come.

Man...I just looked up Merritt Butrick's imdb file, and it's so sad to read a quote of his they put there.  It basically says that Butrick intended to take his time in his career and create a long-term idea for the sort of actor he wanted to be.  It breaks your heart to read.

I also think it's cheap that David, out of nowhere, suddenly admits that he cheated in the creation of the Genesis device and added protomatter to it to make it work.  This has the effect of making the Genesis device useless for creating planets, but still useful to Kruge as a destructive device.  Lovely.  A cheap way for the writers to eliminate a powerful new addition to the Star Trek universe.  I suppose it's fair enough for them to not want a powerful planet generator to cheapen future plotlines, but it feels like a cheap bungle to blame it on David.  It would have been better if the planet itself was too large-scale for the Genesis device, or for its own reasons simply did not work.  Or maybe the planet is too distant from a star to have a livable environment.  That's a huge issue in space.

Whatever.  David Marcus just had so much darned potential, and it never really got put to good use. 

3. Kirk defeating a Klingon commander?  Yeah right.

Let's all be honest here.  Do you really think that a man in his fifties can really take on a fit Klingon warrior in hand to hand combat?  Yeah, not so much.  Kirk was a good fighter on TOS, but chances are someone both younger and from a warrior culture would kick his butt.  Though to be fair, they did add in a cheap crotch kick, and Kruge was defeated by falling off a cliff rather than Kirk winning through pure force.  It wasn't too distracting to the overall narrative.

2. Sarek shows actual love for his son.

"My logic is uncertain where my son is concerned."

For long-time fans of Star Trek, the true weight of this quote is immense.  Spock and Sarek have had ridiculous conflict throughout the years, what with Spock being half-human and all -- sheesh, Sarek, what did you think you would get when you married a human?  Spock has had to live his entire childhood with a highly disciplined parent, and had to live up to those high standards of logic.  And live up to them he did! 

In one episode of TOS, Spock chooses to stay as captain of the Enterprise when Kirk is injured, rather than allow Scotty to take charge so he could donate blood to his ill father.  Sarek could have died, and Spock would have allowed it for logic's sake if Kirk hadn't pretended to be well just to force Spock to sickbay.  And you know what Sarek said after his surgery?  When asked to thank his son, he says that it was only logical that Spock should save him, and "one does not thank logic."

That pretty much typifies the relationship between Spock and Sarek.  They disagree with one another, and they show almost zero affection where each other is concerned (Sarek's actually pretty cute when he's with his wife).  So when Sarek admits that his son being in danger gets to him, it's heart-achingly sweet.

It's also pretty adorable to newcomers, more than likely.  They perhaps have seen Wrath of Khan, and in this movie they see the stiff, straightforward Saavik (Robin Curtis does a great job), so they have an idea of how Vulcans really are.  Even this reluctant admission is a sign of something big.

It makes me want to give Sarek a big hug.  Aw, how cuuuute!  This is unrelated, but I also love the bit where Kirk hugs Uhura when they get to Vulcan.  That's just precious.

1. The Search for Spock is the origin point for "Kirk is a rebel"

This to me is the real heart of the matter.  The reason Star Trek III is not as good as other films is that it begins a sour trait in the Trek universe: the degradation of Starfleet rank and authority.  Granted, this was only a seed, and it didn't come to fruition for a while, but this is the point where cheap theatrics ever so slowly began to replace genuine plot and intelligent thinking.

Let me explain.  So in this movie I've mentioned before that so many Starfleet people were ignorant, materialistic, and insulting when they had no real reason to be.  It's the classic 80s rebel drama: everyone in authority is stupid, and so the good guy has to be a rebel against society.  Thus, Kirk and crew take the "obviously moral route" and steal their ship in the effort to go save Spock. Granted, they could have spared themselves a lot of trouble if they simply hired a smaller ship legally and went out.  After all, it's pretty absurd that five people can run a Starship meant for hundreds of crew members. 

But no, Kirk is a rebel!  He has to defy that stupid authority and steal his rightful ship away from them!  How dare they stand between him and saving his best friend!  Again, they get in his way for arbitrary and non-Starfleet reasons, because someone is only a good guy if they rebel against those wicked, evil people that magically have power over us all!  Authority is always bad, because power always corrupts!  Always!  There's never been a good leader in the history of ever!

In case you were wondering, that was sarcasm.  After all, if authority always corrupts, then Kirk is a bad captain, no matter what he does.

In any case, before this point, Kirk was always respectful to rules.  He didn't always follow them, but broke rules only when necessary, and never with eagerness or a light heart.  However, if you ask people today about Kirk, he's a "bad boy" who never does what he's told.  This was even before the JJ Abrams films came out, too.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that these things don't make the movie automatically suck.  Their escape plan was fun, Kirk was only a little out of character rather than an outright "screw the rules" stereotype, and even the gratuitous destruction of the Enterprise was a far more satisfying end to the ship we loved than having it simply be scrapped for parts.  It does, however, set the stage for little dumb moments of rebellion, particularly in the Next Generation movies.  And those?  Well, they are mistake ridden like you would not believe.  Or maybe like you would believe, because you've seen them already.

In any case, Search for Spock is still worth watching, if only to see bits of Vulcan culture we never got a chance to explore before and enjoy all the good acting.

Best actor: DeForest Kelley.  Sorry, Mr. Lloyd, Kelley beat you on this one.  The person who puts a smile on my face every time he comes on screen wins.

This movie is for:
- Trek fans
- Bored people
- Christopher Lloyd fans
- People who know little about Trek and want to learn more
- Sci-fi buffs

This movie is not for:
- Modern moviegoers
- Chick-flick aficionados
- People who don't get Trek.
- JJ Abrams

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