Star Trek: The Search For Spock (aka the Search for a Good Movie)

Star Trek - Search For Spock 01On the surface, it may seem like a bad idea to devote a feature-length film to a slightly convoluted, comic booky story about bringing a popular character back from the dead, but the truth is …

Who am I kidding? It IS a bad idea.

The stakes have gotten more personal with each consecutive Star Trek movie, first with a threat that could destroy Earth and potentially endanger the entire galaxy, then a tale of personal revenge that also includes a device that could destroy a planet, and finally this story about a man’s sacrifice for a dear friend.

That shouldn’t be a bad thing. People love Star Trek for the characters, after all, so a movie exploring the more intimate side of this crew’s love for one another seems like a natural place to take the franchise.

So why does it feel like there are no stakes in The Search for Spock, in theory a ridiculous question, given that Spock is arguably the second most beloved character of the franchise? Perhaps it’s because the ultimate resolution is certain almost from the very start – the Enterprise will go to Genesis, find Spock, and Bones will drop Spock’s mind back into his body. Ta-da!

Sure, when it comes to adventure movies we know our heroes are going to triumph in the end. The thrill comes in wondering how they will triumph. Here, it’s a foregone conclusion, though. There is no mystery. There is no intrigue. It’s all telegraphed.

This is exacerbated by a villain, Doc Brown with a Forehead Problem, who poses little interest.

Star Trek - Search For Spock 04Granted, Khan is a tough act to follow. It’s like following up a Darth Vader movie with one featuring Greedo as the main villain.

But that’s being generous for generosity’s sake. The fact is, it’s just hard to care about what’s going on in the Search For Spock or to feel any tension when Doc in on screen. It’s just a movie, not an escape into an amazing world.

Oh, there are things to like here. Kirk’s plan to “liberate” the Enterprise (with the help of his crew, naturally) is good fun. It’s easy to get caught up in the crew’s devotion to the idea of bringing Spock back, and the heist movie stuff was good fun (and too short-lived). And …

… Not much else.

Hell, even the “heist” stuff to liberate the Enterprise is less “awesome!” than it should be. Maybe that’s in part because it just doesn’t work from a world-building perspective. All these years we have been watching massive titans of the cosmos explore the far reaches of space, with an elite crew directing a huge ship of people to make that happen. These starships are the massive oceangoing vessels of their day, vast behemoths with sizable crews to keep all this intricate shit running. That’s part of the appeal of Trek’s take on space adventure. They are massive Navy vessels with all that implies. I like that.

So when Scotty says, “Hey, I rigged up this thing in an hour that lets us run the whole thing real easy like, no crew needed,” it feels like cheating. Hey everyone, here are the writers being lazy!

I’d rather they had hijacked the ship with the crew on board and had a scene showing just how loyal the rank and file was to Kirk and the others. You know, the whole “we’ll follow you anywhere” cliche, but with all the faceless people doing it, too. That would have not only felt less goofy and “it’s happening because the writers need it to,” it would have played into the themes of the movie. But it didn’t.

Star Trek - Search For Spock 02And let’s not even get into the dull stuff. The adventures of David, Not Kirstie Alley, and Baby Spock on Genesis are a total bore. Too often during the first half we switch to nameless crews on other ships. Also a bore. Doc Brown’s Klingon threat fails to excite at every turn. (Bore.) He’s got a cool ship, to be sure – the Klingon Bird of Prey is one of the best designs in all of sci-fi, something that can’t often be said for Trek’s designs – but he and his crew often come across more goofy than intimidating. And what’s the deal with that awful dog puppet?

Even the emotional stakes are rather weak. This movie’s two big emotional moments are the destruction of the Enterprise (I’m a Star Wars fan, so shit gets blown up, whatever, deal with it) and the death of David, Kirk’s son. Both were supposed to ring huge, but for me neither did. The ship, no big deal. We all know they can build an Enterprise Mark II. But what about David, Kirk’s son?

It should have been a big moment, perhaps, but I was not sold on this relationship enough to become invested in it. Wrath of Khan handled this relationship wonderfully, as an awkward thing Kirk could barely acknowledge or face, a life he could have had but never would, but that’s where it’s left. “What might have been?”

And leaving it there has some potency.

When David dies, however, we’re already at “what might have been?,” so it doesn’t resonate as a great loss for Kirk. It’s something he ALREADY lost! It’s a repeat of a theme we already saw, but not done nearly as well.

Worst of all, the whole final climax is a dud. The clash of starships is brief and boring. Kirk’s brilliant Enterprise self-destruct plan is fantastic and is one of those moments that almost makes me a Kirk fan, so that was a cool “yes!” moment, but then they end up on Genesis and have a dull confrontation with embarrassing fight choreography and terribly dated special effects and almost no tension whatsoever, and I’m left wondering why I should give half a shit.

Yeah, I’d rather watch the Enterprise fly through Vygr for 20 minutes than watch any of this. I’m not even joking.

Star Trek - Search For Spock 05That’s pretty disappointing, because the heart of The Search For Spock is in theory a powerful one. James T. Kirk and his companions are willing to throw away their careers for a chance at bringing their friend back. Their long years together are the bond that holds this entire franchise together. That’s no small thing. With that at the root of this story, this film should have been stronger. At the very least, you’d think it would have the sheer warmth of the first third of Khan, during which even non-fans could get caught up in how much these characters love being around one another.

But no. There is little of that.

Perhaps my being left empty by The Search For Spock is because I have no particular fondness for the Trek crew. Oh, I’ve seen all these movies before and as a kid saw most episodes of the original series, but I’ve never been a Trekkie. I like it just fine and quite like the perpetually cranky Bones, but I’m not drawn to Trek like I am that other Star series. For me it’s not enough to get the gang back together and do some stuff. They need to make it interesting – and as far as I’m concerned, they failed to do that here.

Maybe genuine Trek fans fare better with the Search For Spock. Me, I found it a slight chore to get through.

14 Comments

  1. Chris Knight

    Yeah, beautiful cinematography, but the short running time kills it for me. This film has great moments, but they don’t add up to a good film.

  2. Tom McGrew

    The final fight is one of the most embarrassing and badly-choreographed fights I’ve ever seen. This one does have it’s great points (like another outstanding score from James Horner) but I almost never return to it. Although, it *did* set up some great moments in IV with Spock reaclimating.

    1. Chris Knight

      I’d like to think the fight is an homage…https://youtu.be/XJ-ATwRq5KY

  3. Eric San Juan

    There is one Trek movie fight worse than this one, but that’s still to come … Anyway, I consider this movie a noble failure. Thematically it has some great ideas, there are some lovely notions about loyalty, friendship, family and rebirth here, but the movie itself fails to be entertaining and doesn’t at all live up to what it could have been.

  4. Jeff Combs

    Yeah I guess so. I can’t say for sure that I’ve seen it since I originally saw it in the theater. I remember thinking the whole thing with young Spock going through Vulcan puberty – it has a Vulcan name like Bak-lar or some shit – was super cheesy. Then he speeds through his teen years, gets screwed out of his 20’s and 30’s and stops growing when he’s 47 or whatever, the same age that he was when he died.

    1. Eric San Juan

      I hadn’t seen it since the ’80s, either. I didn’t remember it being so … OFF. But yeah, the whole way they bring Spock back is kind of clunky.

  5. Robert Knaus

    This movie suffers from “middle child syndrome”, basically acting as little more than connective tissue between the iconic Wrath Of Khan and the charmingly comic Voyage Home. That said, it’s still pretty good, although the lack of Kirstie Alley is disappointing.

  6. John Saccenti

    This whole movie is a set up to get them in a Bird of Prey so they can slingshot the sun and steal a whale in the next one.

  7. Jeff Combs

    Yeah. I know it’s too early to talk about IV, but I’ve probably seen that movie 15 times.

    1. Eric San Juan

      I won’t get into it until my post on Monday, but for now I’ll say this: my memory of that movie and how it actually came across when I re-watched it for the first time in years was TOTALLY different. I did not expect the reaction I had.

    2. Eric San Juan

      I won’t get into it until my post on Monday, but for now I’ll say this: my memory of that movie and how it actually came across when I re-watched it for the first time in years was TOTALLY different. I did not expect the reaction I had.

  8. Kelsie ScottKelsie Scott
  9. Ed Sanders

    Oh like you wouldnt be upset if the Millennium Falcon exploded…

    1. Eric San Juan

      I admit, that would be pretty horrible. You can’t destroy the Falcon!

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