In The Search for Spock, Kirk defies the Federation in order to find his friend. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Goddamn, these movies are making me emotional. IT’S TOO MUCH. But let’s discuss some things because SPOOOCCCCKKKK.
The Good Stuff
Right off the bat, I knew I’d have a good time because of the unexpected serialization in The Search for Spock. Well, the title itself was kind of a spoiler, but not one that ruined the experience for me. I WAS FINE WITH IT BECAUSE IT MEANT THAT SPOCK COULD COME BACK. And yet, going into this film with this idea in mind, I didn’t think we’d see the events immediately after the last film. It’s such a great touch, a welcome surprise, and a rewarding way to handle this franchise. Part of that is because of immediacy; the emotions surrounding Spock’s death are still raw, and you can see it in the faces of these characters. Spock’s loss is heartbreaking, and we never forget that, even as these people seek him out. And that’s fascinating to me. Even though there’s confirmation from Sarek that Spock isn’t really dead, the crew never allows themselves to get excited about the possibility of resurrecting him. It’s like they’re expecting disappointment.
Of course, their muted reactions to all of this is also due to the circumstances of their mission. For the first time in the series, Admiral Kirk and his friends openly defy the Federation. Y’all, THIS IS SUCH A HUGE DEAL, and The Search for Spock treats it that way. There’s a pervasive theme of sacrifice throughout this film, and the first one we witness is Uhura, Bones, Scotty, Chekov, and Kirk sacrificing their careers in order to find Spock’s body and bring it to Vulcan. One of the things that’s so much fun about watching this is that this film – probably more than the others – feels like old friends banding together to cause mischief. Each of them gets a chance to shine in these early scenes, such as Sulu’s fight or Uhura’s threats. Like the show and the past movies, they’re still mostly in the background after this. (And I was a little peeved that Uhura got shoved offscreen for over an hour.) But there’s a camaraderie here that’s pleasing to watch, especially since we know how serious it is that they’ve all betrayed the Federation.
Thematically, the film explores a spiritual cycle of sorts. This really is a movie about life, aging, death, and rebirth. While I don’t think the film succeeds at everything, there’s a massive scope to the underlying meaning of this journey. It’s ambitious, and for the most part, it works. The Federation is becoming younger, and its needs and goals are changing. What happens when Kirk finds out that the Enterprise is being decommissioned? Well, he and his friends steal it. And when the time comes, they understand when the Enterprise truly HAS served its function to them. The same goes for David, who tried to toy even further with the powers of Genesis than we previously knew. In doing so, he caused the Genesis planet to revive Spock’s body IN THE FORM OF A CHILD. Alongside the planet, Spock ages rapidly. The science of it escapes me, but I understood this parallel journey. The point here is that everything ages, and everything eventually dies. I think that perhaps David was doing penance for his actions by sacrificing himself for Spock and Lt. Saavik. (I have… things to say about this.) He sacrifices himself, just days after Spock did so, and the cycle continues.
I felt like this film was a lot more muted in terms of acting, and that’s okay. It’s a nice middle ground between the first and second films. There’s no moment quite like Kirk screaming about Khan. Instead, we get his building rage at losing David; we get his tearful reunion with Spock, which is FOREVER going to be one of my favorite scenes in this whole fictional universe. God, it’s done so, so well, particularly by using all the callbacks to the death sequence to “resurrect” Spock’s mind. It’s a clever way to re-use something that’s gut-wrenching in order to represent his rebirth. (Wow, now that I say it like that, this really does have a lot of Christian imagery to it, doesn’t it? That’s neat!)
And holy shit, I’m so into the “To Be Continued” nature of the ending. I was so confused as to how they were going to deal with the katra ceremony AND the destruction of the Enterprise AND returning home in the span of twenty minutes, but I think it’s a bold move to leave that up in the air. (Shit, I’m so excited for the next film, y’all!) There’s so much they need to deal with! Instead, we get more time at the ceremony and a longer reunion scene, and I’m fine with that.
I’m normally into dramatic scenes being played without music (No Country For Old Men is a brilliant example of this), but David’s death scene is just so tonally weird here. It just… happens? Kirk’s reaction is where all the weight is, which is fine, but it was otherwise a very odd moment at the time. But it’s indicative of the larger issue I have within The Search for Spock: the Klingon plot was SO BORING.
Aside from the shocking self-destruct sequence of the Enterprise, there was no need to ever have this plot. What does it add to the larger themes of the film? Couldn’t you have the destruction of the Genesis as the main conflict and still keep a great deal of this story? Regardless of this, I still thought that Kruge was so one-note as an antagonist that I couldn’t bring myself to be interested in him. The film drops a ton of brownface makeup onto white actors (STOP DOING THIS), and deliberately invokes a lot of racial superiority metaphors in the process, and YAWN. I couldn’t care about this! The film borrows so heavily from the least interesting part of Klingon mythology, adding only… a really weird rat dog thing??? WHY IS THAT THERE? Why does Kruge kill that evolving worm? Are we supposed to think he’s ruthless and heinous because of it? Why would you introduce a villain if they aren’t going to do anything significant?
It’s a huge dark spot in this film, which was quite good otherwise! Christopher Lloyd as a Klingon… ugh, it’s too weird for me, too full of bad science fiction tropes that keep this entire plot from feeling like any old episode of The Original Series. I wanted more from a film that did so many other things right.
Anyway, I really can’t wait to see this next one. HOW ARE THEY GETTING HOME IN A VULCAN SHIP??? Are they all going to be cast out of the Federation??? I’M SO EXCITED.
The video for The Search for Spock can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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