I wrote in my last review about seeing Toshi cry for the first time at a movie when the full impact of Spock’s death hit him, and I got a lot of mail from you guys about it. Some of you liked that I didn’t ruin the third film for him, and some of you thought I was cruel for putting him through that. I just want him to have pure experiences with movies as much as possible, separate from hype and expectation. It’s a good way for me to remind myself what it’s like to simply watch and digest, without all the noise that surrounds the release of any film these days.
When we sat down to watch the third film in the series, I didn’t tell him what it was called or what it was about. Instead, we just jumped in, and he immediately got caught up in the events, which makes sense as they pick up immediately from where “Wrath of Khan” leaves off, starting with a recap of the ending and the death of Spock. As soon as Toshi saw the Genesis planet again and the movie got rolling, he made the natural connection. “Daddy, that’s where they put Spock’s body! They can get him and they can make him alive, right?”
Okay, so he’s not a doctor.
But he did inherently grasp the notion of a narrative cheat, and more than that, he seemed delighted by the idea that a character who dies doesn’t have to stay dead. I remember a fair amount of grumbling the summer this one came out, but I think it makes a really nice connective piece between “Wrath of Khan” and “The Voyage Home,” and although I do think it’s a massive cheat to have killed Spock in one film and brought him back immediately, I also think it’s handled as well as one could possibly ask, considering.
[more after the jump]
What works best in “Star Trek III” is the Enterprise crew-as-family idea, which really took hold here. Even in the first two films, they never felt as tightly knit as they do here, and maybe it’s just as simple as watching them get together to go rescue a friend. There’s no other motivation for the adventure this time… it’s not a mission, it’s not about some higher calling… it’s as simple as realizing that there is a small chance they might be able to reclaim this fallen brother of theirs, and doing anything they have to do in order to take that chance.
Even though Christopher Lloyd’s Klingon isn’t one of the most iconic of screen villains, he seems to relish snarling his way through the role, and I love how banal he is about being completely and utterly evil and bloodthirsty. And I also like the way they took the Genesis project, presented as a benevolent creation in part one, and turned it into a weapon in this movie. The corruption of this good idea is a major running theme in the film, and I love that the planet’s self-destruction is a key part of what helps bring Spock back to life.
The returning cast does uniformly good work here, and you can see how by this point in the film series, they were all starting to really relax into these roles, even moreso than on the original run of TV episodes. And having Leonard Nimoy direct turned out to be a masterful idea, because he knew exactly how to play to each cast member’s strengths for their various scenes. Nimoy’s got a decent visual sense, and there are some wonderful images in the movie.
My favorite of those images was actually the moment where Toshi cried for the second time ever during a movie, and this time, he was even more upset than when he saw Spock die in the previous film. Towards the end of this movie, Kirk makes a desperate decision in order to destroy the Klingons who threaten him and his crew, and it involves sacrificing the Enterprise, which was already set to be decommissioned. He sets a self-destruct sequence, gets everyone off the ship, then invites the Klingons aboard. The ensuing explosion and destruction culminates in a shot of the ship’s firery wreckage entering the atmosphere of the Genesis planet, a Viking’s funeral for one of the most iconic ships in SF history. Toshi’s fallen so madly in love with the Enterprise that watching them destroy it upset him deeply. All he asked for on his birthday this year was an Enterprise of his own, and he seemed offended at watching them destroy it.
You can see that they were already starting to cheap out on the films here, though, re-using FX shots from earlier films, and there are certain moments that just don’t work on film. Even so, it’s fun and pulpy, and the ending is emotionally satisfying, with Spock returned to his former self. As the movie ended, I asked Toshi what he thought about it and what he liked in the film. We talked about it for a few moments, and then I told him not to worry too much about the Enterprise.
He gave me that look he’s already perfected, the one that says, “Whatever, old man, I’m way ahead of you,” and said, “Dad, it’s okay. It’s ‘Star Trek’. Everybody comes back.”
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