Star Trek III The Search for Spock

  • Title:  Star Trek III The Search for Spock
  • Director:  Leonard Nimoy
  • Date:  1984
  • Studio:  Paramount Pictures
  • Genre:  SF
  • Cast:  William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Mark Lenard, Robin Curtis (Introducing credit), Christopher Lloyd, Leonard Nimoy, James B. Sikking, John Larroquette
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Mr. Scott, Have you always multiplied your repair estimates by a factor of four?”  — Kirk
“Certainly, sir.  How else can I keep my reputation as a miracle worker?”  — Scotty

“Sir, your son meant more to me than you can know.  I’d have given my life if it would have saved his.  Believe me when I tell you — he made no request of me.”  — Kirk (to Sarek)

“The word is no.  I am therefore going anyway.”  — Kirk

The film opens with a re-cap of the end of Star Trek II, including the death of Spock, his funeral, and the coffin landing on the Genesis Planet.  It then moves to the Enterprise bridge, a short time after the incidents in Wrath of Khan.  The trainee crew has been off-loaded on a Star Base, Saavik and Dr. David Marcus, are on a science vessel to explore the Genesis Planet, and Kirk and his crew are heading back to space dock at Star Fleet Command to have the ship refitted and repaired.  But Kirk feels haunted, and is mourning his friend.

Meanwhile, a Klingon named Kluge has purchased the Genesis data.  He destroys the vessel that brought it to him, even though he is in love with the female commander and vice versa.

Enterprise returns to space dock, and stands in awe of Excelsior, the command vessel of the next generation of  trans-warp ships.  Then there’s a security alert from Spock’s quarters.  Kirk hears Spock’s voice, but finds McCoy instead.  McCoy is a mess.

When the crew disembarks at the space dock, they find they are all given commendations and extended leave.  Enterprise, now twenty years old, is to be de-commissioned.  Only Scotty is given an immediate new assignment, Captain of Engineering of the Excelsior.  The crew is also told that Genesis has become a political firestorm, so it is Verboten, hush-hush, top secret.  They are to tell no one, anything about it.

Kluge watches Kirk’s tape about Genesis — it’s the same as Dr. Carol Marcus’s from the previous film, but shorter and with narration by Kirk. The Klingon then plans to take his ship to the Genesis planet.

Meanwhile, the USS Grissom, a science vessel, begins scanning the Genesis planet.  The Commander points out something metallic is on the surface.

On Earth, Kirk, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura drink to absent friends.  Sarek arrives and the others leave. Sarek is upset not only by the loss of  his son, but that Kirk left him there, on Genesis.  Kirk is confused. Sarek explains about the Katra, the Vulcan soul, which can be placed inside another at the time of death. Kirk knows nothing about this – but  explains about the glass wall between he and Spock.  Sarek and Kirk review (at great pain to Kirk) the video logs of Spock’s death in the engine room.  This gives us one alternate take, from Spock’s pov looking out at Kirk, rather than Kirk’s pov looking at Spock in the chamber, and a fast-forward in reverse of the relevant scenes in Star Trek II.  Kirk spots Spock mind-melding with McCoy.  Sarek agrees that Spock probably placed his Katra in McCoy, which also explains his weird behavior.

Kirk attempts to get permission from Star Fleet to go to the Genesis planet.  McCoy, separately, tries to book passage on a civilian freighter or ship bound for Genesis.  McCoy is arrested for his trouble and placed in a Star Fleet lunatic asylum.  Kirk’s told, “no, absolutely not”, even when he explains he holds Spock’s soul in his hands.  Kirk, with help from Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov, rescue McCoy.  Then, with Scotty’s help they steal the Enterprise, leaving the sabotaged Excelsior in the dust.

Kirk and his skeleton crew make for the Genesis planet. Meanwhile, Saavik and Dr. Marcus find a Vulcan child on the planet. He screams in pain, and cannot speak in either English (Federation Standard) or Vulcan. Dr. David Marcus quickly realizes the planet is unstable, it’s aging rapidly, and it will soon rip itself apart. Saavik realizes that Spock is aging with the planet.

The Grissom attempts to contact Star Fleet to obtain further instructions about what to do about Spock and the planet. However, the Klingon Bird of Prey spaceship arrives and completely destroys the Grissom. The Klingon Commander, Kluge, wanted the ship disabled not destroyed and he kills the gunner who made the “lucky” shot.

Some Klingons beam to the planet, they find Spock’s coffin with it’s evolved microbes.

Kirk, meanwhile, overhears Star Fleet’s futile attempts to raise the Grissom. He has Chekov attempt to contact the vessel itself but he’s unsuccessful. He arrives at the Genesis Planet, but the Grissom is no longer there (since it was destroyed) and the Bird of Prey is cloaked. The Klingons on the planet’s surface find David, Saavik, and Spock and take them hostage. Kirk again tries to contact Grissom and of course gets nowhere.

Kirk fires as the Bird of Prey decloaks. However, because Enterprise is running with a skeleton crew, largely on automatic control, and has yet to have been fully repaired, it has no shields. Soon, Kirk has no real control over his own ship. Kluge then mentions his prisoners on the planet. Kirk talks to Saavik and David. Saavik lets him know Spock “is not himself but he lives”. A Klingon attacks David (Kirk’s son) and kills him. Kirk collapses in grief.

Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov activate the destruct sequence on Enterprise. Kirk and company beam to the planet, while the Klingon boarding party beams to the Enterprise. The Enterprise is destroyed, while Kirk watches. Kirk and company reach Saavik and Spock. Kirk goes to David’s body. Saavik tells Kirk, David died to save them. Kluge beams down to confront Kirk. Sulu, Chekhov, McCoy, Saavik, and Scotty are beamed up to the Bird of Prey. Only Kirk and Spock are left with the Klingons on the unstable planet’s surface. Kirk fights Kluge as the planet breaks up around them. In the end, Kirk kills Kluge, he goes to Spock and they are beamed up.

Kirk and his crew take the few remaining Klingons on the Bird of Prey prisoner then head to Vulcan. When they arrive, they are met by Sarek and Uhura. Sarek asks that his son’s Katra be re-fused into his body, since Spock lives. McCoy agrees to have this done, despite the danger. McCoy survives the procedure and Sarek more or less tells Kirk that Spock will be alright. Kirk sees Spock, Spock looks questioningly at his crew mates, as if he doesn’t quite recognize them. However, he stops in front of Kirk and says, “Your name is Jim.” It’s implied Spock may have a long recovery ahead of him, but he will be alright.

Despite the loss of Spock at the end of the previous film, The Search for Spock, actually starts much lighter than the previous film did. There’s a certain amount of humor in many of the lines, and the secondary characters actually have things to do (if briefly) and get good lines as well. As it becomes apparent that the Enterprise is to be decommissioned, and that due to Vulcan spiritual beliefs and telepathic abilities, as well as the power of the Genesis Planet, Spock’s new body and his soul can be re-united the tone of the film becomes more serious. However, there are several great character moments after this change in tone. Kirk twice declares his loyalty to Spock and that he would even give his life for his first officer and friend. McCoy also admits that he misses Spock and that he can’t lose Spock for a second time. So, again the film emphasizes the characters and their relationships.

Again, a villain from the original series, the Klingons, is brought back. Christopher Lloyd is a superb as Kluge. John Larroquette, completely unrecognizable under his Klingon make-up, is also excellent as Maltz, Kluge’s right-hand man, even though most of his lines are in Klingon. And, yes, this is the film that introduces Klingon as a functioning spoken language (this would be refined in Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country). Unfortunately, Kristie Alley is replaced with Robin Curtis as Saavik. Nothing against Robin Curtis – but I prefer Kristie Alley in the role. I have no idea why the production crew switched actresses, I’d have to do some research to find out, which I’m not going to do, years after the fact – I wish they had kept Alley. Curtis is very bland, while Alley had a special something in the role.

Overall, I enjoy this film too. It’s the “middle” piece of a trilogy, but I still think it’s really very good. And it’s very much Star Trek, in that it’s about the sacrifices a close-knit group of people are willing to make for each other.

Recommendation: See It
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Star Trek IV The Voyage Home

Back to the Future Part II

  • Title: Back to the Future Part II
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Date: 1989
  • Studio: Universal
  • Genre: SF, Comedy
  • Cast: Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: NTSC, Region 1

“You’re not going to believe this! We’ve got to go back to 1955!” — Marty McFly
“I don’t believe it.” — Doc Brown

The second part of the Back to the Future Trilogy actually improves with repeat viewings. The first film in the Trilogy ended with Doc Brown showing up in a futuristic outfit, and telling Marty he needed to help his kids in the future. Marty, Jennifer, and Doc Brown head to 2015 — a very futuristic 2015. There Marty has to prevent his son from getting involved in a robbery that will send him to jail for 15 years. Also, the Marty of the future is a broken man (like George McFly in the beginning of the first film) – all because he cannot stand to be called “chicken” – this point will be returned to later. Having rescued Marty Jr., Doc Brown and Marty (our Marty) are ready to pick up the sleeping Jennifer and return to 1985, when Jennifer is picked up by the cops and brought home. However, while picking her up — old 2015 Biff steals a 50-year sports’ almanac from our Marty (the 1985 Marty) and goes back to 1955, giving it to his younger self, which starts a chain of events including the destruction of Hill Valley in to a cesspool of violence, the murder of George McFly, Lorraine McFly’s forced marriage to Biff, and Doc Brown being committed. Marty must prevent this from happening — without old Biff knowing, and without interfering with his slightly younger self’s time travel mission to get his parents together. He barely succeeds but is stranded in 1955 when Doc Brown and the DeLorean are sent back to 1885 (the Old West).

The second Back to the Future movie is a great deal grimmer than the first – showing awful events happening to good people. And whereas the first movie ended with our Marty’s life being much better – this film ends with him being stranded. However, there is a preview of the next film prior to the closing credits. (NOTE: Yes, I’ve seen it. I like it. But, unfortunately, I don’t own it – a bit of a mix-up getting DVDs of these films!)

However, one important thread is Marty’s knee-jerk reaction to being called “chicken” — this will cost him dearly again and again (it’s the reason he’s so broken when we meet him in 2015).

One thing I didn’t like was Jennifer being under-used to the point of ridiculousness! She goes with Marty in the Doc’s time machine — then is knocked out, and left various places to sleep. Also, by the Doc’s own explanation — when Doc Brown and Marty arrived in the alternate 1985 – they can’t go back to 2015 because of the time-line split, so they have to go back to 1955, wait for Old Biff to give Young Biff the Almanac – then take the Almanac from Young Biff. But how did Old Biff get to the original 2015 – if it had already changed, for Marty and the Doc to have the DeLorean back? Old Biff should have arrived in a different 2015 — just like Marty, at the end of the first Back to the Future film arrives back in an 1985 that’s different for the better. And Doc’s explanation for leaving Jennifer and Einstein where they are – the time stream will change around them and they won’t notice – also makes little sense. How does the Doc know he left them someplace safe and stable?

However, the inter-cutting between the new events happening in 1955; and the events of the first film is extremely well done. I also had to wonder — did Marty tell Doc Brown about him dying at the mall in the first film?

But still, a good movie – and it adds to the mythos of the trilogy.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Band Wagon

Back to the Future

  • Title: Back to the Future
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Date: 1985
  • Studio: Universal
  • Genre: SF, Comedy
  • Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: NTSC, R1

“The appropriate question is – ‘When the hell are they?’ ” — Doc Brown

“Are you telling me, you built a time machine – out of a DeLorean?” – Marty McFly

One of my favorite films that I remember seeing in the 1980s. I even had a copy on VHS tape for awhile. When it came to getting the movies on DVD, though, I had the worst luck (and I’m still missing the third film).

Back to the Future combines good special effects (meaning competent), humor, and great characters in an excellent story. There are also threads of deeper meaning – such as the importance of self-confidence and the need to believe in one’s self and one’s own talents and dreams – and the importance of standing up for oneself against bullies. For example, Doc Brown believes so much in his time machine, he spends everything he has to realize his dream. Whereas – Marty and George McFly both have the same lack of self-confidence and fear of rejection that prevents them from following their dreams – George’s dream to be a writer and Marty’s to be a musician/rock star.

The odd thing about watching the film now is that the scenes in the “present” – 1985 – at times seem oddly anachronistic (Marty’s cassette-tape walkman for example; or the sheer size of his video camera); whereas the scenes in the 1950s don’t, because that feels more like a historical film. However, the film doesn’t feel dated because of the great characters. And, of course, the humor works extremely well to keep the film entertaining and fresh like it was when it came out.

The basic plot is as follows: Marty (Michael J. Fox) is a “typical” American teenager – he has a girlfriend, problems with his folks and family, and problems at school. His best friend is an eccentric inventor named Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Marty meets up with Brown at a local shopping mall in the middle of the night, where Brown demos his newest invention – a working time machine. However, one of the components needed to kick-start the electrical generator in the time machine is plutonium – which Brown steals from some Libyan terrorists. During the experiments – they show up, Doc Brown is killed, and Marty jumps in the time machine to escape (it is, after all, a sports car). Marty arrives in 1955, where he accidentally prevents his parents from meeting. He must then get them back together, and help Doc Brown to find a way to return the time machine (and himself) to the future. Due to some changes in how George (Crispin Glover) and Lorraine (Lea Thompson) meet, get together, and fall in love, when Marty returns to the future – he finds his life slightly changed, for the better.

This film has a lot of detail and craft found in three different eras (1985 before Marty time travels, 1955, and 1985 after Marty time travels) – set dressing, costumes, and the locations of downtown Hill Valley, Marty’s home, and Twin Pines / Lone Pine Mall. It also, ironically, has a device relatively common in 1985 used for time travel (the DeLorean) that almost immediately thereafter disappeared (The car was a flop). This, by pure coincidence, is like the TARDIS in Doctor Who – based on the once common-place police box, now almost solely identified with time travel and an SF TV show.

The performances are also great. Michael J. Fox is wonderful as the breathless, panicky, lacking in self-confidence Marty McFly. Christopher Lloyd is great as the eccentric, slightly nuts, Doc Emmet Brown. And both Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson do a really good job playing three different versions of Marty’s parents.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film: Back to the Future Part II

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

  • Title: The Adventures of  Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension
  • Director: W.D. Richter
  • Date: 1984
  • Studio: MGM / Sherwood Productions
  • Cast: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Goldblum, Rosalind Cash, Robert Ito, Clancy Brown, Vincent Schiavelli, Carl Lumbly
  • Genre: SF, Adventure, Comedy
  • Format: Color
  • DVD Formats: Anamorphic Widescreen, R1, NTSC

“Remember, no matter where you go – there you are.”  — Buckaroo Banzai

“History is made at night, Character is what you are in the dark.”  — Lord John Worphin

This is a movie that I actually owned on VHS tape. However, it is amazing just how good the DVD looks, especially the anamorphic widescreen. It is, without a doubt, one of my absolutely favorite movies. I have seen in many times, and have several of the best lines memorized.

Buckaroo Banzai comes at you all at once and never slows down, producing a wild ride, filled with great lines and snappy dialogue. However, it also quickly establishes it’s characters, so we come to care about them as people, as the film zips along at warp speed and then some. If you have never seen this movie before – I highly, highly recommend watching it at least twice in order to figure out what is going on.

The crawl at the beginning of the film attempts to explain part of what’s going on and introduces some of  the humor of the movie, mentioning that Buckaroo, with an American father and Japanese mother — was “brought into life the way he was destined to live it – going several directions at once.” It also mentions those “hard rocking scientists – the Hong Kong Cavaliers”, Buckaroo’s friends who have just sort of drifted into his circle. And in the movie – he picks up a couple of new followers.

The opening of the film attempts to introduce the many sides of Buckaroo — brilliant neuro-surgeon (Jeff Goldblum gets some great lines in that scene so watch closely), experimental scientist and physicist, head of a rock band, and founder of the Banzai Institute. He’s also an incredibly sensitive man, able to pick out a girl crying in a crowded audience while on stage playing jazzy rock music.

However, the majority of the plot involves the 1938 Radio Broadcast of “War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles – the one that panicked the country, when people believed it was real. This movie posits – What if it was real? But the aliens weren’t from Mars, but rather trapped in a prison called the 8th Dimension, an inter-spatial place between the tiny particles of matter. That is, matter is mostly empty space, so Banzai is attempting to prove it is possible to cross inside it. An earlier experiment into the 8th Dimension had released several aliens from this prison. When Banzai’s experiment opens the Dimension again, more aliens from the Planet 10 arrive to cause World War III – if Whorfin (formerly imprisoned in the 8th Dimension) isn’t stopped.

But that really simplifies this brilliant movie. There are many extremely likable aspects to the film — a brilliant cast; the idea that the film treats its audience as intelligent and just drops one into the middle of events, trusting the audience can figure it out without spoon-feeding information; some truly brilliant, funny lines; a rip-roaring, fast-moving fun plot; great characters. In many ways, it has everything.

By the bye – the sound design in this film is also notable. Pay attention to the background announcements in the scene when Whorfin escapes from a mental hospital (Whorfin is inhabiting the body of Dr. Emilio Lazardo) or in the scenes at YoYoDyne Propulsion Systems.

Recommendation: Run don’t walk to the nearest rental store or Netflix and get a copy of the film.
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Adventures of  Robin Hood