Welcome to 1984: The Greatest Year Part II – Electric Boogaloo, the Geek League of America’s 30th anniversary tribute to the iconic geek culture films of 1984. This series of in-depth, analytical, fun, and nostalgic essays on the year that brought us instant classics like Ghostbusters, The Terminator, Gremlins, and others serves as a sequel to our 1982: The Greatest Year articles. Like 1982, 1984 was a game-changing year for genre cinema, loaded with popcorn blockbusters, cult hits, and genre-defining masterpieces. Join Jeff and other members of the Geek League of America for a fond, and sometimes funny, look back at this monumental year in nerd culture history.
Many would say that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the best of the twelve Star Trek films. Others might say that is Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Some might even claim that the oft-maligned Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the best one. I know I have a soft spot for that one. Hell, some might even dare to say that J.J. Abrams 2009 reboot is the best of all the Trek films. I think I may have actually said something along those lines in my original review of Abrams’ film. But, for this long-lost Trekkie, it is Star Trek III: The Search For Spock that is the pinnacle of the Trek movie world. Well, it’s my favourite at least. And hey, it was directed by Leonard Nimoy! Howzabout that!?
Anyway, I am here today as part of the GLA’s look at the films of 1984. When I was asked by Jeff Carter. the Geek League of America’s stalwart editor-in-chief, if I wanted to participate in this event, I leapt at the chance. Having turned seventeen in 1984, I was at the ripest of coming-of-age…um, ages, and therefore at a perfect age to get my geek on for the third Star Trek film. It was 1984, and my Trekkie flag was flying. And yes, I prefer Trekkie to Trekker, but that’s a whole other debate for a whole other day. And, as I have already stated, it is my favourite of the whole damn franchise. But enough about me and my reasons for being here today. Let’s get on with the show. So, what is The Search For Spock all about, anyway? Good question. Please allow me to answer that for you.
First, let’s take a quick jaunt back to the past (or the future, if you wish to look at it that way) at the world of Star Trek. You know, just in case you are one of the seven people on Earth not familiar with the biggest and most enduring sci-fi universe ever created by humankind. So, in case you are one of those seven people, or if you just want a recap, here goes. In the mid sixties, Gene Roddenberry created a TV show that would become one of the most iconic things ever put on television. In 1966, NBC put Star Trek: The Original Series on the air. It was a show about the Starship Enterprise and its fearless crew, as they explore the far reaches of space on their five-year mission to boldly go and all that. But alas, this five-year mission was cut short after just three seasons on the air. Due to low ratings and high production costs (yeah, even with those special effects) the show was canceled in 1969. But this would not stop the intrepid little show that could.
So, cut to a decade later, and after a resurgence due to an animated television series, a series of comic books, and the show becoming a new-found hit in syndicated reruns, Star Trek: The Motion Picture hits theaters. With mixed reviews from both critics and Trekkies alike, the film did help to relaunch Star Trek into a bold new world. Hell, one could even say the franchise was boldly going…well, you get my drift. Anyway, Paramount had originally planned for a second TV series, but after the success of Star Wars, decided to go the big screen route. And yes, the movie was a hit, despite those aforementioned mixed reviews. It’s worldwide box office take would not be matched by another Trek film until First Contact beat it out in 1996. So, as I said, the franchise was reborn with gusto. Paramount followed this up with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982. And then, four paragraphs in, we finally get to 1984 and the release of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.
In my not-so-humble opinion, Search For Spock is the most heartfelt of all the Trek films. Sure, the look of long-lost love in the eyes of Captain Kirk’s eyes, as the opening of The Motion Picture slowly pans us toward the newly refurbished USS Enterprise (what a great freakin’ scene!), can make any red-blooded Trekkie a bit weak in the knees, and there too are moments in Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home (and perhaps even in Generations, the crossover film between the Original Series and the Next Generation) that have an emotional heft to them, but it is in Search For Spock that this emotional heft lasts the entire movie. Yeah, the devastating finale to Wrath of Khan is, well…quite devastating (what Trekkie didn’t shed a tear there – whether they are willing to admit such a thing or not), but when you look at the storyline of Search For Spock, you see that the devastating finale to Khan is basically the whole damn movie this time around.
And now, some spoilers — as most people already know (except for those who don’t care, to whom none of this matters anyway, and therefore spoilers be damned!) that devastating finale to Khan involves the death of Mr. Spock. Without the internet and the constant media of today, this was something that pretty much took everyone by surprise back in 1982. Trust me, it was a shock and a half. We Trekkies just could not believe what they had done. It was unheard of! It was blasphemy, is what it was!! How the hell can they kill off Spock!? How!!??? To kill off one of the most iconic figures in television and film history!? That would be like killing off Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan or Flash Gordon. That would be like killing off Spo…yeah, that’s right, it would be like killing off Spock!! He was supposed to live long and prosper, dammit!!! But I digress.
In 1984, after two years of mourning our favourite green-blooded Vulcan half-breed, it was finally time to bring Spock back to life. Even without the all-encompassing world wide web, we technologically deficient poor bastards of 1984, could figure out that this was going to be a search for our dearly departed Spock. I mean, it was right there in the title. And it was another emotional kick in the head. Leonard Nimoy, who became the first cast member to direct a Trek film (he would go on to direct Voyage Home as well) said he wanted to explore the ideas of friendship, and just what will one do, and how far will one go, in the name of friendship – and let’s face it, in the name of love as well. We see Jim Kirk disobey orders just on the off-chance that his best friend could still be alive somewhere, or actually be reborn somewhere. Then again, Kirk was always disobeying orders. It’s kind of his thing. But here he did it for friendship. He did it for love.
I believe the most intriguing aspect of Search For Spock though, is its overt Christian overtones. Now even though I consider my self a steadfast Agnostic (Atheists and Zealots alike are so damn arrogant – who the hell are we to know, one way or the other!?) I have always been fascinated by the world’s religions. I even got myself ordained, but that was just something fun to do (and a way to perform weddings), and has no real spiritual motives. But it is this fascination with the rules and rituals, and elaborate mythologies of the great religions, that give Search For Spock even more meaning than mere Trekkie fandom. From Spock’s death at the end of Khan (he sacrifices himself for the greater good) to the discovery of his empty tomb on the Genesis Planet to his rebirth at the end of the film—a rebirth that takes place on the Genesis Planet (duh!)—there are obvious allusions to the life of Christ. This couldn’t have been mere coincidence, even if the film was directed by a Jewish man. So yes, the film is more than just a fun space romp – though it is that too.
And as for that fun space romp, from the ILM special effects (damn good quality stuff too – especially when compared to the silly, though still endearing, cheap antics of TOS) to the way this cast just seems to fall right back into the chemistry they had back in the 1960’s, it is easily one of the best (and perhaps a bit overlooked) films of its genre and era. I remember when I first saw the film at the Capital City Mall cinema back in ’84, how this chemistry amazed this still young Trekkie of old. Watching Kirk and McCoy banter back and forth, Chekov still not losing his Russian accent after all these years (what’s up with that?), and Sulu being…well, being Sulu, these actors, not typically known for their stellar acting, are perfectly in harmony with each other – as if they really are a starship crew with twenty years experience together.
When I was a kid, my favourite character from the show wasn’t Spock, or even Kirk, but Dr. McCoy. Deforest Kelley’s gruff mannerisms and sideways glances always thrilled the hell out of me. Now here, in Search For Spock, Kelley’s antagonistic Bones gets to take center stage for part of the film (I mean, Spock’s consciousness is inside the good doctor’s head after all) and the actor let’s it fly fly fly. I love when Kirk tells McCoy that Spock melded his mind into his, and he reacts with the Bones-esque line “That green-blooded son of a bitch! It’s his revenge for all the arguments he lost.” Sure, Wrath of Khan may have been more visceral, and The Voyage Home may have been more nostalgic, but Search For Spock has the emotion – and in spades. But that’s that for my look at Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.
It’s been fun talking about my favourite Star Trek film. Glad I could take part in the Geek League’s look at the cinematic year of 1984. As for the other films of 1984, I would say my favourites were/are Once Upon A Time in America, Paris Texas, The Killing Fields, This is Spinal Tap, and (yup) Ghostbusters. Yes, it was a good year in film. That’s it gang. See ya ’round the web.