For whatever reason, the Predator film franchise lied dormant after the release of Predator 2 in 1990. It wasn’t until 2004 that we got the highly anticipated Alien vs. Predator films. The first one I hated, and I still consider it the worst overall movie I’ve ever seen theatrically. The second film I did a rather positive review of as one of the last Forever Horror website reviews and one of the first Forever Cinematic reviews. However, the general consensus of both movies was decidedly negative, and thus, someone thought it was time to bring the Predator franchise back into its own. Such a person was producer Robert Rodriguez known best for making big scale action on tight budgets. Thus, twenty years after Predator 2, we are given another proper sequel. The question is, was it good enough to breathe life into a damaged franchise?
Awakening in freefall, a collection of strangers find themselves dropped into an unfamiliar land with danger awaiting them. Royce (Adrien Brody) is a mercenary who reluctantly leads this group of elite warriors in a mysterious mission on an alien planet. Except for a disgraced physician, they are all cold-blooded killers – mercenaries, mobsters, convicts and death squad members – human “predators.” But when they begin to be systematically hunted and eliminated by a new Predator breed, it becomes clear that suddenly, they are the prey!
I will admit that I wasn’t sold on this film pre-release. I thought the premise of Predators abducting humans from Earth and dropping them on another planet to be hunted was against the idea of what a big game hunter would do. You don’t take a lion out of his natural environment and throw him in your backyard to hunt him. However, a positive reaction from a strongly opinionated friend of mine motivated me to see it theatrically. Indeed, I really liked Predators. I would still rank it third in my list of favorites, but all three films are ranked very tightly together. They are all extremely well made with their own unique ideas, visual styles, and approaches which all work superbly.
Much like with Predator 2, you must find it peculiar to cast Adrien Brody as the lead in an action movie. This film will entirely change your perspective on that. He delivers incredibly in this role. Brody can play tough bad ass with the best of them. He brings the charisma of a leader, but clearly shows Royce is a man of sketchy origins and doesn’t mind being a loner. Royce is also very smart and perceptive. He would be fine going at it solo, but he sees that even his own survival holds better odds sticking with them than without. You also see that he’s not a cold-blooded man, but he can be a savage, hardened killer when he needs to be. The film’s climax sells every awesome thing about Royce, and solidifies that I want to see more of him.
Brody has very touching and honest chemistry with Alice Braga, portraying the Israeli sniper Isabelle. They surely butt heads in certain circumstances, but they connect on an emotional level that does resonate. They build a mutual trust and respect as the film progresses. The rest of these trained killers, including the Rodriguez obligatory Danny Trejo, certainly don’t measure up to Dutch’s elite team from the first film, but they are a mismatched group that are weary to trust one another. My favorite, who has extremely little dialogue, is the Yakuza member Hanzo. He creates a very intriguing mystique around him through some interesting actions, and demonstrates a unique sense of honor. Topher Grace portrays the aforementioned disgraced physician Edwin, and surely, the film didn’t require the presence of this character. He just adds an extra wild card element late in the game which may or may not be easy to spot early on. I think I had this reveal spoiled for me before I initially saw the movie. The concept behind Edwin is a clever one, but probably not executed nearly as smartly as it could have been.
Laurence Fishburne makes a wickedly cool appearance as Noland, a soldier whose been trapped and has survived this planet for several years. The result of that is hat Noland’s gone quite crazy in a delusional, psychotic type of way. He’s more than skillfully dangerous, he’s psychologically dangerous. Fishburne is entertaining and awesome in this fairly brief, very off-kilter role. More than anything, this character is designed to sell the futility of an escape from the planet, and the idea of two rival tribes of Predators hunting out there, making it all the more difficult to survive.
The film’s first act of sorts might seem a little drawn out to some. I believe I felt that way upon first viewing. The characters are exploring this world, trying to understand where they are, and even the first action sequence is not until more than twenty-five minutes in. Strange alien animals are throw at these characters as a test first, and so, there is a prolonged wait before the first Predator is actually revealed. However, once that occurs, the film settles into a very familiar feel and tone. Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal studied the first Predator in great detail to nail the vibe perfectly, and I think they got it just about dead-on while still adding to it. Antal focuses on building the atmosphere and tension so that there is a pay-off with the action.
The overall feel is great with some rich color schemes which still evoke a dark, ominous feeling. The cinematography gives this film scale and scope while still maintaining the isolated feeling. The night scenes look great with a more subdued color palette, but with an excellent use of light and shadow for a beautiful moody vibe. This really is a remarkably well shot movie with an abundance of artistic merit and dramatic visual weight.
The way the action plays out is very intelligent focusing on tension and imminent danger. There’s plenty of intense gunplay, but it’s definitely used in conjunction with smart tactics and strategies by these characters. The ominous feeling of being stalked and hunted is executed with great skill. It’s a whole package of the visual style, stellar editing, and a music score that stays true to Alan Silvestri’s work. This film definitely takes the filmmaking style and techniques from John McTiernan’s movie, and gives it a little more polish. Nimrod Antal definitely puts his own stamp on the film, but was able to make this feel cohesive with the rest of the main Predator franchise. The action scenes definitely reflect this as there’s really none of that modern shaky cam mayhem. It’s well plotted, shot, and cut together for an extremely coherent and effective experience. Beyond anything else, this film enhances the ferocity and frightening quality of the Predators. They feel even more merciless and relentless than before, if you could even imagine such a thing.
I can’t help but love two fight scenes in Predators. The first has Hanzo squaring off with his katana against the Predator. This is beautifully setup, and is shot so gorgeously with a lot of wide angles and a wonderful overhead shot showing the wind blowing through the high grass. It’s a graceful work of art. What trumps it on the bad assery scale is when the New Predator battles the Classic Predator, which is portrayed by Derek Mears. While I didn’t care for the remake of Friday The 13th, Mears was an awesome Jason Voorhees, and he makes for an awesome Predator. Two Predators ripping and tearing at one another is pure gold, and the scene doesn’t disappoint at all. This is savage, gory, and everything you’d hope it to be.
And indeed, the creature effects are excellent. Oddly, neither Stan Winston Studios or Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. – who were responsible for all of the previous Predator effects – returned to work on this film. Instead, the impeccable talents of KNB EFX were tapped, and they delivered on an amazing level. There are some familiar designs with the Classic Predator, but the newer, larger Predators are even more impressive. They do feel like a different breed, but are given a much better approach than what we saw in Alien vs. Predator. And of course, the gore returns in abundance, and no one better to also fill that task than KNB EFX. They’ve been the standard bearers for physical effects, especially those in the horror genre, for the last twenty years, and that quality is vastly on display here.
Predators does a great job of taking cues from the first movie, and adding its own flavor and ideas to them. The climax is a great example as Royce uses some of the same tactics as Dutch with the mud, but uses it in a different context. Instead of giving the Predator nothing to lock on to, he overloads the senses, and takes him on full boar while retreading some of Arnold’s quotable dialogue. It all really works greatly while delivering the graphic violence quota that fans crave from this franchise. The film ends on an excellent note that left me wanting to see where yet another sequel could go.
And thus, I do believe that Predators was indeed good enough to potentially breathe life back into this franchise. Everyone involved steered it back in the right direction where exciting new stories could be told, and even on its own, this is a very solid and satisfying science fiction action movie. However, with the same budget as Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, it pulled in just about the same amount at the box office, but the reviews and reactions to this film were substantially higher. Predators set a good foundation for the franchise to build upon, but three years later, no news of a sequel has surfaced from Twentieth Century Fox. That is quite unfortunate, but I think there is a great deal of potential to tap with this series which is evident here. Nimrod Antal and Robert Rodriguez did an excellent job bringing everything back to its roots, and while they chose not to acknowledge Predator 2, they did nothing to contradict it either. Again, I’d love to see more of Adrien Brody as Royce. He’s flat out awesome. While I’m sure some will view the film as leaning a little too heavily on the first movie, I really believe that what it takes from that movie was largely to its benefit, and the filmmakers still injected their own ideas and creativity to allow the franchise to move forward. They expanded the universe and possibilities in a lot of very good and intriguing ways. I do really like Predators, and I give it a strong recommendation. If this film has slipped under your radar for the last three years, definitely give it your attention. This is a franchise that deserves to live and thrive again under the watch of some really sharp and talented creative individuals.
Sometimes, you see a trailer for a movie, and you just have to take a chance with it. Make a real commitment to what you perceive as an awesome piece of cinematic work, and sometimes, it truly pays off beyond your expectations. Of course, my luck being what it is, it was not easy tracking down a DVD of this movie in-store. I ultimately found it in a re-sale store about twenty miles away. Yes, I could have done an iTunes rental, but I felt so strong about how great this film would be that I felt a purchase was inevitable. Beyond just the trailer, I have enjoyed some strong works from Jim Caviezel dating back to The Count of Monte Cristo and Frequency to the current hit CBS crime thriller television series Person of Interest. Caviezel always brings a rich depth to his roles that is highly investing and entertaining. So, that further fueled my interest as well as the fusion of science fiction and fantasy elements.
709AD, a space craft streaks across the night’s sky and crash lands in Norway with the only survivors being the warrior Kainan (Jim Caviezel) and a deadly alien stowaway. Before he can track down this enemy, Kainan is captured by viking warrior Wulfric (Jack Huston), and held prisoner in the local village led by King Hrothgar (John Hurt). He is questioned about his presence, and says he was hunting dragons, but in truth, it is a fiery bio-luminescent beast called a Moorwen from a planet his people attempted to wipe out and colonize. Grudgingly accepted into the clan after saving the King’s life, Kainan confides in Hrothgar’s fiercely beautiful daughter, Freya (Sophia Myles), about his past. As the Moorwen wreaks terror and destruction on neighboring villages, the threat of conflict between the clans escalates and Kainan is called upon to kill the creature. They forge a strategy and weapons to defeat it, but victory will come at a cost and Kainan will find a new future for himself.
Getting right to the point, what satisfied me the most about this movie is how perfect the storytelling and character arcs are. Every story or character element is introduced, evolved, and paid off with great emotional weight and impact. As the bond between Kainan and the Vikings strengthens and expands, I felt the need for where this story should end, hoping for the characters to take the paths I anticipated for them. Nothing is ever lightly given in this movie, nor is any plot development handled weakly. Every emotion and character evolution is earned by the dedication of the actors and the filmmakers’ to this powerful adventure.
The visual effects are surprisingly awesome and consistent. There were only two extremely quick moments where the CGI looked a little undercooked, but they are “blink and you’ll miss them” moments. Every other instance is exceptionally good, and listening to the audio commentary you’ll learn how extensive and seamless these digital effects are. The Moorwen is wonderfully realized with a brilliant bio-luminescent design making it appear as if it’s made of fire. It burns throught the darkness of night attracting the attention of its prey. so that it can attack swiftly. It comes off almost like a creature of legend, like a dragon, but it does have a little more science fiction edge to it. In its few revealing moments, personality and intelligence come through in its face and actions as well as a fearsome demeanor. This is a welcome choice as I wholly support the idea of the creature having personality like the Predator or Alien. It makes them more memorable and effective. The scenes on the alien planet are especially well done with a striking sense of scope and interesting, unique design. Lots of creative thought was put into it to give it its own identity to offer up an epic sensibility for the film. The amber color scheme of the planet is a nice contrast to the greenish-blue daytime scenes on Earth.
Cinematography is gorgeous. A great deal of care and integrity were put into the photography of this picture giving it scope and weight. Apparently, production was originally intended to take place in New Zealand with WETA Workshop doing effects on a larger budget, but to my eyes, I see no budget starved areas. Ultimately being shot in Nova Scotia, Canada, the landscape is beautifully captured with some excellent aerial photography, and various shots which show the breadth and depth of the land which all sell a certain majesty of the film’s setting. Gorgeous really does encompass it all. The soft, warm lighting in the Viking Hall is like a master artist’s brushstrokes come to life. The shadowy and fiery moments at night hunting the Moorwen establish a tense, fearful atmosphere that drives the emotional intensity of the story. There’s plenty of subtle atmosphere to give the land life. Outlander was shot with exceptional skill and scope by Pierre Gill, and I applaud his marvelous work here.
Jim Caviezel is an amazingly effective and powerful actor who brings a lot of relatable aspects to Kainan. First off, there’s the courageous warrior who embodies a great hero’s journey. He feels a need for redemption for what his people did to the Moorwens, and gradually, he seems to find that salvation with these people. They come to trust in him and accept him as one of their own through a series of trials, both friendly and dangerous. Caviezel offers up a growing humanity, an opening of Kainan’s emotions that allow an audience and the other characters to strongly connect with him. Jim Caviezel also has a natural ethereal, soulful aura around him that serves the otherworldly aspect of the character well. The strength of Kainan is constantly balanced with his own internal pain and doubts through the competence and thorough devotion of Caviezel to the role. I simply love how much he digs into the character to bring out elements evocative of the heroes of Highlander and Predator. Characters with a strong sense of honor, courage, and heart that come off as legendary heroes. I would certainly say that Outlander could be categorized as a meshing of those sorts of films. Caviezel himself said the film was “a light mix of Braveheart and Highlander.” Many have mentioned comparisons to Beowulf. By the film’s end, I viewed Kainan as a warrior of legend full of depth that was greatly worth investing myself in for 115 minutes.
The supporting cast really begins with Jack Huston. He’s a great actor here that Caviezel works off of very well. As Wulfric, Huston brings a youthful brashness to the story. He’s a warrior with much ambition as the heir to his father’s throne, but he lacks the wisdom and experience to be ready to accept that role. However, his impulsiveness and character is gradually tempered through this adventure. Kainan and Wulfric learn much from one another, and they prove to be far better off for it. They forge a kinship that fuels them into battle and further strengthens the foundation of the story. Huston is charismatic and finely enjoyable.
I found Sophia Myles pleasantly surprising and powerful. I really only know her from her role of the self-serving vampire Erika in Underworld. Here, I absolutely love her! Her introduction as Freya is strong and aggressive. She handles the physical demands of Freya in stride in various fight scenes wielding a sword with expert competence. She’s a woman who can defend herself and her people, if need be, and while she does have a softer, more heartfelt side, that is not how she wishes to be defined. Sophia is a beautiful woman, especially with that red hair, who brings so much dimension to Freya. She adds a fine texture and weight to this role which does have its tender areas of compassion and love opposite the pride and strength. There is warmth and passion in her eyes, selling so much of how she relates and bonds with the male characters around her. She holds her ground firmly with impressive depth and confidence while forging an amazing emotional core.
King Hrothgar is excellently portrayed by the engaging and insightful John Hurt. Wisdom and honor mixed with conviction and compassion are what define his performance. Ron Perlman has a smaller role as Hrothgar’s rival Gunnar which he infuses with gruff brutality and heartbreaking ire. In general, the whole supporting cast maintains the depth and dimension that the leads established creating a very full and diverse world that feels realistic.
The production design has great detail and vibrancy applied to it. Everything of the Vikings has a texture that speak of a culture with realistic history. From the costumes to the sets to their props, they are all cohesive. They create a complete world for these characters to inhabit. Again, nothing feels budget starved. There are large sets built to give scenes visual depth and wonderful lighting setups that bring it all to life. The advanced technology of Kainan’s world is very well designed with a very consistent aesthetic. For some viewers, it might take a little getting used to switching between the Viking world and the science fiction tech, but ultimately, everything meshes as well as anyone could expect.
The story here is amazingly well written and interwoven around its amazing characters. Howard McCain and Dirk Blackman put together an inspired screenplay that turned into a fantastic, thoroughly pleasing feature film for me. It is great that Kainan enters into a world of characters who have an established history, who have stories already in motion for themselves. They are already on a certain path, and the arrival of Kainan and the Moorwen merely jump start those stories forward. All of the character threads tie into each other and the main plot to create great arcs that culminate in something that legends are made of.
Director / co-writer Howard McCain crafted a film full of adventure, action, tension, suspense, excitement, drama, and character depth that thrives on the screen. Outlander has beautiful and brilliant visual flare that give the film so much vibrant life. There are so many deeply talented people involved in this film that make it so amazing. The score by Geoff Zanelli supports the epic scale of this adventure, and enhances the emotion throughout. This was a movie that easily fell below the radar due to a limited theatrical release by the Weinstein Company. That is why I am writing this review so that it can gain some more exposure. I could reiterate many points I made here to push this further upon you, but the best way to promote this is to say I loved it. This is a thrilling action adventure with plenty of character drama to satisfy a wide spread audience. The science fiction and Nordic elements come together through the emotional elements which bond the characters together tightly. This is one film you surely need to personally experience to fully understand its strength, but in more simple terms, Outlander entirely kicks ass!
There is a myth in Star Trek lore that the even numbered movies are good and the odds numbered ones are bad. That’s fairly simplistic, and not entirely a fair statement. Yes, the franchise has had poorly conceived and problematic films in its lineup, but that hardly means that all the lesser entries are terrible. Star Trek: The Motion Picture has a lot going against it, but as evidence by it, the talents of Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley have always been able to add redeeming qualities to all the original cast films. Their chemistry, charm, heart, charisma, and depth have always shone through. While there is a potential future review from me for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, I wanted to delve into the follow-up to the franchise’s most critically successful film. I wanted to address Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. While the first and fifth films have very obvious problems that have been well vocalized, I feel Trek 3 gets too much of a bad wrap. I can pinpoint and agree with the reasons why, but I believe it’s been overly beat up because of it being in the shadow of The Wrath of Khan. Time for someone to give it a more fair viewpoint.
The starship Enterprise is heavily wounded in the aftermath of her battle against Khan, but her crew survives by way of the sacrifice of Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy). His body is launched from the ship in a memorial ceremony, and crash lands on the Genesis planet. As the Enterprise and her crew arrive home to Earth, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) finds his close friend and confidant Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelly) in Spock’s sealed quarters talking crazy, and eventually finds himself in lock-up after trying to charter passage to Genesis. The hits keeping coming as Kirk learns that the Enterprise is to be decommissioned as the Starfleet brass believe her day has passed. This is ever more apparent with the experimental new U.S.S. Excelsior ready to begin trial runs, ushering in a new era of Starfleet engineering. However, Kirk is soon paid a visit by Spock’s father, Ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard), who tells him that Spock’s katra (i.e. everything that is not of the body) still lives, and they determine that Spock mind-melded with McCoy before his death. This commits Jim Kirk to a course of action that could cost him his career by stealing the Enterprise to rescue Spock’s body from the newly formed Genesis planet, and reunite it what’s in Leonard McCoy’s mind. Meanwhile, a ship of rogue Klingons, headed up by the cunning and merciless Commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd), seek to learn the secrets of the Genesis Device for the protection of the Empire with the science team on U.S.S. Grissom, including Kirk’s son David (Merritt Butrick) and Lieutenant Saavik (Robin Curtis), caught in the crossfire. The sacrifices of the crew of the starship Enterprise will be dire as they endeavor on their search for Spock.
I believe why this film is not as highly regarded as others is the lack of a strong theme. In The Wrath of Khan, there was a prominent exploration of age, life, and death. What they all mean in context to one another, and how someone like Jim Kirk dealt with them. Here, there was enough room left open for strong themes to be explored, such as sacrifice and rebirth, but the opportunities are not taken with much ambition. Considering all Kirk has battled through from Khan to the death of his friend, ship, and son, the story was ripe for deep resonance. Of course, The Voyage Home doesn’t have such dramatic elements to it, and it has been widely beloved. The Search For Spock is a segue between the tones of the films its sandwiched between. It has its strong, dramatic elements, but also a lot of fun and light-hearted charisma. One would think it would be praised for that fine blend, but it does lack the ambition that those other two films had. They took some chances, pushing themselves for higher standards, and they succeeded. While this second sequel doesn’t have much scope, I do gain enjoyment from it. There are many aspects that I find are worth commending.
I love how the film is able to show the loyalty of the Enterprise crew. Admiral Kirk gives them the opportunity to walk away before getting too deep into this rogue mission, but they have no hesitations in voicing their loyalties. They are willing to stand by Kirk, regardless of the repercussions, because of what they owe him, and ultimately, what they owe Spock for his sacrifice. That strong, indestructible bond is not something that all Star Trek casts have been able to achieve, and that history amongst the crew of the original U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 sells so much of Kirk’s motivations here. Even if the film doesn’t dig deep enough to show how it penetrates to his soul, a seasoned viewer already knows it. Tying into that is the always solid chemistry amongst the regular cast members. They work as an ensemble that is very cohesive, and always on the mark. Regardless of the quality of the film they are making, or how troubled the production may have been, the actors never get lazy or sloppy. They respect their characters and the legacy they leave behind. No pun intended, but Shatner puts in an admirable performance giving the film its constant pace through his wit and charisma. He adds in the right touches of humor, as do his co-stars, but focuses the drama of the screenplay when it’s needed.
This film was really the dawn of the revamped Klingons. The makeup redesign happened in the first film, but here, they finally explore the revised culture of the warrior race. The concepts of honor, guile, and glorious death are well explored through Christopher Lloyd’s excellent Commander Kruge. While the character himself is not explored with as much depth as he could have, Lloyd plays a surprisingly solid villain. He’s cunning, deceitful, intelligent, and treacherous. Lloyd has been known for a wide range of eclectic characters, but here, he delivers an excellent, calculated performance with a fine operatic screen presence. Essentially, all Klingon actors followed in his footsteps as he laid the foundation and template for them right here. I also enjoyed Kruge motives, which could have been the basis for fleshing the character out. Like with Khan, Kruge sees the potential for Genesis as a weapon, but instead of using it as an instrument of revenge or tyranny, the Klingon Commander seeks it to protect his people. He will not let the Federation have sole claim to something that could be used to commit genocide on his people, and he will stop at nothing to learn its secrets. It could almost be an allegory to the nuclear arms race if Genesis was created as a weapon instead of as a terraforming device. Kruge is calculating, and accepts nothing but the absolute best from his crew, lest they be met with fatal punishment. Lloyd as Kruge was also the first to use the fully realized Klingon language. It was great having the alien race’s culture more fleshed out and developed for this film to give the actors something solid and powerful to work off of. The always impressive John Larroquette is here as one of Kruge’s subordinates, Maltz. It’s a minor role, but he embraces it with his usual full commitment and high quality. This film also introduced one of my favorite Star Trek starships – the Klingon Bird of Prey. It’s an amazing design that is fierce and dangerous. The green paint job was a smart departure from all the dull grey ships we had seen until then. It gives the Klingons more personality from the moment the ship de-cloaks. It is given an imposing, threatening introduction that serves the Klingons thoroughly.
I have always held Mark Lenard as Sarek in high regard. You never get to meet the parents of the other Enterprise crew members, but for Spock, it has always been important to his character to see his family. Lenard has always been able to portray Sarek’s wisdom and logic with a touch of heart. While it’s hard to link emotional terms with the performance of a Vulcan, I would say that Sarek shows his soul in this film. Losing his son is like losing a part of himself, as is the same with Kirk. So, they share a rare moment which only Spock’s death could compel from them. While Sarek & Spock’s father-son relationship has had its conflicts, Sarek is still a fine father that cares for his son more than he can ever allow himself to express. No parent should see their child’s life end before their own, and Sarek sees a chance to reverse that tragedy. Any parent would take that chance, no matter the odds. Mark Lenard gave Sarek his wisdom, grace, conviction, and noble depth of character. He was an incredible, inspiring actor that forged a legacy in this franchise that will stand for all time.
A possible issue of contention with this movie is the recasting of Saavik. The role was originated by Kirstie Alley in The Wrath of Khan, but financial demands from her agent prevented her reprisal. Instead, it went to Robin Curtis. Both actresses play the role differently, but it was necessary to keep Saavik to maintain the character and story threads from the previous movie. Both Alley and Curtis offer unique and admirable performances. Alley’s Saavik was decently Vulcan with a subtle emotive quality. She was a very untested Starfleet cadet with promise. She came to grow over the course of the adventure, earning her keep. Curtis’ Saavik is more confident and capable with a stronger Vulcan characterization and a sensitive nature that proves to be a strength. She has a stronger will and sharper intellect to create a more complex character. With the guidance of director Leonard Nimoy, she was given the freedom to make the character her own without the baggage of Kirstie Alley’s portrayal. In the Vulcan legacy of Spock and Sarek, she adds great depth to Saavik beneath the surface. Alley’s version entirely served the needs of The Wrath of Khan while Curtis’ portrayal suits the demands of The Search For Spock just as perfectly.
The visual effects are solidly up to the levels of the first two Star Trek films, as handled by Industrial Light & Magic. They are definite proud achievements that hold up excellently today. Model work and optical effects, when done by the master craftsman of the era, entirely stood the test of time, and should always remain available as milestones in cinematic history. What doesn’t quite stand up over time are the scenes on planet Genesis. The limitations of the budget are painfully evident with the obvious soundstage sets and painted backdrops. Because of the limited budget, the filmmakers obviously couldn’t fly their actors to exotic locales around the world to feature all the diverse climates of this manufactured planet. I can’t say that there was a feasible way to do this better at the time this movie was made, but even if it was the best solution, it’s still a detractor to the film’s production quality. This is not a constant for every scene on Genesis, but the evidence is frequently apparent, regularly reminding you of this fact.
Another thing that I don’t care for here is James Horner’s score. I’ve always been underwhelmed by his music for Star Trek. For me, Jerry Goldsmith will always be the one and only master when it comes to cinematic Trek. What John Williams is to Star Wars, Jerry Goldsmith was to Star Trek, in my view. He ultimately defined the vast, sprawling, epic musical landscape of the franchise for me on the big screen. Horner’s themes and cues are fine work, but they never became signature, identifiable themes for Star Trek. Evidence of this is that Goldsmith’s theme for Star Trek: The Motion Picture became the theme music for Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Jerry was brought in to score five total films in the series over thirty-four years. Horner was kept around for a total of three films, but I never cared all that much for the music he produced. It was never outright bad, but it just never lived up to the musical potential of what Star Trek demanded. It’s nicely arranged and gives the film some character, but it simply never does enough for me. In this film, I seriously miss one of my favorite Goldsmith themes – the Klingon theme. I can only imagine how awesome it would’ve been to see that Bird of Prey swooping around for the kill with that glorious fanfare in full orchestral breadth. Kruge surely deserved a verbose and powerful theme to accompany his commanding presence, but James Horner makes no attempt to give the Klingons any presence in the film’s score.
The screenplay was written by producer Harve Bennett who was more akin to writing for television (such as The Mod Squad and The Bionic Woman) which, at the time, didn’t explore big thematic storylines with strong emotional resonance. So, the scope of the film feels small for that reason. As I said before, the limits were not pushed here to be ambitious and reach for something bigger or deeper. That doesn’t mean the script is bad. It certainly has its moments. I truly like the part where the Excelsior’s Captain Styles tells Kirk that if he goes ahead with stealing the Enterprise, “You’ll never sit in the Captain’s seat again.” Kirk doesn’t even flinch as he just orders, “Warp speed.” The first two films made a definite point that Kirk’s worth in life is directly tied to being a starship captain, but there’s something far more important at stake here. He’d rather lose everything in his career if there’s a chance to bring Spock back to life, and restore McCoy’s mind to peace. The dialogue is good and entertaining while encapsulating the characters perfectly. The action scenes are nicely conceived, especially with the fight between the Enterprise and the Klingon Bird of Prey. Seeing how the old NCC-1701 is overmatched because it is wounded and undermanned being run on automation was a fine touch. It is entirely realistic that she can’t take the pounding. While it would have been a glorious moment to see Admiral Morrow proven wrong with his statements of how old and outdated the ship is by seeing it triumph against such steep odds, I think it better fuels how much Kirk has to sacrifice to get his friend back.
While, clearly, I’ve said much about what is sacrificed on Spock’s behalf, but McCoy is at risk as well. Jim Kirk has one friend dead and another in turmoil. These two men – Leonard McCoy & Spock – are pieces to the whole that is James T. Kirk. I always enjoyed the moment in Star Trek: The Motion Picture where Kirk drafts Bones back into service because he can’t do what he has to do alone. “Dammit, Bones! I need you!” says Kirk to McCoy. Only after he has the wisdom, perspective, heart, and soul of these two men at his side can he succeed. They bring balance to his ego, passion, guile, and intellect. They re-enforce and focus his confidence. They help him reflect upon himself. Leonard McCoy is a vital piece of that formula bringing passion and humanity to the table. Kirk can’t allow to see his friend’s mental state deteriorate, and lose him as well.
Regardless of anything else, ultimately, I have to praise Leonard Nimoy on his feature film directorial debut. It was both a tough and enviable position for him to be in. On one hand, he was unproven as a movie director, and had scrutinous limitations and supervision put on him in the shadow of a critically and commercially successful film. However, he was working largely with a cast he had known for over fifteen years who knew their characters thoroughly, and that could allow Nimoy to direct with a built-in sense of respect. I’m sure he had his difficulties, but his talent is clear to me. He surely was allowed to soar with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home based on his success here. It is a serious cinematic disservice that his career as a feature film director ended before it had a chance to soar. He started out with solid hits including Three Men and a Baby. However, he faced a crushing defeat, both critically and commercially, in 1994 with the comedy film Holy Matrimony which grossed less than $800,000 (less than 20% of its production budget). Leonard really appeared to be a wonderful filmmaker with a great handle on action, drama, and humor. I believe he would’ve had a lot to offer in a lengthy career had he gotten the right projects to his credit as a director. Here, he delivered a very consistently paced and well balanced film that keeps is story elements in focus. While there are likely plot holes in the reasoning of some characters here and there, they are minor bits and pieces that are relatively inconsequential.
At the end of this, I feel Star Trek III: The Search For Spock should not be viewed as a “bad movie.” It doesn’t live up to the thoroughly solid thematic work of the previous film or the fun adventurous spirit of its follow-up, but it’s a nicely enjoyable film that had potential to be more than it was. It has plenty of action, drama, and humorous moments to make it a consistent, satisfying and entertaining film. The screenplay could’ve benefited from getting in deeper to the soul of the story. It certainly touches upon it several times, but doesn’t stay there long enough to really develop the underlying themes in the story. As it is, there is no reason to rank it poorly in the franchise. It was commercially successful, and remains a fine classic Trek adventure for the original cast. It merely in contrast to the exceptional and vastly superior films it is sandwiched between that give it a perceived smaller stature, and that I can understand. But sometimes, you need to take things a little out of context to give them their proper due respect.