I suppose I've put this one off long enough; my move to praise Star Trek III as being a better film than Star Trek II. Sit back, because this is going to be a good one. I will start my admitting that technically, in terms of direction and the like, II is a better film. It's a big flashy space opera with larger than life villains, deep explorations into what it is to grow old, the dealing with life and death, all the grand, amazing themes that resonate through, topped of with some half-decent science – and far too often, science is only a passing acquaintance of science-fiction films.
And yet...Star Trek III gives us some of the greatest, most dramatic moments ever seen in a Star Trek movie. It certainly gives us some of the best performances of any Star Trek movie before or since, and they can be broken down into a few key moments – because this movie, far from being a massive crescendo, has just a few scenes that make the whole thing truly shine.
1: The Death of David. Yes, Merritt Butrick is not great in this role, but by then – his character is dead, so it doesn't matter. It all boils down to one moment, and that is simple – Kirk falling on the deck, defeated. The instinctive reaction to collapse into his command chair, and he misses and stumbles onto the ground. William Shatner said in interviews that it was a glorious accident, but I don't believe that for a second. It says everything about the vulnerability of the character, and is a perfect metaphor for the situation.
2: Stealing the Enterprise. Eight and a half minutes from Starfleet officers to outlaws, and they all know exactly what they are doing and what it is going to cost them, and they don't care because it is all worth it to save their friend. The actors may have had their differences in real life, but none of that shows here as they all weigh in. Not to mention Uhura's moment with 'Mr. Adventure', which is so obviously just written in to give Nichelle Nichols something to do in this movie, but she does it so well that no-one watching cares. The Enterprise flying off while the new Excelsior breaks down...who isn't cheering that old ship onto one last mission.
3: Blowing up the Enterprise. OK, Spock's dead, so Saavik becomes Science Officer and they start some new adventures. Blow up the Enterprise? The eighth character? And again...there is a mourning process. That Montgomery Scott has to blow up his own ship is an amazing moment. Yes, I know that there are a lot of other canon ways to do this, I know that there were other options on the table, but the scene still works as a glorious sacrifice on Kirk's part to atone for the death of his son. That he gets to blow up a bunch of Klingons is just a side-line... (The novelisation has Kruge watching this, admitting that he has been beaten by Kirk, even though he things Kirk has died...that should have been in the movie. Good moment.)
4: Returning Spock to his body. Bye, bye, science, but who misses it at this point! We're already deep into metaphysics at this point, real physics long gone. But this whole scene is a fantastic moment, well played by a good actor, and Leonard Nimoy has an excellent scene here as well, played well.
5: The Bar Scene. There are hives of scum and villany in the Trekiverse? Cool. (Not a great scene, but when you watch it...it's pretty much the first time anyone's admitted that such things exist in the Federation at all. Makes it all rather more real.)
There are an awful lot of things wrong with this film, and I won't deny it. On technical grounds, it works far less well, but – Star Trek II was a great movie. Star Trek III is a better Star Trek movie. Because you could make Star Trek II as a 'generic' military SF movie, with very different characters, and it would still work as a movie. I find it totally impossible to see Star Trek III as anything other than what it is. It goes deep into the heart of the 'family', the core of what Star Trek was about. And hell, where no man? Spock went into death to look around. Beat that.
So, the ratings:
1: Star Trek III
2: Star Trek II
3: Star Trek I
It's not going to remain in this order for long. (My impassioned defence of Star Trek V as the best movie will have to wait until I get hold of some hallucinogens, I suspect.) Then the next point...there is a Star Trek series I have never really watched. Just the odd episode here and there...Enterprise. I actually thought that it was a really good concept, but the execution threw me off when I first watched it. So here's what I'm going to do. I already have the DVDs sitting on my shelf gathering dust, so why not break them out. One episode a night until I'm done, and then – if I enjoyed it sufficiently – I pick up the books and try them. (Not influenced at all by the fact that they've got Christopher L. Bennett writing in that line now, and he's pretty much my favourite Trek author.) My book review plans are iffy...I've pretty much decided to review them if I have something to say about them...but I will do reviews of each season of Enterprise, any books I read, and any individual episodes that pique my interest. Expect a rant tomorrow.