Movie Collectors Guide #6

Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock (Collector's Edition)

October 2002

Brian Florian

Paramount, 1984 (2002 Col. Ed.), Color


Aspect ratio: 2.35:1/16x9 enh.

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Stereo

French Dolby Stereo

1 Hr 45 min,  Rated PG

Directed by Leonard Nimoy

Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Michelle Nichols, Merritt Butrick, Christopher Lloyd.







Video Quality:






MPEG Flags









A Bridge Picture

Looking at the interviews on the Director's Edition of "Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan", one notes a cynical William Shatner suggesting that Nimoy and the producers intentionally set up a doorway to bring the Spock character back in a later film, as if it was some conspiracy theory.

"Star Trek III" is for many just a bridge picture which only serves to tidy up the dramatic stroke that punctuated the end of the previous film.  Closer examination though reveals a movie with sincere emotion, and as such, is an essential addition to any collection.  This new Special Collector's edition, exclusively on DVD, includes some good insights into its making.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Kirk's defeat of Khan and the creation of the Genesis planet are empty victories.  Spock is dead and McCoy is going insane.  But Sarek, Spock's father, provides a revelation: McCoy is harboring Spock's living essence.  Kirk attempts to help his friend by stealing the U.S.S. Enterprise and defying Starfleet.  But the Klingons race to meet Kirk in a deadly rendezvous.

In his script for "Star Trek II", Harve Bennett cultivated what he felt was the "core" of the show: the Kirk-Spock-Bones relationship.  With a mandate to bring Spock back in the next installment, in The Search for Spock, we see a more emotionally oriented screen play.  Perhaps the unfortunate element is the requisite action oriented side story which feels somewhat tossed in.  Known for his comedic genius, the unlikely choice of Christopher Lloyd as the Klingon captain is outright brilliant and saves that side of the story from cheese city.

When the studios asked Leonard Nimoy to once again don the pointed ears, he makes an interesting request: to direct the film.  At the time, it might have seemed only as a good story for the press, but in retrospect Nimoy brought to the project a feeling for classic acting, accounting for the film's shift towards emotion.  He went on to direct the next Star Trek film after which William Shatner got his turn at the wheel with "Star Trek V, The Final Frontier".

ILM was again brought in for much of the visual effects work.  Drawing on their experience with the Star Wars movies, in Search for Spock, effort was made to expand the audience's sense of scale.  Breaking from the microcosm of the Enterprise, the Space Dock sequences represent a land mark in model work.


Disc 1 features a commentary track by director Leonard Nimoy, with Harve Bennett, Charles Correll, and Robin Curtis.  Nimoy's voice is one of those like James Earl Jones:  you are just compelled to listen.  Its an insightful commentary which reveals much of the motivation which went into the film's making.  Also available is a text-commentary by Star Trek Gurus Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda (co-authors of The Star Trek Encyclopedia).

On disc 2 the we've got the requisite making-of featurette, unique and fresh in that there are no on-the-set segments.  It is made entirely of separate interviews, done mainly with Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, and Harve Bennet.  The amusing part is the witty way the sound bites are spliced together.  At one point I was rolling on the floor laughing as it flipped between Nimoy saying one thing and Shatner saying something completely contradictory.

The Archives contain a nice bag full of original story boards and photos from both the set and the movie itself.  One gripe if I may:  the story boards are grouped by scene which is fine, but when flipping through them, one is taken back to the story board menu at the end of each scene.  It would be nice to be able to flip through the whole set without having to go back to the menu a dozen times.

In The Star Trek Universe there are three substantial segments on the designs in the film.  The first, Space Docks and Birds of Prey deals with the space ships, the space dock, and other visual effects work.  The second segment, Speaking Klingon, is a very interesting segment with linguist Marc Okrand who walks us through the process of inventing the Klingon language.  The third piece, Klingon and Vulcan Costumes, covers the design of clothing and costumes for much of the Star Trek universe.

Finally, there is Teraforming and the Prime Directive, a piece on real world research being done on something similar to the Genesis process featured in the film.

On the whole, the set has a good complement of extras with a special note:  as with Wrath of Khan Director's Edition, all these extras are 16:9 enhanced.  This is a huge step in the right direction, and I hope everyone follows suit.

The Transfer

The video master is the same as the one used for the earlier DVD release of Search for Spock.  In 1999, a new 35mm interpositive was struck from the 35mm original negative and transferred to a high definition D5 tape at Post Logic Studios by colorist Sheri Eisenberg.  Sheri used a 1994 pan and scan D1 transfer that was supervised by Leonard Nimoy as a color reference.  The D5 was down-converted to a 16x9 NTSC digital Betacam master that was the source of the compression stream for both releases, compressed and authored at DVCC.

The overall video quality we regard as only par.  Color is consistent and has a nice natural feel that does not give away the age of the film.  Blacks and shadow detail are also good, the depths of space rendered with a nice velvety feel.  Unfortunately, there is a little too much edge enhancement for comfort, the avoidable blemish visible even on smaller, interlaced displays.  There is also an abundance of video noise which some may pass as film grain but with the vertical filtering typical of all DVDs, there is hardly enough resolution to resolve true grain.

On the whole, this is a nicely detailed transfer with obvious care and attention paid by the colorist but some neglect on the part of the encoder.  

MPEG Flags

The following information only affects progressive scan display of the movie and has no impact on interlaced displays.  For an explanation of MPEG Picture Flags, please see the section "How the information is stored on disc" in Part 5 of our DVD Player Benchmark.

While not perfect (we have seen none so far that are), in its favor there was not a single instance of video flagging on this encoding of the film, and the chapter breaks are all clean.

We did find 41 instances of 3-3 progressive and 38 instances of 2-2 progressive, all of which lasted for only 2 MPEG PICs (4-6 video fields).

The Audio

The 5.1 soundtrack was made from an original 35mm six-track magnetic soundtrack master for the 70mm release of the film (1984).  That source track followed the "classic" 70mm 6-track layout of five screen channels and one surround.  Great care and precision by mixer Ted Hall at Pacific Ocean Post Sound transformed that layout to the more contemporary 5.1 sound space of three screen channels, two surrounds, and one LFE.  What we are hearing therefore is very close to what was heard by audiences at 70mm road show engagements almost two decades ago as opposed to it being someone's all out reinterpretation of the piece.

While generally free of distracting defects or distortion, the soundtrack has a curious schizophrenic character as the spectral balance of the track often changes dramatically with cuts within a single scene.  That artistic point aside, though sounding dated, dialogue intelligibility is excellent, and James Horner's thematic score is spacious and dynamic.  The surrounds are used to full advantage as they embody the discreet omnipresent white noise of the starship engines.  The occasional split surround effect can be witnessed accompanying a fly-by of one of the ships.  The louder action sequences are dynamic and punchy, free of mic preamp clipping distortion.

There is a little bit of hiss in the track, no doubt an inherent character of the magnetic source track's age, but it is not too serious.


Stay tuned for reviews of other Star Trek movies as they are released in special Director's / Collector's Editions.

ST:TMP | II | III | IV | V | VI | Generations | First Contact | Insurrection

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