Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is a 1984 motion picture released by Paramount Pictures. The film is the third feature based on the Star Trek science fiction franchise. After the death of Spock (Leonard Nimoy) during the events of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the crew of the USS Enterprise returns to Earth. When James T. Kirk (William Shatner) learns that Spock’s spirit, or katra, is held in the mind of Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Kirk and company steal the Enterprise to return Spock’s body to his home planet. The crew must also contend with hostile Klingons, led by Kruge (Christopher Lloyd), bent on stealing the secrets of a powerful terraforming device.
Paramount commissioned the film after positive critical and commercial reaction to The Wrath of Khan. Nimoy directed, the first Star Trek cast member to do so. Producer Harve Bennett wrote the script starting from the end and working back, and intended the destruction of the Enterprise to be a shocking development. Bennett and Nimoy collaborated with effects house Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) to develop storyboards and new ship designs; ILM also handled the film’s many special effects sequences. Aside from a single day of location shooting, all of the film’s scenes were shot on Paramount and ILM soundstages. Composer James Horner returned to expand his themes from the previous film.
The Search for Spock opened June 1, 1984. In its first week of release, the film broke Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom‘s gross records, making $16 million from almost 2,000 theaters across the United States. It went on to gross $76 million at the domestic box office, toward a total of $87 million worldwide. Critical reaction to The Search for Spock was mixed. Reviewers generally praised the cast and characters, while criticism tended to focus on the plot; the special effects were conflictingly received. Roger Ebert called the film a compromise between the tones of the first and second Star Trek films. The Search for Spock was released on multiple home video formats, including VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray high definition discs. Nimoy went on to direct The Search for Spock‘s sequel, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
The villains of the film were originally intended to be Romulans, but upper studio management wanted Klingons to be used since they were better-known enemies. By the time the decision was made, the Romulan ship was already built and they did not want the expense of replacing it. However, since the TV show had already established that the Klingons and Romulans had shared technologies and ships in the past (for exactly the same real-world cost-cutting reasons), the idea of Klingons using a Romulan-style vessel was not a problem.
Although not mentioned on-screen, the novelization establishes that Saavik was half Vulcan and half Romulan. A scene cut from the previous film, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982), also established this but can not be considered canon. Leonard Nimoy seemed to have directed Robin Curtis to portray Saavik as a full Vulcan.
Leonard Nimoy does the turbolift voice in the scene when Scotty says “Up your shaft”, while exiting the Starship Execelsior. The end credits lists the voice under the alias Frank Force.
Production was endangered by the great fire at Paramount. William Shatner helped fight the fire and rescue a crewmember before firefighter reinforcements arrived. Shatner said that his motivation for doing so was purely to save a day on the shooting schedule, as he had a make a deadline to be available for shooting on a new season of “T.J. Hooker” (1982).
When the Enterprise enters space dock at the beginning of the movie, just before Uhura comments on the Excelsior’s appearance (“Would you look at that!”), another docked ship can be seen, in shadow, at the upper left corner of the screen. This ship is one of the alternative models that was considered for use as the Excelsior. This alternate model also makes several appearances in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987), usually as a wrecked ship or piece of space junk.
The shot of the Enterprise approaching Spacedock is later re-used in various episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987) with the Enterprise-D overlapping the original Enterprise (Another cost-saving method often used with Star Trek).
Grace Lee Whitney, who played Janice Rand, Kirk’s yeoman in season one of “Star Trek” (1966) and returned as transporter chief in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), makes a cameo appearance during the Enterprise’s docking sequence. She is the red haired officer in the spacedock lounge who shakes her head in disapproval as she sees the ship’s damage.
Tribbles, a popular creature from the “Star Trek” (1966) episode ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’, make a cameo appearance during the bar sequence where McCoy tries to hire a ship.
Gary Faga plays the security guard who Kirk knocks out; he also played the airlock technician that Spock gave the Vulcan nerve pinch to in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).
This is the first Star Trek ‘episode’ to be directed by a member of the Star Trek cast. Leonard Nimoy also directed Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) and William Shatner directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). This would later become commonplace on the various Trek TV series: Jonathan Frakes directed Star Trek: First Contact (1996) and Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) as well as fourteen television episodes over three Star Trek series. LeVar Burton directed twenty-nine episodes over four Star Trek series. Other Star Trek actors who went on to direct their castmates were Patrick Stewart, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Avery Brooks, Rene Auberjonois, Alexander Siddig, Andrew Robinson, Robert Duncan McNeill, Roxann Dawson, Robert Picardo and Tim Russ.
The self-destruct codes for the U.S.S. Enterprise apparently haven’t been changed in decades, as they are identical to those in the original series episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”.
Nicholas Meyer, director of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982) was originally asked to direct, but refused because he thought that Spock’s death should have remained final. He later directed the final film of the original series, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991).
The Excelsior was supposed to debut in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and be identified as newly-promoted Captain Sulu’s first command. This plot line was dropped and Excelsior saved for this film. Sulu would finally take command of her in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). The ship design would be reused for the USS Enterprise-B in the Star Trek: Generations (1994).
The USS Grissom bridge was the USS Enterprise bridge redressed with pink chairs, and the bar where Dr. McCoy tries to charter spaceflight is the redressed Enterprise sickbay.
As in the previous Star Trek film (Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)), the movie includes the famous “Space, the final frontier” monologue, spoken by Spock. As in the previous film, the words have been changed slightly, referring to seeking out “new life forms” instead of just “new life”. This was the final use of this modified version of the monologue.
The few Klingon phrases that James Doohan introduced in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) was used by Marc Okrand as the basis for the Klingon language in this film. Okrand’s Klingon language became a fully realized fictional language, and would be the basis for all future Klingon dialogue in future movies and television shows (as well as an obsession to become fluent in for hardcore Star Trek fans.)
The spacedock orbiting Earth is supposed to be five miles tall – making it easily observable from the surface. The actual model itself was 6 feet tall.
Chekov makes a remark in Russian to Scotty about the security breach in Spock’s quarters. Translated, he is saying, ‘I’m not crazy! There it is.’.
The uniforms worn by the security guards are the same uniforms from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), but they’re worn with the new red Starfleet uniforms, and a dark green turtleneck, which represents the security division.
This film marks the first appearances of the Excelsior class vessel, the Oberth class vessel (namely the USS Grissom), and the Klingon bird-of-prey. The models were reused as other, similar ships in numerous episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987) and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1993).
James Goldstone was considered to direct the movie before Leonard Nimoy asked to direct.
The USS Grissom is evidently named after real life astronaut Gus Grissom, who was killed after the Apollo 1 spacecraft itself was destroyed on 27 January 1967.
Edward James Olmos was Leonard Nimoy’s original choice for the role of Kruge. However, executive producer Harve Bennett preferred Christopher Lloyd. Nimoy finally cast Lloyd because he came off more operatic and physically intimidating.
One of the boys who plays young Spock, had to wear brown colored contact lenses to match the color of Leonard Nimoy’s eyes as the boy’s natural eye color was blue.
In the scene where Kirk meets Admiral Morrow for a drink to discuss taking the Enterprise back to the Genesis Planet, an abstract hanging sculpture can be seen on the wall behind Morrow. The sculpture is in fact one of the miniatures of the Epsilon IX station from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), which was made of acid-etched brass.
When Dr. McCoy declares his full name, the “H” stands for Horatio. Horatio Hornblower was Gene Roddenberry’s model for Captain Kirk. David Andrew McCoy is his father’s full name, according to the novelization of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989).
As explained by William Shatner in Star Trek 25th Anniversary Special (1991) (TV), there was tight security on the set to minimize theft, as incurred on Star Trek II. Picture ID badges, codes and the works were used so much that Shatner quipped it was like Paramount’s real-life “Mission: Impossible” (1966).
The chirping on the Tricorder (especially when Sulu scans after the Enterprise is destroyed) comes from an audio remote control device for the Radio Shack (“Realistic” label) answering machine. The remote control was able to be used away from home, over the phone to signal the answering machine (through electronic chirping sounds) to play back massages or carry out other functions.
Christopher Lloyd, who is most famous for playing Doc Brown, inventor of the time machine in the Back to the Future (1985) trilogy, plays the Klingon captain who’s ship is taken over by Kirk and his crew. In the next movie, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Kirk ironically uses this same ship to travel back to the 1980s, near the 1985 date that Brown first used his famous DeLorean time traveler.
Christopher Lloyd, who played the Klingon Captain Kruge, also played Jim Ignatalski on the classic television show “Taxi” (1978). In one particular episode, a television executive is in his cab and Jim says he loved the show Star Trek. Jim added that he didn’t like the leader of the Klingons because the writers had him say things a “real Klingon just wouldn’t say.”
When the crew is standing on the bluff supposedly watching the flaming Enterprise hulk, they were in fact watching a tennis ball mounted on an overhead boom microphone. The shot had to taken many times because not everyone was watching it at the same time.
When Kirk calls out to Kruge, the Klingon commander has his head in his hands. According to the original storyline, Kruge is not mourning the loss of his troops, he’s humiliated because Kirk was more cunning than he was. Through Kirk’s apparent suicide, Kruge has been beaten and shamed.
The young Spock was voiced by Frank Welker. Welker and Nimoy would go on to share the role of Megatron/Galvatron in The Transformers: The Movie (1986). Welker would also provide numerous voices in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), directed by Nimoy’s cousin, Michael Bay. Nimoy himself was offered the title role as well, but it is not yet known if he accepted.
It was Director/Star Leonard Nimoy who conceived the distinctive design of the Klingons’ Bird Of Prey. At a preproduction meeting with Industrial Light And Magic, Nimoy posed his arms and hands to demonstrate the vessel’s wings as they ultimately would appear in the final film. The DVD documentary, “Space Docks and Birds Of Prey”, revealed that the physique of a bodybuilder in the “crab” pose, emphasizing the trapezius muscles, was also the basis for the ship’s aggressive stance. Finally, the script, at the time when it was received by ILM, established that the Bird Of Prey was definitely a Romulan vessel, commandeered by Kruge. With that back story in mind, the feather-like pattern on the ship’s underside was a direct tribute the original Bird Of Prey as it first appeared in the 1966 original series episode “Balance of Terror”. Though the final version of Star Trek 3 (and subsequent star trek films and TV episodes) refer to the ship as purely of the Klingon fleet, the Romulan plumage-detail was never lost.
Marc Okrand had to update the grammar and vocabulary of the Klingon language several times when actors would get the line wrong and it was deemed easier to re-write the language than re-shoot the scene.
In a June 2009 interview, Christopher Lloyd said that the role of Klingon Commander Kruge was among one of his favorite roles he ever portrayed in his acting career.
Close to the end of the film, after landing on Vulcan. While Spock’s body is being carried up the long staircase to begin the fal tor pan ritual, the “maidens” carrying Spock are not actually touching him. They are actually holding their hands above him, effectively levitating his body to the alter.