Cinema: Space Opera

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Directed by Leonard Nimoy Screenplay by Harve Bennett

It is not that Spock is all that hard to find. Most viewers of the last Star Trek (subtitled The Wrath of Khan) already have a pretty good idea of where to look for whatever was left of him after that film's ambiguously tragic denouement. The suspense of this handsome sequel derives largely from anxiety about the form in which he will be rediscovered and from the question of whether he can be restored to something like his familiar dimensions. What if he comes back with rounded earlobes or a beetling brow?

Worse, imagine him returning with his logical faculties (and his great soul) reduced to paltry earthling dimensions.

About these and the many other pos sible metamorphoses, the wise critical deponent should say nothing, lest The Wrath of the Trekkies descend on him for spoiling the story they have been so eagerly anticipating for two years. What can be freely stated, given the fact that Leonard Nimoy himself directed the film, is that the fate of Vulcan's favorite son is treated with the highest seriousness.

What actor, after all, is going to kid around with the character with whom he may be immortally identified?

The result, despite a rather timid James Horner score, is perhaps the first space opera to deserve that term in its grandest sense. The plot is as convoluted and improbable as anything Verdi ever set to music; the settings are positively Wagnerian in scale and, especially at the climax, full of his kind of fiery mysticism. Above all, the emotions of Stari Trek III are as broad and as basic as anything this side of Rigoletto. Principally, these are the province of Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner, of course). His attempt to answer the cries for help that Spock transmits by means of a mysterious Vulcanic technique known as a "mindmeld" forces him to the most anguishing command decisions.

These involve the life and death of his son and the fate of his beloved starship Enterprise.

The script is perhaps overplotted and has heavy expository burdens (again the analogy with real opera occurs). Moviegoers whose emotional connection to the Star Trek mythos is mild may find themselves missing the self-satire that distinguished Star Trek II. They may also find them selves wondering occasionally if, after 79 television episodes and two features, the series is finally about to succumb to what has always been its besetting temptation, which is portentousness.

They need not worry long. Writer-Producer Harve Bennett knows where the gold is buried in this galaxy, and always hustles back to that lode of entertaining verities that have for so long sustained Star Trek. It features as ghastly a group of interstellar pirates, the Klingons, as ever entered the star log, plus a spectacularly self-destructive planet and plenty of technically adroit and sometimes witty special effects. These are classic directorial occasions, and Nimoy rises to them with fervor, in effect beaming his film up onto a higher pictorial plane than either of its predecessors. One might not want to have the Enterprise crew take up permanent residence on that sober and lofty level.

But for the moment it is an often glorious place to visit.