Tuesday, April 27, 2004

'>Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

essay by William S. Kowinski

'>Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had the biggest opening weekend in Hollywood history as of 1982, according to Leonard Nimoy's book, I Am Spock. That would mean it opened better than Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark. So it was a sure thing that Star Trek would be generating a third feature film. And thanks to Spock's death and nearly everybody's second thoughts about it, this would be an actual sequel: a story of what comes next.

The success of "Khan" even suggested there could be more Star Trek movies past the third, and since the impact of Spock's death proved the enduring importance of the character, Spock would be necessary to the Star Trek film future, as well as especially pivotal in this movie. So one of the first people Paramount wanted to talk with was Leonard Nimoy.

Thanks to an inspiration in the waiting room before his meeting with a tardy executive, Nimoy suddenly made a case for why he should direct the film as well as appear in it. Paramount agreed, then apparently balked over rumors that Nimoy hated Spock and Star Trek (which he painfully denied). After further conversation with Paramount Pictures boss Michael Eisner, and perhaps after the idea was blessed by marketing chief Frank Mancuso, Leonard Nimoy was announced as the director of Star Trek III.

(At some point, Nicholas Meyer, director of "Khan," may have passed on the project. He wasn't happy with the idea that Spock hadn't really died, and didn't approve "Khan's" final shots of Spock's coffin on the Genesis planet's surface. )

Producer Harve Bennett wanted to write the script, and with Nimoy's input he did. He knew what he had to do: the resurrection. But how? According to Nichelle Nichols, it was her partner, Jim Meechan, who suggested a solution, and as an aerospace executive with a science background and connections in NASA, he provided enough of a rationale to excite Bennett's interest. He theorized that on the Genesis planet radiation-induced mutations could be responsible for Spock's regeneration. He suggested that Spock's whispered "remember" would motivate McCoy to search for Spock. According to Nichelle, Bennett promised Meechan screen credit as technical adviser, but he reneged.

The basic idea of the Genesis planet---"life from lifelessness"-was itself enough of an analogy to at least poetically explain a simple regeneration, but Bennett's script took it several elegant steps further. This would be a new Spock, born with Genesis, growing in sudden bursts with the planet's fitful, accelerated surging towards its quick death. But this Spock would lack a center, an identity: his soul.

It's not clear where the idea of "the katra" (Spock's separated spirit and mind: his soul) came from. In an interview on the DVD, Nimoy suggests one source in the Jewish theatrical tradition of the Dybbuk---the wandering soul of another takes over the body. In any case, it enters the movie when Dr. McCoy begins acting strangely and uncontrollably.

Then Spock' father, Sarek, comes to Kirk when the Enterprise has returned to earth, demanding to know why he left Spock on Genesis instead of taking him home to Vulcan. Sarek introduces the concept of the katra, "that which is not of the body" (in Sarek's words)---the living spirit, mind and soul that a Vulcan can pass on. (In Vonda N. McIntyre's novelization, as in other Star Trek novels, it's explained that this means the katra can be preserved, disembodied, in the Hall of Ancient Thought, where specially trained adepts could learn from it. It is only in rare and perhaps unprecedented instances that the katra can be reintegrated with a body when it is still living. In the novelization it's also emphasized that the body and the katra are not two totally separate things, that they are interdependent and crucial to each other.)

In the film, Sarek suggests only that Spock's katra and his body must be returned together to Vulcan for a ceremony, so that all the Spock knew and was would not be lost. Sarek had assumed Spock passed his katra to Kirk, because he was the person closest at Spock's death. But knowing he would die in the isolation of an irradiated chamber, Spock had mind-melded with McCoy, and it was this, along with the presence of his katra, that was literally driving McCoy crazy. His unprepared mind couldn't take the strain. When Sarek realizes this, it raises the stakes: now Spock's body must be brought to Vulcan not only to preserve his katra, but to save McCoy from permanent insanity or death.

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