Tuesday, April 27, 2004

This was Leonard Nimoy's first movie as a director, and after initial misgivings by fellow cast members, he won universal praise from his actors for being meticulously prepared, and collaborative in directing them. As the first television series to spawn feature films with the same cast, Star Trek presented opportunities and difficulties never encountered before. In television, there was a new director every week in episodes written by different writers, but the actors played their characters throughout. Only the actors could create a through-line of development and a consistent character that viewers would recognize and come to care about, week after week. Though producers had ultimate control, they also responded to what the actors created, and in several senses, embodied.

Since much of what makes a series character is in small moments, the actor is the ultimate arbiter. Eventually the writers learn the character from the actor, and even may use the actor's real life or previous roles in creating new story and new character points---for the actors also depend on writers for new situations and ideas, so their characters can expand and change, or at least show different facets of themselves. Actors know that as their characters, they have to be recognizably themselves, but they also have to surprise.

Previous (and then-ongoing) movie series had come from books or other movies. But the power of Star Trek came from the television series, its characters (and actors) as well as its nature and even its quirks. Nobody knew all of that in a practical way better than the actors. So even if naming Leonard Nimoy as director was partly a marketing gimmick, and a big partly to insure he would appear as Spock, it had immediate practical benefit. Once the other actors saw that he would continue to honor their interpretations of their characters, and their way of working, they collaborated with him happily and fruitfully.

In his DVD interview and commentary, Nimoy says that his basic approach to Star Trek III was operatic: big actions, big emotions, in a story about friendship, death and resurrection. This approach works especially well with the economy of the dialogue and Nimoy's shooting style, which is a mixture of fluid movement and quick action cuts (the motion picture part) and elegantly framed two- and three-shots (a conspicuous virtue of the original TV series.)

The first act of this drama gives us the premise, and the basic quest: Kirk's action to restore Spock's soul, which he sees as a necessity for honoring his own integrity and meaning: his own soul.

The first act also sets up events on the Genesis planet itself, and the antagonist Klingon commander, the operatically evil, and quite crude, Kruge (played with menacing panache by Christopher Lloyd.) In scenes originally scattered through this act but re-edited into the current sequence, there is the gathering of heroes that begins the second act. As the rest of the bridge crew acts to help their Captain defy Starfleet, steal Enterprise and warp off to Genesis, they mirror Kirk's commitment. It's a soul quest all around.

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