Star Trek III: The Search For Spock appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While not a great transfer, the image usually satisfied.
For the most part, sharpness seemed pleasing. The use of some digital noise reduction occasionally caused a bit of softness, as some shots appeared slightly smeared. Nonetheless, most of the movie looked well-defined and accurate, and it occasionally presented truly excellent visuals.
No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, and edge enhancement remained absent. Source flaws became a minor concern. I noticed the occasional speck or mark, but nothing more substantial than that materialized.
Colors appeared a bit erratic. For the most part, the hues of Spock looked nicely natural and distinct, but scenes with colored lighting created mild concerns. Those tended to look a little murky and runny; shots on the Klingon bridge displayed most of the issues. Nonetheless, the hues generally worked fairly well. Black levels came across acceptably deep and rich, while shadow detail looked appropriately opaque but not overly thick. Much of Spock presented very good visuals, but the mix of small concerns knocked down my grade to a “B”.
I felt that the Dolby Digital TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack of The Search for Spock provided a surprisingly strong experience. The soundfield offered a nicely active affair. Given the age of the material, it used all its channels well. Ships flew from speaker to speaker smoothly and cleanly, and the different environmental conditions on the Genesis planet appeared natural and lifelike. The score presented good stereo imaging, and the entire package melded together neatly. The surrounds really added a nice kick to the piece, especially during action sequences or those on the planet. The decloaking of the Bird of Prey offered a wonderfully involving and dynamic segment.
Audio quality varied but usually seemed quite positive. Speech showed the weakest elements. Although most of the lines came across as distinct and they always remained intelligible, the dialogue occasionally appeared somewhat flat and dull. Still, those pieces lacked edginess and they were acceptably natural. Music could have boasted a moderately bolder presence, but the score still sounded reasonably bright and vibrant; those elements didn’t impress me tremendously, but they seemed more than acceptable for the age of the material.
Though the effects also were erratic, they possessed some very impressive aspects. On the negative side, a few stems sounded somewhat thin, and I noticed mild distortion in a few shots such as the explosion of a ship. However, much of the time these elements provided a much stronger impact than I expected. Scenes that involved the Klingon Bird of Prey presented a wonderfully deep bass rumble, and other low-end sequences packed a nice punch. Bass response remained rich and tight and never became boomy or inappropriately heavy. Overall, the audio seemed very strong, and it worked much better than I’d expect for a 25-year-old movie.
How did the picture and sound quality of this Blu-ray Disc compare with those of the prior SE DVD release? I found improvements in both areas. Audio showed the least substantial step up, as the two discs provided pretty similar material. However, the lossless 7.1 mix seemed a tad more engaging and dynamic.
Visuals took a bigger jump, largely due to the increased resolution of Blu-ray. The old disc looked good for a DVD, but the Blu-ray was tighter and more involving. It also lacked as many source flaws. The Blu-ray didn’t provide a huge upgrade, but it proved more satisfying.
In terms of extras, the Blu-ray mixes elements from the prior SE DVD with new components. If a feature comes with an asterisk, that means it’s new and didn’t appear on the SE. If an extra is written in blue, that indicates it’s both a new piece and it’s also exclusive to the Blu-ray Disc.
We start with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director/actor Leonard Nimoy, writer/producer Harve Bennett, director of photography Charles Correll, and actor Robin Curtis. Each participant was recorded separately for this edited track.
As its only flaw, the commentary suffers from more than a few short empty spaces. These pop up too frequently, but they never last terribly long, so they don’t interfere much. The excellent content of the track helps to compensate for them. Not surprisingly, Nimoy dominates the proceedings and he covers a lot of useful topics. From how he landed a spot in the director’s chair to the debunking of myths to working with the cast and crew to his development of Vulcan legends, Nimoy proves to be chatty and engaging; he really provides a great deal of compelling notes.
The rest of the participants show up less frequently, but they also contribute some good material. Bennett details some storytelling notes as well as the challenges of working within the Trek universe. He also mentions the theatrical trailer I slam later in this review, and it’s interesting to learn how that crummy ad came to be. Correll tends to stick with technical topics and notes lighting issues among other things, whereas Curtis logically relates her own perspective as a Trek newcomer. She discusses her auditions and her reactions to the world of Trek and also lets us know about Nimoy’s directorial style. Despite the gaps, this commentary seems lively and entertaining.
Next comes a chat from *Trek writers Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific piece that provides the viewpoint of fans with a pedigree. Obviously their involvement in various Trek series gives them an insider’s take that most Trekkies will lack, and they offer interesting observations about the film from their side of the table.
Don’t expect good details about Search, however, as neither man can boast much knowledge about its creation. Heck, Moore doesn’t even know what time of year it was released! Nonetheless, I like their thoughts about how the movie fits into the Trek canon and their appreciation of its elements. They also have fun with the flick, as they provide wisecracks about some portions. This isn’t a particularly informative chat, but it’s an enjoyable one.
Another running feature arrives with the Library Computer. This “interactive playback mode” allows you to learn about various elements that crop up throughout the movie. It gives us notes about characters, technical pieces, and other connected tidbits. Some of these are tightly ingrained – such as facts about main characters – while others are more tangential. Because of the changing circumstances of the film’s world, some of the same subjects arise multiple times; for instance, new information about Spock comes up as story elements affect him.
All of these come via links; the title of a subject appears, and you select “enter” to read about it. You can examine these in two different ways. If desired, you can have the links crop up at the appropriate times during the movie. You still have to hit “enter” – there’s no option to let them play without viewer input – but this shows the notes in tandem with the onscreen material.
The “Library” also presents an “index”. This posts the links in alphabetical order. This is a more efficient option if you want to watch the movie without interruption, but it’s less connected to the story.
Either way, the “Library” includes some nice details. It’s pretty dry, but it throws out a lot of background facts and gives us a satisfying glimpse of Trek information.
Four programs show up under Production. The Captain’s Log offers a 26-minute and 13-second compilation of modern interviews with Nimoy, Bennett, Curtis, Correll, associate producer Ralph Winter, and actors William Shatner and Christopher Lloyd. As with a similar program on the Wrath of Khan special edition, this one doesn’t really try to be a total overview of the film’s creation, it covers the most significant topics. We learn how Nimoy rose to occupy the director’s chair and various concerns related to that decision. Some solid production anecdotes are tossed into the mix as well during this engaging and informative program.
Next we find a program called Terraforming and the Prime Directive. This 25-minute and 53-second show examines the realities around some topics alluded to in Spock. We hear from author David Brin, NASA research scientist Chris McKay, and Planetary Society executive director Dr. Louis Friedman. They cover subjects that relate to planetary exploration, the creation of life on other planets – with a particular emphasis on Mars – and the implications of these concepts. An intelligent and thought-provoking piece, “Terraforming” offers an intriguing examination of some scientific subjects.
*Industrial Light & Magic: The Visual Effects of Star Trek goes for 13 minutes, 50 seconds and features visual effects supervisors Scott Farrar and Bill George, visual effects director of photography Pat Sweeney, and digital model artist John Goodson, They discuss a variety of effects issues within the Trek universe.
Despite its placement on this disc, “Effects” doesn’t focus solely on Spock. It starts with info about The Wrath of Khan and gets to Spock at the four-minute mark. The program shifts to The Voyage Home around 8:30 and hits Undiscovered Country at 10 minutes. (ILM didn’t work on Final Frontier. Because the participants tear through so many films in so little time, there’s not a ton of detail, but the show offers some interesting tidbits nonetheless.
“Production” ends with the six-minute and 22-second *Spock: The Early Years. It includes comments from actor Stephen Manley as he discusses his experiences as young Spock. Honestly, he doesn’t tell us a whole lot of insightful material, so don’t expect much. However, we do get a snippet from the disco version of the Spock theme over the end credits, so that’s pretty cool.
The next batch of extras show up in a section called The Star Trek Universe. Space Docks and Birds of Prey lasts 27 minutes and 49 seconds as it discusses some of Spock’s special effects. It mainly concentrates on models and the way the crew dealt with them. We learn about the design of the space dock, the ships, and some of the props, and we also get information about how they shoot these elements. The program offers interviews with associate producer Ralph Winter, additional spacecraft designer Bill George, supervising modelmaker Steve Gawley, director Leonard Nimoy, and visual effects cameraman Scott Farrar. Though the piece seems a little dry at times, it offers some interesting information, especially in the design domain; I particularly enjoyed the discussion of how they came up with the Klingon Bird of Prey.
For information about Speaking Klingon, we go to this interesting 21-minute and four-second program. It concentrates solely on a chat with linguist Marc Okrand, the man who largely invented the Klingon language. In this program, he discusses how he got involved with Trek and goes over the sources that influenced his decisions. Okrand also talked about working with the actors on the set and other issues. Overall, this offered a cool look at the topic; it seemed much more compelling than I expected, given the geekiness of the subject.
Klingon and Vulcan Costumes comes next. The 12-minute and 16-second program provides information from jewelry designer Maggie Schpak and costume designer Robert Fletcher. The latter mainly chats about the way he influenced the biology of the Klingons, while Schpak dominates the piece. She discusses the creation of many clothing props and then leads us through a look at many of them. The show seems generally interesting, mainly as it provides a nice glimpse of the influences behind the clothing designs.
Something new arrives via the 16-minute and 52-second *Star Trek and the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. It features Bennett and Seattle Times pop culture writer Mark Rahner as they chat and tour the Museum in question. They chat about Bennett’s Trek experiences and some connected subjects. We also briefly meet Science Fiction Museum senior curator Jacob McMurray and Science Fiction Museum curator John Brooks Peck as they sell the place to us.
Don’t expect to see much of the Museum here. Essentially this is just an interview with Bennett set in an interesting setting; a few props show up, but not many. Bennett throws out a few interesting notes, though I think he gets some facts wrong. For instance, he claims that Gene Roddenberry viewed the original Trek series as “Horatio Hornblower In Space”, but I think that was Nicholas Meyer’s take; I believe Roddenberry planned the series as “Wagon Train In Space”. Anyway, this becomes a moderately interesting piece but not anything memorable.
We leave “Universe” with *Starfleet Academy SciSec Brief 003: Mystery Behind the Vulcan Katra Transfer. It runs two minutes, 42 seconds as it provides a quick tutorial about the subject. The prior entries in this series did little more than reiterate information from the respective movies, but this one adds a few more details. That makes it more compelling than its predecessors.
A Photo Gallery provides stills. Within that domain, “Production” provides 25 shots from the set, while “The Movie” offers 26 images from the set and some publicity snaps as well. “Movie” isn’t that interesting, but “Production” includes some useful pictures.
In addition to the film’s overly revealing theatrical trailer, the DVD includes two pieces in the archives. Storyboards covers art for 10 different scenes. Each of those includes between 10 and 64 frames for a total of 283 storyboards. These seem reasonably interesting for what they are. Most amusing are some of the temporary scribblings, such as the name Star Trek III: Exciting Title Here. Finally, two Previews open the disc. We get ads for the 2009 Star Trek feature film and for Star Trek: The Original Series Season One Blu-ray.
Does the Blu-ray lose anything from the SE DVD? Sort of. It drops a text commentary, but the “Library Computer” provides the same kinds of information found there. Nonetheless, I wish the Blu-ray still included the text track, as the “Library” didn’t duplicate all the same material; the prior commentary comes with a more conversational, less dry tone and digs into Trek connections better. It also moves along without the need to constantly press a button, so I think it proves more satisfying.
While not the best film of the series, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock offers a generally entertaining and exciting piece of work. It lacks some of the chemistry we normally expect from Trek, it compensates with lively action and other compelling elements. The Blu-ray provides good picture with surprisingly strong audio and a very nice set of supplements. The presentation lacks the “dazzle factor” fans might hope to find, and I think it could look better. That said, it proves satisfying and represents the film in a satisfactory manner. It’s the best rendition of the film yet released on home video.
To rate this film visit the Director's Edition review of the STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK