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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 The Wrath of Khan, the crew of the USS Enterprise returns to Earth. When James T. Kirk (William Shatner) learns that Spock's essence or katra is held in the mind of Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Kirk and company steal the Enterprise in order to return Spock's body to his home planet; the crew must contend with hostile Klingons bent on stealing the secrets of a powerful terraforming device.

After positive critical and commercial reaction to The Wrath of Khan, Paramount commissioned a new film. Nimoy took over directing duties, 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. James Horner, The Wrath of Khan s composer, returned to expand his themes from the previous film.

The Search for Spock opened June 1, 1984. In its first week the film broke Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom s gross records, making $16 million in almost 2000 theaters across the United States. The film went on to make $76 million in the domestic box office for a total of $87 million worldwide. Critical reaction to The Search for Spock was mixed; critics called the film a compromise between the first and second films. The Search for Spock was released on multiple home video formats, including VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray high definition discs. Nimoy would go on to direct The Search for Spock s sequel, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.


The starship Enterprise limps back to Earth following a battle with the superman Khan Noonien Singh, who had tried to destroy the Enterprise by detonating an experimental terraforming device known as Genesis. The casualties of the fight include Admiral James T. Kirk's Vulcan friend, Spock, whose casket was launched into orbit around the newly-formed planet created by the Genesis Device. On arriving at Earth Spacedock, Doctor Leonard McCoy begins to act strangely. Starfleet Admiral Morrow visits the Enterprise and informs the crew the ship is due to be decommissioned; a return visit to the Genesis planet is forbidden due to political fallout over the device.

David Marcus—Kirk's son, a key scientist in Genesis' development—and the Vulcan Saavik return to the Genesis planet aboard the science vessel Grissom and, to their surprise, discover a life form on the surface. Marcus and Saavik transport to the planet and find that Spock has been resurrected by the Genesis Device's effects, although his mind is not present. Marcus, pressed by Saavik, admits that he used unstable "protomatter" in the construction of the Genesis Device, with the result that Spock is rapidly aging and the planet will be destroyed in mere hours. Meanwhile, a Klingon commander named Kruge intercepts information about Genesis. Believing the Genesis Device to be a potent weapon, he takes his cloaked ship to Genesis, destroys the Grissom, and captures Marcus, Saavik, and Spock.

Spock's father Sarek confronts Kirk about his son's death. The pair learns that before he died, Spock transferred his "katra" or living spirit to McCoy. Both Spock's katra and body are needed to lay him to rest on his homeworld, Vulcan, and without help McCoy will die from carrying the katra. Disobeying orders, Kirk and his officers spring McCoy from detention, disable the USS Excelsior, and steal the Enterprise from Spacedock to return to Genesis. In orbit on arrival at the Genesis planet the Enterprise is attacked and disabled by Kruge. In the standoff that follows Kruge orders that one of the hostages on the surface be executed and in a brief struggle David is killed defending Saavik. Kirk and company feign surrender, and activate the Enterprise s self-destruct sequence, killing the Klingon boarding party while transporting to the surface. Promising the secret of Genesis, Kirk lures Kruge to the planet and has him beam his crew to the Klingon vessel. As the Genesis planet disintegrates, Kirk and Kruge engage in hand-to-hand combat; Kirk emerges victorious after kicking the Klingon off a cliff. Overwhelming the last member of the Klingon crew, Kirk and his officers set a course for Vulcan. Spock's katra is reunited with his body in a dangerous procedure called fal tor pan. The ceremony is successful and Spock is resurrected alive and well, though his memories are extremely fragmented. At Kirk's prompting, Spock remembers his name and recognizes the crew.


  • William Shatner as James T. Kirk, the commander of the Enterprise as the ship returns to Earth. Shatner remarked that being directed by his longtime co-star and friend was initially awkward, although as the shoot went on it became easier as Shatner realized how confident Nimoy was. Shatner dieted before the start of production, but as the production continued, he tended to "slip"; the costume department had to make 12 shirts for him.

  • Leonard Nimoy as Spock, who is resurrected by the effects of the Genesis Device. Nimoy found the most difficult scene to direct one in which McCoy talks to an unconscious Spock in sickbay en route to Vulcan. "Not only am I in the scene, but I have to play [it] with my eyes closed. So I can't even look to see if the actor I am playing the scene with is looking anything like I think he should look. It drove [DeForest Kelley] crazy. He swears that I was trying to direct him with the movement and flutter of my eyelids." Nimoy was thankful the story permitted him to appear in a minimal number of scenes.
    • Carl Stevens, Vadia Potenza, Stephen Manley, and Joe W. Davis portray the rapidly aging Spock at the ages of 9, 13, 17, and 25. Frank Welker provided Spock's screams, and Steve Blalock doubled for Nimoy, for a total of seven actors filling the role.

  • DeForest Kelley as Leonard McCoy, the Enterprise s doctor and the carrier of Spock's living spirit. Kelley had the lion's share of the film's memorable scenes, but occasionally experienced difficulties in acting with and being directed by his longtime co-star. He however declared he had no doubts about Nimoy's ability to lead the cast. Responding to claims that Star Trek copied Star Wars, Kelley asserted that the opposite was true. "Tribbles," he said, "started the first [science fiction] bar scene."

  • George Takei as Hikaru Sulu, helmsman aboard the Enterprise. Takei was dismayed to hear that his character was called "Tiny" during the film, and argued with the film's producer to have the line cut. When Takei saw the first screening of the film, he changed his mind and promptly apologized.

  • Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, the Enterprise s communications officer. Nichols had always been insistent on wearing a skirt, even though other female versions of the uniforms used slacks; the costume designer created a special costume specifically for her.

  • Judith Anderson as T'Lar, a Vulcan high priestess who restores Spock's katra to his body. Nimoy wanted someone with "power and magic" for the ethereal role. The role was Anderson's first in 14 years; the actress accepted the role after her nephew learned she was up for a part in Star Trek and urged her to take it. While Anderson claimed to be , her true height was closer to , which presented a problem when the designers needed to make her look appropriately regal. The solution was to dress her with an overlong hem and special built-up shoes which, combined with a crown, added .

  • Robin Curtis as Saavik, Spock's former Vulcan trainee. Kirstie Alley did not return to reprise her role from The Wrath of Khan because she demanded too much money. Curtis had arrived in Los Angeles in 1982 and made friends with the head of Paramount's casting department, who recommended Curtis for the role for Saavik. Nimoy met with Curtis one-on-one and gave her the assignment the next day.

  • Christopher Lloyd as Kruge, a Klingon interested in securing the powerful secrets of Genesis for use as a weapon. Nimoy had admired Lloyd's work in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Taxi and was impressed by his ability to play a powerful villain. The director said that Lloyd brought a welcome element of theatricality to the role.

Other roles include Robert Hooks as Admiral Morrow, the commander of Starfleet; James Sikking as Captain Styles, captain of the Excelsior; and Phillip R. Allen as the doomed captain of the Grissom. John Larroquette plays Maltz, a member of Kruge's bridge crew whom Nimoy describes as "the thoughtful Klingon". Cathie Shirriff plays Valkris, Kruge's doomed lover. Grace Lee Whitney, who played Janice Rand in the television show, cameos as a "Woman in Cafeteria". Scott McGinnis plays a young man wishing for more adventure and thrill in his life, whom Uhura forces into the closet at phaser-point.



Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was a critical and commercial success. Paramount was excited and quickly prepared for another Star Trek film. The Wrath of Khan s director, Nicholas Meyer, would not return for the third entry; he had disagreed with changes made without his consent to The Wrath of Khan s ending. Upon seeing The Wrath of Khan, Leonard Nimoy (who had previously not planned on reprising the role) became "excited" about playing Spock again. When asked by Paramount Pictures if he wanted to reprise the role for the third feature, Nimoy agreed and told them "You're damned right, I want to direct that picture!" Studio chief Michael Eisner was initially reluctant to hire Nimoy because he mistakenly believed that he hated Star Trek and had demanded Spock be killed off in his contract. After persuading Eisner otherwise, Nimoy was given the job.Bennett, Nimoy, Shatner, et al. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's first reaction to the news of Nimoy as director was that producer Harve Bennett had "hired a director you can't fire".

Paramount gave Bennett the green light to write Star Trek III the day after The Wrath of Khan opened. Bennett remarked that was the fastest greenlight on any project before or since, and began writing the screenplay, which he noted "seventeen other people could have written" due to the hints at Spock's resurrection in the second film. Bennett and Nimoy used the open thread of Spock mind melding with McCoy at the end of The Wrath of Khan as a way to explain Spock's eventual restoration. The idea and name of the Vulcan katra came from Bennett's discussions with Nimoy. The actor referred the producer to an episode of the television series, "Amok Time", which suggested to Bennett a high order of "spiritual transference" among the Vulcans. Bennett admitted that the idea that Kirk and company had to go back to the Genesis planet and recover Kirk's "noble self" stemmed from a poem he read in a Star Trek fan magazine. The film's production came with certain expectations; Nimoy remarked if Spock had not been resurrected and instead "Captain Kirk turn[ed] to the camera and [said] 'Sorry, we didn't find him,' people would throw rocks at the screen." A major issue Bennett wrestled with was how to introduce the story for people who had not seen The Wrath of Khan. Bennett said that his television producer mentality "won out", and so he added a "previously in Star Trek..." film device and had Kirk narrate a captain's log, describing his feelings and loss. Because of the story's predictability, Bennett decided to have the USS Enterprise destroyed, and intended this plot element to be kept a secret.

Nimoy wanted The Search for Spock to be operatic in scope; "I wanted the emotions to be very large, very broad, life and death themes [...] and the [look of the film] and everything about it derives everything from sizeable characters playing out a large story on a large canvas," he said. Nimoy wanted all of the characters to have significant scenes, however small, that made them more grounded and real. Bennett started writing the script with the ending scene (where Spock says "Your name is... Jim") and went backwards from that point. Elements such as Kruge killing his lover were added to establish context and add drama and intrigue to what amounted to simply relaying information to set up the film. Originally, the Romulans were the villains, but Nimoy preferred the more "theatrical" Klingons, feeling that the Klingon's pursuit of Genesis was analogous to the Soviet race for nuclear weaponry. Bennett took the opportunity to flesh out the alien race, who he felt were ill-defined in the television series. The name of the antagonists' ship, the Bird-of-Prey, remained unchanged. The rationale was that in the Star Trek original series episode "The Enterprise Incident," Spock mentions that the Romulans loan the designs for their ship (and presumably the cloaking device as well). Early script drafts mention Kruge stole his ship from the Romulans, but this was eventually left out.

The script was completed in six weeks. The production's estimated budget of $16 million was only marginally larger than that of The Wrath of Khan (which in turn was much less than 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture). Since items such as the look of the bridge and uniforms had been established in the previous film however, more money went to special effects. Assistant producer Ralph Winter described the extra money as a "toybox" that allowed more leeway and "fun" in planning the scope of the film.


Nimoy and Bennett worked with effects company Industrial Light & Magic to produce both special effects as well as models and live-action scenes. ILM received a two-page story treatment in November 1982 titled "Return to Genesis." Production supervisor Warren Franklin said that the script they read in early 1983 was "one of the best scripts we read" out of scripts that arrived weekly. While ILM had provided the effects work for The Wrath of Khan, the effects house had only been approached after effects storyboards had been completed. The Search for Spock brought ILM in much earlier, meaning that visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston and his team worked on planning sequences. Nimoy credited this early involvement with increasing the amount of creative input into the film's design and execution.

It became apparent to ILM that The Search for Spock s script required much more design and model work than had been necessary for The Wrath of Khan. A merchant ship destroyed by Kruge early in the film was a kitbash—a design created by combining pieces of other models. Effects cameraman Don Dow reasoned that since the ship was destroyed so quickly it did not make sense to spend a large amount of time building it. The USS Grissom was named for astronaut Virgil Grissom; the model would appear as different types of science vessels in the later spinoff television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pilot episode "Emissary."

The Excelsior was an entirely new design that its ILM designers felt was a better rendition of a United Federation of Planets starship—sleeker and more modern than the Enterprise. The art department created several concept sketches to show to Paramount, and at an art director's urging David George submitted another design, based on what he considered the Enterprise would look like if designed by the Japanese. Nimoy picked George's angular and simplified take for production. While in the film the Excelsior is supposed to be larger than its predecessor, the physical model was a foot smaller than the Enterprise built for The Motion Picture.

The Earth Space dock was a large model that included a massive interior, a design that was intended to expand the scope of Star Trek. After approving a small three-dimensional maquette of the final design, the effects team created a full size exterior model measuring . Rather than painstakingly wiring thousands of small lights, the model was made of clear plexiglass and then painted; windows were created by scratching off the finish, and an inner core of neon lights illuminated the resulting holes. The inside of the dock was created by an additional model, long, with a removable center section. The inner lights were illuminated from outside by fiber optics and 2000-5000 watt lights, in addition to small practical lights running inside.

The Klingon Bird-of-Prey was designed by art directors Nilo Rodis and Dave Carson. Nimoy wanted the ship to be reminiscent of a bird on attack, which led to movable wings that changed depending on whether the ship was in a cruising or attack posture. George took design cues from a sketch of a bodybuilder and football players, incorporating the starship equivalents of downstretched, threatening arms and muscular shoulders together with what looked like shoulder pads and a chin guard on the ship's outstretched neck. While the stolen Romulan ship thread was cut from the film, by the time this was decided the ship's design already had incorporated elements of Romulan design. "It has some of the basic bird shape, but it's more ominous," Ralston said. A graphic bird design was integrated into the ship's underside.

Many sets, particularly interiors, were redresses of existing sets to save money. The Enterprise bridge was reconfigured to stand in for the Grissom, with the chairs reupholstered and the central computer consoles moved to modify the floor plan. An Earth bar and the Klingon medical bay were redresses of the Enterprise sickbay. The Klingon bridge was a set from another production that Nimoy reappropriated. Many blinking consoles were rented from a props company rather than being fabricated. The Enterprise itself remained largely unchanged from its appearance in the previous film, though the floor was repainted from black to grey to make it photograph better. The most drastic change was made to Spock's quarters. Nimoy had felt the previous grey color scheme did not express a Vulcan style, and had it brightened with yellows and oranges.

Adding local color to the Klingon bridge was a ragged doglike creature which the effects team derisively called "Fifi Rebozo". Ken Ralston read the script and thought adding a sort of mascot for the Klingon captain would add atmosphere; he sculpted a reptilian dog and Kruge's pet was worked into the script. The animal's hair was made from cheap wig clippings; creature supervisor David Sosalla would spray the material with adhesive, then lay clumps of the fur onto the painted puppet body. These clumps were distressed to make the beast "beat-up and moth-eaten". During filming Sosalla and crew would spritz the creature with water to make it look more unpleasant. The animal was a hand puppet; Ralston operated the head and body by placing his arm into an opening on the creature's side and hiding inside Kruge's command chair. Three others operated cables that opened the animal's eyes and made it snarl; the creature's head was large enough for Ralston to fit his hand inside and operate the spring-loaded jaw. Many of the animal's intended movements were minimized; the crew did not move its ears, because it made the supposedly repulsive creature "cute". For the animal's demise during the Klingon's fight with the Enterprise, an additional "dead" puppet was created, but Ralston ended up using the live one for the scenes.

Many of the props in The Wrath of Khan were reused from the previous film or else scrounged from other productions; for The Search for Spock Winter wanted to design uniquely Star Trek items. George and artist Phil Norwood collaborated on many of the prop designs, focusing on creating updated and sleeker versions of the original television series communicators and phaser. Many of the props were created out of wood and then embellished with small pieces from model kits. While the Federation tricorder was created using a model race car body, the Klingon props were intended to look dirtier, with sharp surfaces that looked uncomfortable to carry. George was insistent on using the shapes and materials, rather than blinking lights, to suggest the props were real and manufactured.

Costumes and makeup

Robert Fletcher, costume designer for the previous Star Trek films, was responsible for The Search for Spock s wardrobe. Fletcher's job was to sketch outfits, choose the necessary fabrics and complete the fittings for principal characters. He collaborated with costumer Jim Linn, who fitted extras and managed the logistics of cleaning, repairing, and tracking costumes. Most of the Starfleet uniforms had already been designed for the previous film, but Fletcher wanted to dress the main characters in civilian clothes instead. In addition to simply creating outfits, Fletcher developed a mythology behind each one; the stone ornaments on Sarek's robe, for instance, were intended to be representative of a Vulcan's level of conciousness. The costumer had the advantage of access to Paramount's store rooms, which contained expensive fabrics by the ton.

The designer and the production staff was satisfied with the Klingon costumes he made on the first film, which he intended to have the feel of feudal Japanese armor, but he had to make new versions; out of 12 original costumes only half were found, the others destroyed during publicity tours. The remaining six had been loaned out by a Paramount executive for an episode of Mork & Mindy and badly damaged. Fletcher spent three months salvaging what remained. Additions to established clothing included an officer's vest for Kruge and minor jewelry.

Fletcher ended up designing the Klingon and Vulcan makeup in addition to his costuming chores. Makeup artist Thomas R. Burman suggested that Fletcher might have been asked to help because the studio had neglected to contract the work out; Burman received a contract only three weeks before the start of photography. Burman's bid of $160,000 was much higher than the $50,000 Paramount had budgeted for the work, but he ended up with the job because his competitor dropped out too close to the start of production. "It didn't come down to money in the end but to who could do it quickly [...] we had a [reputation] for working fast and doing quality work," Burman explained. Fletcher and Burman agreed that the cragged foreheads of the Klingons in The Motion Picture were too prominent, obscuring the individual's faces. "It was just too cartoonish, and I didn't want a Star Wars look in [the] movie. There had never been a good marriage between the forehead appliance and the actor's faces. We tried to keep them in character rather than have these obtrusive things on their heads," Burman explained. The resulting Klingon makeups took two hours to apply.


To guard against leaks that had affected the news of Spock's death during the production of The Wrath of Khan, precautions made to make people accountable for their scripts and secure the sets. Set designer Cameron Birnie noted that the production's security was highly unusual; sets were built out of sequence and the crew given only as many pages as they needed to fabricate each locale. Security guards checked the picture identification cards of production staff. Stationary and documents had any mention of the production removed from them, occasionally substituting "Trois" as a code word. Offices and workshops were bereft of identifying signage and single-lock doors were double-locked for extra protection. The Search for Spock s scripts were chemically treated so that copies could be traced to the original. Nimoy's name never appeared on call sheets in case they found their way to the public, and Spock was referred to in the script "Nacluv" (Vulcan spelled backwards). Despite the precautions, word of the Enterprise s destruction leaked out before the film's release.

Principal photography commenced on Monday, August 15, 1983, a year-and-a-half after the end of filming The Wrath of Khan. All but two days of production were filmed on Paramount soundstages by cinematographer Charles Correll. The Search for Spock was one of the first major feature films to use Eastman 5294, a color high speed negative stock. The film allowed Correll latitude in choosing a broad range of exposure indexes. Since The Search for Spock was shot with anamorphic lenses and many theatergoers would see widescreen 70 mm prints, Correll needed to produce a crisp depth of field, a difficult task on many of the sets. Correll pushed the exposure index above the Eastman recommendation on the bridge in order to keep the image crisp at less than 50 foot-candles.

Many of The Search for Spock s dialogue sequences feature tight close-ups. During Kirk and Sarek's mind meld, Nimoy chose cuts that focused on accenting the dialogue; "Instead of watching people's faces, all you see is the mouth or the eyes and you have the tendency to hear better," Correll explained. Every scene save one was filmed on a soundstage, an idea that Correll was not initially sold on. Feeling that recreating everything on set resulted in a "phoney" look, the cinematographer suggested that Genesis be filmed on Kauaimarker (having recently seen footage filmed there in King Kong), and that Red Rock Canyonmarker was the place to stand in for Vulcan. The production did not have the money to shoot on location, meaning that Nimoy was often preoccupied with making sure the various outdoor settings still felt believable. While the various vessel exterior's were handled by ILM, Correll was responsible for how the interior sets would look. He preferred to treat the sets as actual locations inside the ships; while the sets' ceilings were designed to come off so that lights could be rigged in the rafters, Correll used other lighting methods. In the Bird-of-Prey he used fluorescent tubes to pick up the wall's metallic paints, and kept the set smoky to convey a dirty atmosphere.

The bar scene where McCoy attempts to charter a spaceflight to Genesis before he is detained opens with two officers playing a World War I-era dogfight video game. The wireframe biplanes were black lines on clear paper printouts that were placed on an overlay cell. "It was really just a gag shot," effects artist Charlie Mullen explained. "the idea that people in the future would be playing an old war game." To accommodate the effect, Correll had to use a large amount of exposure without making the bar appear overlit. Much of the lighting was provided by tables rigged with florescent tubes to provide a different effect than other parts of the film. Correll could not add a smoky effect to the scene to enhance the bar feel because the moving atmosphere would have made ILM's game hard to insert. The entire scene was intended to end in a barroom brawl when security tried to take McCoy into custody; Nimoy decided that "it didn't feel right" and there was not enough time or money to achieve the scene successfully.

The Genesis Planet was produced via matte paintings and soundstages on Paramount lots under art director John E. Chilberg II. Much of the planet occupied Stage 15, known as the DeMille stage in honor of the director's Parting of the Red Sea during filming of The Ten Commandments. The space measured .Anderson, 75. The perceived boundaries of the scenes were extended via matte paintings created by Chris Evans, Frank Ordaz, and Michael Pangrazio. Because parts of the set had to literally collapse during the planet's destruction, the stage was built off the ground. The hundreds of 10,000 watt lights in the rafters were covered in silk for day scenes to soften the light, while for night scenes the lights were fitted with blue filters; dimmers eased the transition between periods. Since the doomed planet was no longer a paradise, the art director, Nimoy, Bennett and Correll considered constantly changing the colors on the scenes, but decided not to get "fancy photographically". While many of the scenes appeared lit with minimal light sources such as flickering fires, Correll tried to use as much light as possible. To get the fire to reflect on the actor's faces, Correll used a variety of tricks with normal lights; trying to use natural fire would not have provided the required intensity.

A significant feature of the Genesis planet were alien worms that rapidly evolved from microbes that clung to Spock's coffin. The creatures started as small, slimy crawlers, then grew to lengths of eight feet. The small worms were created by injecting molten "Hot-Melt" vinyl into epoxy molds, which were immediately put into cold water to produce a translucent product. The resulting hundred or so creatures were then painted and coated with methacyl, a slippery slime. Each worm was attached to an elevated platform by a piece of fishing line; the line was then tied to rods underneath the set. Offscreen helpers pushed the rods or pulled fishing line to create motion; the scene required many takes because the fishing line would periodically flash at the camera. The larger worms proved even more problematic, with filming taking place at ILM and Stage 15. Similar to The Wrath of Khan s parasitic Ceti eels, the worms featured cobra-like cowls and a ringed mouth of teeth. ILM built one of the worms with more articulation than the others; Ralston operated the creature through a hole in the set floor with his hand stuck inside the creature. The other worms were animated using pneumatic air bladders that caused air to pass through hoses in sequence, creating an undulating motion. The worms eventually attack Kruge, who kills one of them. The usual method for achieving the effect of the creature wrapping itself around Kruge would be to film the sequence in reverse, but this posed problems: the slime coating the creatures would have been obvious when reversed, and multiple takes would ruin the Klingon makeup Lloyd wore. ILM's solution involved rigging the worm with fishing line that were pulled in a choreographed fashion by multiple off-screen helpers to simulate the wrapping movement. The small pieces of the Klingon uniform caught or snapped the fishing line, meaning that Ralston resorted to steel cables when necessary.

The fiery breakup of the planet involved fire, smoke, and earth upheaval. Correll shot simultaneously on nine cameras; the hope was to get as much usable shots as possible on one take, lest all the trapdoors and pyrotechnics have to be reset for another round of filming. The entire sequence was completed in three weeks.

The Vulcan stairs were filmed at Occidental Collegemarker in the production's only day of location shooting. In order to create the proper orange atmosphere, Correll used a large floodlight created for The Star Chamber, placed on the top of a crane. The college's blue-grey sky was replaced with a matte painting that covered the top half of the stairs shot. Many ornamental touches Nimoy wanted for the procession never ultimately materialized. The background of the set was simply a painted piece of canvas; Nimoy had the background deliberately out of focus in all the shots as a way to hide the shortcomings of the scenery. Among elements cut from the Vulcan sequence included the procession through the "Vulcan Hall of Ancient Thought", a space dominated by large heads atop columns, with a sculpture towering . The scene was cut because the procession dragged on too long.

Production on the film was temporarily shut down after a fire destroyed several soundstages at Paramount Studios, one of which was adjacent to the set for the Genesis Planet. Initially, the set's pyrotechnics were suspected of causing the fire, but the cause was ultimately ruled to be arson. Shatner was among the cast members who grabbed a fire hose to help stop the flames. Correll cynically hoped that the place would burn down so that he would get his chance to film in Hawaii. While most of the set was undamaged, holes in the side of the building had to be covered with heavy black curtains to prevent outside light from leaking in.

Special effects

As with previous Star Trek films, time and money were major constraints for special effects. The team was nevertheless concerned about producing the right effect, no matter the time it took. While effects cameraman Scott Farrar and his assistants constantly traversed the separating ILM from Paramount, other teams back at the effects house organized postproduction effects and photography. The constant travel took a toll on Ralston, who began to forget which airlines he was taking and even what city he was in. As a pause in work meant wasted time, effects editors Bill Kimberlin and Jay Ignaszewski produced usable effects composites for the live-action editors at Paramount; these half-finished, monochromatic composites helped the editors an idea of scene pacing. In total, ILM contributed 120 shots to the film. Like Correll, Ralston used Eastman 94 for all effects shots save those that required blue screen.

Starships were filmed using computer-assisted motion control. The models required multiple camera passes because different parts of the ship and its varied lighting schemes had to be filmed at different exposure levels. The Excelsior required eight passes to supplement the basic "beauty pass", the Enterprise six. While ILM could have done combined passes with multiple exposures, it would have been risky; "If anything got out of synch, or somehow we dropped a frame, we would have to reshoot—and then you're stuck. You've ruined two pieces, two elements," Farrar said.

The Klingon Bird-of-Prey's cloaking device required an entirely new effect. The original concept featured the layers of the ship forming up, from the skeletal framework to the interior rooms and then the rest of the ship. To achieve the effect, the concept called for a series of overlaid animated elements filmed with an Oxberry animation camera. However ILM decided the effect looked too "animated-looking", and that the effect defied common sense; "if there was a fanfare to decloaking, everyone would know the Klingons were coming and blow them out of the sky before they could even finish materializing," Ralston said. The supervisor decided on a more subtle effect, throwing color separations out of sync to create a blurry ripple effect. While simple, the sequence was more effective than the planned elaborate scene. Explosions such as the destruction of the merchant ship were created using projected explosions, a technique perfected during the production of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Zero gravity explosions were filmed, reflected onto a card and screen using the same motion control program used for the models. The result was an explosion that moved with the model.

The most laborious effects sequences took place inside spacedock; months were spent completing the station's interior shots. The storyboards required a number of angles as the Enterprise docked and later when it was stolen, with the Excelsior in hot pursuit. The effects crew tested different looks in order to make sure the dock interior seemed appropriately vast. "We found the interior demanded some degree of atmospheric haze, even though there probably wouldn't be any in space," Farrar said. To create a slightly degraded look, the crew used blue gels for lights and shot through smoke for fill shots and switching to diffusion filters for light passes; using smoke for the longer shots would have required a time-consuming method of monitoring and controlling smoke levels. Due to the size of the dock and mismatched scales, it was impossible to film the Excelsior and Enterprise inside the dock. Opening the space doors was even more problematic because the lights illuminating the inside of the dock had to be hidden from the camera's view to prevent lens flares. Massive fans were used to keep everything cool, lest the hot lights melt or warp the interior artwork. The realism of the dock scenes were aided by live action footage of a cafeteria, with massive windows that opened to a view of the dock interior. The cafeteria was a set built at ILM and filled with forty extras in front of a massive blue screen so that the dock and Enterprise could be composited in later; matte paintings extended the ceiling of the set upward. The scene was one of the few shot away from Paramount.

The Enterprise destruction sequence combined footage culled from multiple models, since destroying the original would have been very costly.
Ralston, who had always considered the Enterprise ugly and the model hard to shoot, delighted in finally destroying the ship. Several shots were combined together for a complete destruction sequence; while Ralston would have preferred to simply take a mallet to the original $150,000 model built by Douglas Trumbull, a variety of cheaper models were used. The first part of the ship to be destroyed was the bridge, a separate miniature with stars added to the background. The shot then transitions to the Bird-of-Prey moving away as the top of the saucer burns away, where explosions (filmed upside down to simulate the absence of gravity) were superimposed over a motion control pass of the ship. The shot then cuts to a closeup of the ship's registration number being eaten away by inner explosions. George created a light styrofoam model that was eaten away by acetone dripped on the saucer from above. By shooting at less than one frame per second and keeping the light off the model, the actual drips were not visible in the print. Burning steel wool on the inside of the saucer created an ember effect of the ship's inner decks being destroyed. The saucer's total explosion was simulated by blowing up a plaster dish covered with talcum powder.

For the final destruction of the Genesis planet as seen on the surface, footage from the Paramount set had to be carefully matched with ILM effects footage. ILM built several scale miniatures in order to replicate parts of Genesis' upheaval—rock slides, fissures opening in the ground—that the live-action scenes could not easily replicate. For the scenes where Kirk and Kruge battle at the precipice over a pit of lava, the shot combined animated lava, clouds (really cotton daubs on black shot with a motion control camera), lightening, and a background matte painting. Overhead shots of the lava was created by lighting a piece of clear plexiglass with colored gels and covering the plate with methacyl, vermiculite and charcoal. The mixture dripped down off the surface and thoroughly coated the crew underneath. Kruge's end, plunging dozens of feet into the pool of lava, was created with the help of a stop-motion puppet. Lloyd only felt a few feet onto a black mattress; during a lighting flash the actor was replaced by the puppet that fell the rest of the distance.

Among the other miscellaneous effects ILM had to produce were the transporter beam and the warp speed effect. Mullen noted that the effect's look changed depending on who was directing the film; "everyone wants something distinctive, but nobody wants to get far enough away from the TV series to startle the Trekkies." The effect was produced by rotomatting the individual to be transported, then cutting a vertical slot in which a high-intensity light was positioned. A computer-controlled move would cause the light to spread from the center and fade away, then reset its position and do the same movement on the opposite side. Handmade acetate filters and gels were applied to give the transporter beam color and patterns, followed by small flickering animated highlights called "bugs" which appeared after the character had dematerialized. The Klingons' transporter was given a harsh red look to differentiate them from the smooth blue Federation effect. Because the shot was filmed on black instead of the traditional blue screen, the animators had to painstakingly rotoscope the background around Lloyd out of each frame.

Whereas many of the multicolored rainbow warp trail shots from The Wrath of Khan were stock footage taken from the first film, the producers wanted something new or improved. The streak effect, in which a beauty pass of the ship was combined with streak passes for each light intensity, was tried first. The result was disappointing; as the Enterprise grew larger the streaks became distorted and out of place. Mullen rejected a straight animation of the warp drive as too bouncy, but the footage was cut in for editing while ILM went through six more approaches to the problem. The final effect, a "vaporous, colorful trail", came together only a few weeks before the film's release.


Composer James Horner returned to score The Search for Spock, fulfilling a promise he had made to Bennett on The Wrath of Khan. Much like the content of the film, Horner's music was a direct continuation of the score he wrote for the previous film. When writing music for The Wrath of Khan Horner was aware he would resuse certain cues for an impending sequel; two major themes he reworked were for Genesis and Spock. While the Genesis theme supplants the title music Horner wrote for The Wrath of Khan, the end credits were quoted "almost verbatim".

In hours-long discussions with Bennett and Nimoy, Horner agreed with the director that the "romantic and more sensitive" cues were more important in the film than the "bombastic" ones. The composer approached scoring the film with an eye towards connecting his feelings towards the film with its mood. Horner had written Spock's theme to give the character more dimension; "by putting a theme over Spock, it warms him and he becomes three-dimensional rather than a collection of schticks," he said. The theme was expanded in a way not possible in The Wrath of Khan to represent the ancient alien mysticism and culture of Spock and Vulcan. Among the new cues Horner wrote was a "percussive and atonal" theme for the Klingons which is represented heavily in the film.


Nimoy wrote that The Search for Spock s major theme is that of friendship. "What should a person do to help a friend? How deeply should a friendship commitment go?... And what sacrifices, what obstacles, will these people endure? That's the emotion line of the film [and] its reason for existence," he recalled. While Spock's bodily resurrection was complete, his mind was a blank slate—The Search for Spock, Michele and Duncan Barrett argue, says that the important question is whether an individual's mind functions, as this is the key to a meaningful existence.

Brown Universitymarker professor Ross S. Kraemer argues that The Search for Spock "became Star Trek s first and most obvious exploration of Christian themes of sacrificial, salvific death and resurrection". David and Saavik's discovery of Spock's empty coffin and burial robes parallels the evidence the Apostles found that pointed to Jesus' rebirth (in the Gospel of Luke). Spock's resurrection not only proves the Vulcan's belief in the existence of the katra, but also affirms these are not just a belief system but a certainty. Barrett points to the Star Trek feature films in general and The Search for Spock in particular as a turn from the irreligious television series.

The Genesis planet became a doomed experiment partly for dramatic reasons; having a time limit for the characters to save Spock added tension. On the other hand, Nimoy was interested in scientific ethics—how quickly can science move and what are the dangers of that movement.


The Search for Spock was not heavily marketed. Among the promotional merchandise created for the films release were Search for Spock-branded calendars and glasses sold at Taco Bell. A novelization (ISBN 0671495003) was also released, and reached the second place spot on The New York Times paperback bestsellers list. President Ronald Reagan screened the film for friends during a weekend away from the White House in 1984, spent with White House staff chief Mike Deaver and his own close friend Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-NV). Wrote Reagan: "It wasn't too good."

The Search for Spock opened June 1 in a record-breaking 1,996 theaters nationwide; combined with competing films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, Ghostbusters and Top Secret, more than half of the nation's screens were filled by summer blockbusters. The film broke the opening weekend gross that Indiana Jones set just a week before, making $16 million. In its second weekend the film's gross dropped declined 42 percent. The box office strength of The Search for Spock and Indiana Jones led Paramount to dominate early summer movie business. The film made $76,471,046 in North America, for a total of $87 million worldwide.

Critical response

The film received generally positive reviews from critics. Richard Schickel of Time praised the film as "perhaps the first space opera to deserve that term in its grandest sense". Janet Maslin of The New York Times and Newsweek s wrote that while the film felt weighed down by the increasingly aged actors and television tropes, it was leavened by its dedication. Roger Ebert called the film "good, but not great" and a compromise between the special effects-dependent Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the character-driven The Wrath of Khan. Conversely, USA Today praised the film as the best of the three and the closest to the original spirit of the television series. An overwhelmingly negative view of the film was offered by The Globe and Mail s Susan Ferrier Mackay, who summed the film up as "ba-a-a-d".

Critics praised Nimoy's direction; USA Today attributed the film's success in capturing the essence of the television show to Nimoy's direction. Newsweek wrote that the film was the best-paced Trek film due to Nimoy's direction, and that "having worked with these actors so often, he's able to bring out their best sides". Newsweek and David Sterritt of the Christian Science Monitor appreciated that the film spent time slowing down and allowing moments of reflection, compared to contemporary action films' focus on effects rather than actors. The Washington Post s Rita Kempley wrote that Nimoy's direction was competent, but his background in television showed—"the film feels made-for-TV," she summarized. Fellow Post critic Gary Arnold concurred with Kempley's television movie assessment, but also wrote that Nimoy was smart to focus on the essentials of each scene; he "[concentrates] on the actors in ways that flatter and enhance their work."

The film's sense of self-seriousness and camaraderie amongst the characters were generally cited as positive aspects. Maslin wrote that certain tacky elements of the film's television roots were outweighed by the closeness of the Enterprise crew and "by their seriousness and avidity about what seem to be the silliest minutiae [...] That's what longtime Trekkies love about the series, and it's still here—a little the worse for wear, but mostly untarnished." The Los Angeles Times wrote that despite its spectacle, the film's "humanity once again outweighs the hardware, and its innocence is downright endearing". Mackay offered an alternate view, calling the characters' actions and dialogue "wooden" and that the film's monsters had more life than the acting.

The Search for Spock s plot was a point of interest; Schickel called it "overplotted" and filled with "heavy expository burdens", comparing it to real opera. Sterritt said that the script ocassionally veered in "arbitrary" directions and contained missteps, such as how the Grissom and its crew are suddenly lost, but the plot disregards their fate. Arnold wrote that he missed a shocking moment for Shatner to act on par with The Wrath of Khan s revelation that Kirk was David's father. He considered David's death an attempt at a similar revelation, but that it was not a success.

The film's effects were conflictingly appraised. Schickel wrote that the effects were "technically adroit" and occasionally "witty". Sterritt felt that the settings always felt like they were on soundstages rather than out in space. Kempley appreciated the sets' low values, writing that "the fakier the sets, the better the feel" compared the the film's television origins.

Home video

The Search for Spock was first released on home video in 1985. The initial release included VHS, Beta Hi-Fi, and laserdisc formats with closed captioning. As part of a plan to support its push from 0.5 in to 8 mm playback hardware, Sony partnered with Paramount Home Video to bring titles like The Search for Spock to the platform in 1986.

The film was given a "bare bones" DVD release on May 11, 2000, with no extra features—the release was several months earlier than the release of The Wrath of Khan. Two years later, a two disc "Collector's Edition" was released with supplemental material but with the same video transfer as the original DVD release. It featured a text commentary by Michael Okuda and audio commentary from Nimoy, Bennett, Correll, and Curtis.

The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in May 2009 to coincide with the new Star Trek feature, along with the other five films featuring the original crew in Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection. The Search for Spock was remastered in 1080p high-definition from the 2000 DVD transfer. All six films in the set have new 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio. The disc features a new commentary track by former Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager television writers Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor.


a. The Motion Picture s $45 million budget was considered excessive. Part of the blame was laid at Gene Roddenberry's feet; Harve Bennett was made The Wrath of Khan s producer after he promised to make a sequel for much less.

b. In early drafts of The Wrath of Khan s script, Spock's death was intended to be a shocking twist in the first third of the movie (a la Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho), but leaked word resulted in an angry fan letter-writing campaign. With the element of surprise gone the script underwent a major rewrite and Spock's death became the climax.

c. Roddenberry, who had been forced out of direct creative control during production of the previous film, felt that the destruction of the vessel he had helped to create was something of a betrayal; many attributed the leak and the acrimony that followed to Roddenberry himself. Regardless, the vessel's destruction was clearly shown in a television spot that aired two weeks before the film's release; Bennett tried to have the Paramount-approved commercial changed, but lost out.



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