So over the Thanksgiving weekend, I made my family watch arguably the worst Star Trek film, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. When the Sybok interrogation scene of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy came up, it occurred to me: “Star Trek is REALLY good at doing this.”
Doing what exactly?
They’re good at creating emotional climax scenes where character arcs come full circle. Trek films may not be the flashiest of the science fiction genre, but that’s not really their intention. Star Trek is at its best when it’s theatrical, or allowing the actors to fully explore their characters. Two of the franchise’s most notable faces, William Shatner and Patrick Stewart, are quite effective stage actors and that’s where Star Trek is at its strongest: being character driven.
So you have to let the actors ACT.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Mutara Battle/Death of Spock
This is probably one of the most famous and most parodied death scene in all of film. But this sequence is quite remarkable on multiple levels.
It’s a shame that William Shatner didn’t get any accolades for his performance in Star Trek II. His portrayal of Captain/Admiral Kirk is often viewed as hammy, but in truth, Shatner was quite nuanced in his approach. Director Nicholas Meyer figured out that his leading man was far more effective when doing more takes, which caused the actor to slowly dial back his performance. In short, Meyer wore out Shatner, which perfectly suited a beat down and aging Kirk at the beginning of the film. Obviously, Meyer let Shatner return to form at the end which had a huge emotional payoff.
Not only does the villain Khan get his comeuppance by succumbing to his own wrath but…in pursuit of vengeance…he ends up becoming a force for creation. Spock, of course, delivers the ultimate sacrifice, but Kirk finally faces the very thing he’s cheated his way out of throughout his illustrious career: a no-win scenario.
Thus, everything comes full circle.
Of course, it also helps that there’s exceptional editing and the score that made James Horner a sought after composer is playing in the background.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: Stealing the Enterprise
James Horner is typically given credit for the success of this scene. But you have to tip your hat to the editing and, again, the performances.
While we can criticize Shatner’s acting choices all we want, he always makes it perfectly clear what his characters are feeling. And James B Sikking’s arrogant-ass performance almost makes you forget how shitty the Excelsior bridge set is.
It’s a shame that Leonard Nimoy didn’t direct more movies. While he directed some television before, it’s hard to believe that this was his first motion picture because he REALLY elevated this scene. If you pay attention, not much happens here: the Enterprise slowly backs up to the space doors before they magically open and then the Excelsior begins its failed pursuit. But it’s fucking intense! The hairs on my neck always stand when the Enterprise clears space doors and Kirk orders warp speed. That’s a testament to Nimoy’s superb direction of an otherwise ‘meh’ script.
While this isn’t the “emotional climax” to the film, it is an emotional highlight for the Original Series crew; they’re sacrificing EVERYTHING to save Spock. Now Star Trek III isn’t the best Trek film, but the “stealing the Enterprise” scene is one of the best in the franchise.