Starring: Leonard Nimoy, Zachary Quinto, William Shatner, George Takei, J.J. Abrams, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Jason Alexander.
eyelights: its exploration of Leonard Nimoy’s life and career. its archival footage of its subject. its interviewees. its delicate balance.
eyesores: its cursory look at certain events or moments.
“I have been and always will be your friend.”
2016 was the 50th anniversary of ‘Star Trek’. Aside for a new movie, the paltry ‘Star Trek Beyond’, and a couple of other lackluster efforts by the studio (a television retrospective and some blu-ray re-releases), it was as though nothing happened. They couldn’t even get their act together enough to get the new show, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, on the air in time for it.
‘Star Trek’ is one of our culture’s most influential works of fiction – and it wasn’t even properly celebrated.
Well, on September 8th, some of my friends and I paid tribute to ‘Star Trek’: we watched six episodes of classic Trek, with everyone picking a favourite episode. We ended up watching “The City on the Edge of Forever”, “Amok Time”, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, “A Taste of Armageddon”, “Operation: Annihilate” and “Mirror, Mirror” pretty much back-to-back.
It was awesome.
And, no, no one dressed as Klingons or whatever. Not all ‘Star Trek’ fans are that obsessive.
On the following day, the Leonard Nimoy documentary ‘For the Love of Spock’ opened in North American cinemas . Though it wasn’t officially related to the franchise, the picture was directed by Nimoy’s son, Adam, and it featured a swath of stock footage, personal memorabilia and interviews with the people who knew his father, including the cast of the original ‘Trek’.
It almost made up for the lack of anything else.
Leonard Nimoy’s Spock is probably my all-time favourite fictional character. As a kid, I loved the alien side of Spock. As a teenager, I loved the outsider in Spock. Now, I love that he has two sides, sometimes struggling with his emotions, but always trusting in logic to guide him through. I love how intelligent, wise, composed, dutiful, ethical, brave and loyal he is.
To me, he’s the epitome of what a human can be.
Plus Nimoy is way cool.
So, naturally, I beelined to the cinema and caught the first showing on that Friday the 9th; I happened to have the day off, and I had an evening of ‘Star Trek: The Card Game‘ planned, so it was now or never. Sadly, almost all of my friends worked that day, so I would have to go see it alone. But I wasn’t going to miss out on this limited engagement showing!
‘For the Love of Spock’ is a loving tribute to Leonard Nimoy: it begins with his early years as an actor, giving us an overview of how he got started, explains how he became Mr. Spock, and the impact that it had on his career and homelife, shows the projects he took on in the aftermath of ‘Star Trek’, including his journey as a film director and photographer.
It presents an incredibly talented but humble and very human individual, at times at odds with the character that made a star of him but ultimately grateful and at peace with his lot in life. It also shows us his struggles both before and after his career success, from working odd jobs to make ends meet to falling into alcoholism to cope with the stress of his life.
‘For the Love of Spock’ is also a personal journey: as it creates a portrait of the man behind the Vulcan it also reflects on the relationship that Adam had with his father and the impact that his career had on the young man in Spock’s shadow. Though this doesn’t take equal spotlight as Leonard Nimoy’s life, it gives the film an intimate touch that most documentaries wouldn’t.
Contributing greatly to this are interviews with Adam himself, who talks about his father with tremendous fondness – despite their long-standing rocky relationship. One gets the impression that Adam used the experience of making this film as a way to come to terms with more difficult moments and to get reacquainted with the father behind the legend.
There’s obviously an endless stream of other interview subjects, including JJ Abrams, Jason Alexander, D.C. Fontana, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Walter Koenig, Nicholas Meyer, Nichelle Nichols, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, William Shatner, George Takei, Karl Urban, and many more. All tell endearing stories about the actor and director they worked with.
Nimoy’s personal impact is also featured here, in the form of a few NASA scientists whose careers were inspired by his portrayal of Spock, and in the friends that he knew through the years. My favourite story comes from a childhood friend who remained close as Nimoy’s career was getting started and who, seeing Spock, was adamant that Nimoy should drop the part ASAP.
He thought it was a bad career move!
Some of the greatest stories come from Nimoy himself, as he recounts how he developed Spock, from the ears, to his personality, to the Vulcan greeting, nerve pinch and mind meld. I was particularly surprised to find out that it was the show’s director that told Nimoy to say “Fascinating” from a scientist’s perspective, permanently shaping the character’s general demeanor.
There’s also a terrific vintage interview of Nimoy reading the first review of ‘Star Trek’; it’s hilariously mean-spirited, garnering much laughter from the audience. He chuckles when they accuse Shatner of being wooden, pointing out that he’d never once seen Shatner understate anything. I also got a great laugh out of it. And liked seeing how grounded Nimoy was.
There are tons of archival footage interspersed throughout the film, but, aside for the ever-compelling Nimoy interviews, some of my favourite must have been his early performances, which I hadn’t seen before: he played an American Native, a boxer, a street gang leader and was in Gene Roddenberry’s ‘The Lieutenant’. Man, he was good, a little like early James Coburn.
He was so driven that he worked multiple gigs (set up fish tanks, sold freezers, drove cabs, worked in pet stores, sold ice cream, …etc.) just to start his career. Later, he would continue to fill his slate with as many gigs as possible, knowing that success wouldn’t last. He had such an unflinching work ethic that, even in his ’80s, he broke his nose on set and kept going.
Yeah, I’m a fan. He f-ing rocks.
And yet, some of what stuck with me the most in this film were the stories that Adam told. For instance, he had to go to a friend’s place to see the first episode of ‘Star Trek’, and the family would take care of the fanmail together (after a teen magazine published his address and truckloads of mail came in). He also talked about their reconciliation in Nimoy’s later years.
It’s very touching stuff.
I love ‘For the Love of Spock’. Though I may be biased, I think that this was a lovely tribute to its subject. I recognize that, though fairly comprehensive, it skips many significant moments at the end (where’s ‘Star Trek VI‘, …etc.), and it avoids some of the negative, like Nimoy’s denial of Spock during the ’70s. The structure isn’t 100% focused or linear either.
I also could have done without Shatner’s revisionist blather, or Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana’s takes on the character of Spock (since they conflict with my understanding of him), but that pales in comparison to everything else that’s on offer here. I could barely have asked for more. Honestly, I think that Adam made a film that his father would be very proud of.
He got to the heart of the man and made it easy for us to love him.
I may not be
I may not be the fastest
I may not be the tallest
Or the strongest
I may not be the best
Or the brightest
But one thing I can do better
Than anyone else…
To be me
Date of viewing: September 9, 2016