For the Love of Spock
Touching documentary delves into father/son relationship behind famous sci-fi series
For the Love of Spock (2016)
Directed by Adam Nimoy
This Thursday, Sept. 8, marks the 50th anniversary of the airing of the very first episode of “Star Trek” on NBC. At the time, movie and TV industry bible Variety called it “an incredible and dreary mess of confusion and complexities.” Confusing and complex as the show might have been for certain audiences in 1966, it paved the way for serious sci-fi in popular culture and proved to have just a bit of staying power of its own. Despite lasting a mere two and three-quarters seasons before being canceled for low ratings, “Star Trek” went on to spawn five more TV series, 13 films, a dedicated fan base around the world and a merchandising empire that shows no sign of slowing even after five decades.
Given the hoopla over the fan-fave’s golden anniversary, this Thursday seems like perfect (and none too coincidental) timing to check out the new documentary For the Love of Spock. It is, as the title suggests, a warm paean to late “Star Trek” actor Leonard Nimoy and the character he created and embodied, perfectly logical Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock.
The film is the work of director Adam Nimoy, who you can probably guess with little effort is the son of Leonard Nimoy. The film was started as a collaboration between father and son, but the elder Nimoy became ill and passed away suddenly in February of 2015. That left Adam with little choice but to turn his film into a sort of cinematic memorium to an actor and a character that spent the better part of five decades more or less inseparable.
Adam’s knowledge of “Star Trek” appears encyclopedic, and he puts it to good use here, offering up a wealth of well-chosen footage from the original series. Naturally, nearly all of the original actors are interviewed (William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols), singing the praises of Mr. Nimoy. The rebooted cast from J.J. Abrams’ “Kelvin Timeline” films (Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond) also shows up in droves (Chris Pine, Simon Pegg, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana) to say how much they liked the guy. And it’s not idle fanboy praise either. Nimoy was the only original castmember they worked with. (Pegg gets particularly excited, but the most emotional moments are saved for Quinto, who inherited the role of Spock for a new generation.) Even tangential Hollywood figures (Jim Parsons from the “Star Trek”-worshipping series “Big Bang Theory”) get to reminisce about their experiences with the generous actor. Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld”) offers up his spot-on Shatner imitation. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson even finds time to drop by and gush.
Adam’s knowledge of “Star Trek” appears encyclopedic, and he puts it to good use here, offering up a wealth of well-chosen footage from the original series.
If this all sounds like too much hagiography, it isn’t. The film is touching without being cloying. Nimoy was beloved even outside the universe of “Star Trek.” (He was a renowned photographer, a director, a stage actor.) Nobody has a bad word to say about the guy. (Lest you think this is simply a function of blind fan worship, look at the sort of things that have been said about William Shatner over the years.) Nimoy isn’t portrayed as a total saint, either. The film touches on his drinking problems, which led to a stint in rehab and formed another (less positive) connection between father and son.
Clearly, this is an act of mourning on the part of the filmmaker. But it’s a joyful one, focussed on love and healing. In addition to all the public praise of Nimoy, there’s a lot of talk on Adam’s part about the private Nimoy. The two weren’t always on the best of terms. Nimoy’s career kept him away from family for most of his life. We hear how the father-and-son relationship evolved over the years. Obviously, in making this deeply personal tribute, Adam Nimoy has few regrets or hard feelings. He wants people to know how much his father was loved in life and beyond. The praise is both heartfelt and infectious.
Obviously, this film is aimed hardest at hardcore “Star Trek” fans. Given their obsessive nature, there isn’t much new or revelatory that this film is likely to spring on them about either Nimoy or the creation of his indelible character. But that’s fine. Such people don’t watch “The Corbomite Maneuver” for the 13th time for the surprise factor. On the other hand, Nimoy’s Mr. Spock is such an icon that this film could (and should) appeal to casual viewers curious about a major moment in pop cultural history. For 50 years “Star Trek,” its storylines and the characters within it have been part of our nation’s film and TV heritage. For the love of Spock, let’s all celebrate it.