“For the Love of Spock”
A Son’s Tribute
Director Adam Nimoy had originally intended to examine his father’s iconic character in “Star Trek”, Mr. Spock for that franchise’s 50th anniversary. But in February 2015 Leonard Nimoy died and the documentary began to movie in a different direction. Now the film moves back and forth between biography and a love tribute to the series. More surprisingly, it also looks at the ties between father and son.
Culturally and historically, there are few actors that are as recognized as Leonard Nimoy. As Spock on “Star Trek,” Nimoy’s three-year-long role on primetime television turned into a lifetime of professional opportunities but that is only part of his story. “For the Love of Spock” doesn’t try to dissect Nimoy’s life in full, but it does give a fascinating overview of Nimoy’s rise to stardom and his struggles to keep his career interesting. Adam Nimoy shows his father as a man and an icon and along with help from family and friends, we become aware of Nimoy as we have never been before.
Adam Nimoy interviews stars of the original TV ‘Star Trek” series, as well the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and principals in J. J. Abrams’s big-screen reboot. We learn about Leonard’s profound contributions to the show including the phrase “Live long and prosper”; its attendant hand gesture (inspired by a move he saw as a child at synagogue services); the Vulcan Love Pitch and how he saw his character as half-human battling and his emotions, ensuring an intrinsic tension. We hear of Leonard’s work onstage (including a Broadway run in “Equus”) and his directing (“Three Men and a Baby,” two “Trek” movies) and of his legal and artistic (and triumphant) battles with Paramount.
Adam shares the drawbacks of having a famous father and speaks of his own problems with substance abuse and how his father’s alcoholism caused a long estrangement that ultimately ended in a sober reconciliation. As interesting as these revelations are, they are also distracting. What we really see is Leonard’s formidable charisma. Adam may be a successful director, but Leonard Nimoy was an artist who defined a timeless character.
The documentary returns to the early years to establish Nimoy’s sharp work ethic and interest in the performing arts. His parents refused to support his dream and Nimoy risked a lot and moved to Los Angeles in 1949, with no idea what Hollywood could provide. He began by taking on a series of small roles in television and film and as he did, he developed an awareness of work and how few opportunities in the industry were. The movie emphasizes this point, showing Nimoy as someone who wouldn’t turn down a job out of fear that another wouldn’t follow. He kept his career going while, at home, he was building a family with a wife and two children (daughter Julie also participates in the picture).
Nimoy found himself pursued for the very first time by producer Gene Roddenberry, flattering the actor with an offer to star in a strange sci-fi project titled “Star Trek.” The rest is history and the film gives us an overview of the production years, focusing on Nimoy’s challenge to shape the Vulcan into a more layered presence thus helping to define the character’s physical presence. Adam places specific emphasis on his father’s home life, recalling an absentee parent who worked around the clock, agreeing to all publicity efforts and personal appearances, laboring to sustain visibility during his time on the show. We see the early explosion of fame with Nimoy personally answering fan letters and building a sense of style for the first time in his life. But there was also alcoholism creeping into his routine. While “Star Trek” only lasted for three seasons, for Leonard Nimoy, it transformed his entire existence.
We hear from some famous friends and co-workers William Shatner, George Takei, and Walter Koenig from “Star Trek: The Original Series,” Chris Pine and most of the cast from the new “Star Trek” big screen adventures, and diverse assembly of loved ones and admirers, finding Jason Alexander, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jim Parsons, and Nimoy’s brother Melvin adding to the conversation. The documentary is more about influence and puts the spotlight on how television viewers were drawn to aspects of science after watching Spock problem solve as well as finding Spock’s war with logic as inspiration around the world. There is a lot of adoration of Nimoy but . instead of piling on layers of flattery, the production strives to understand Nimoy’s quest of self, including his work in theater acting, movie direction and photography.
What is missing in the film is that in the 1970’s, the character of Spock was rejected but rather than deal with the negative, Adam looks at Spock’s rise and domination and touches on convention appearances and his return to the role for J.J. Abrams’s take on “Star Trek.” We gain an understanding of his father’s personality and their troubled relationship and Adam is not afraid to identify tensions and lapses in communication as both men periodically went their separate ways. “For the Love of Spock” occasionally threatens to become an overly glossy offering of hero worship, but there is a great degree of honesty, making sure to identify the man before the Vulcan and creating a portrait of an actor and father having the kind of life that he never imagined that he could have.