Movie Review: For the Love of Spock

This is a project I backed on Kickstarter, so I wanted to make sure someone else reviewed it, for un-bi-ass-ed-ness’s sake. 😉 Enter: Prince Adam (“Don’t mind if I do…” ;)), and his Superhero SciFi eXXXpertise. 🙂 Thanks for taking this one on for me, ho-mie!! (“That’s what he said…” 😉 xoxo)
“ An examination of the enduring appeal of Leonard Nimoy and his portrayal of Spock in Star Trek (1966).

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This film is definitely an examination and a celebration of Star Trek and Spock, yet director Adam Nimoy presents us with a deeper look at the man who helped propel that series and franchise to success, while at the same time, was creating the character that would become the pop culture icon known as Mr. Spock! That man was Leonard Nimoy, as well as Adam’s father. What we see is the story of a self made man, an entrepreneur. As a child, Leonard acted in local theater in the Boston area. The acting bug caught him and he decided to make a career out of it. Leonard Nimoy’s parents were dead set against him becoming an actor, but he was determined to do it anyway, so he hopped on a train and headed to California. To make ends meet, he worked many odd jobs such as assembling freezers and worked at a pet store, just to name a few. His patience would pay off. Pre- Star Trek, the actor would appear on film in Kid Monk Baroni, and on television in The Outer Limits and Gunsmoke. Star Trek is ultimately his most notable screen success, as it provided him with three seasons of television work, 5 starring film appearances, an animated series, video game voice overs and cameo appearances in the various updated incarnations of the franchise, both on TV and in the most recent J.J. Abrams films. Aside from Star Trek, Mr. Nimoy had a short stint on Mission Impossible. At first he enjoyed the role, as his character was a master of disguise, which afforded him the opportunity to play many roles. However, he found himself playing the same disguises over and over again. So he left the show and pursued theater, where he got rave reviews for his performance in Fiddler On the Roof, and even playing a Nazi officer, in a performance described as chilling in the documentary, where Nimoy became unrecognizable on stage to even his friends and family. Nimoy also tried his hand at singing and poetry. (Ghostface and I are fans. ;))

spock98As a film director, Leonard Nimoy directed Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and 3 Men and A Baby. All three were very successful ventures at the box office. As hobbies, Leonard enjoyed flying his own small plane and photography. The film highlights all of these successes and shows that in a way Leonard Nimoy lived and realized his dream.

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I really appreciated that this documentary wasn’t just a puff piece. It did highlight the trials and tribulations that came with being such a beloved character on such a popular show. Adam Nimoy, Leonard’s son, as well as his daughter indicate that living with “Spock” is difficult to describe, as their dad wasn’t home much during the week, and when he was, it was essentially to eat dinner and rehearse lines for the next day as Spock. Nimoy wasn’t really around to just be able to hang out with. In the documentary, Nimoy admits to staying in character in between takes and at home. Spending most of his waking hours as the character, he found it hard to turn off Spock. Life got a little more stressful for Nimoy and his family, when a magazine article accidentally published his home address as his fan mail address. Not only was his home address flooded with fan mail, but some fans went overboard parking on his street, ripping out his shrubbery as a souvenir, following him home, and asking if they could come inside. Fans get attached and possessive of characters, but wow this is taking it to the extreme. As much as I hate the “Message Board Brigade”, at least they keep their lunacy to the message boards. To ensure the financial stability of his family after Star Trek, Leonard often opened up his home and granted access to his family for magazine family portraits. However Adam says that this eventually became a strain on the family, and Adam and his sister refused to appear in a photo shoot with their father one year as a means of protest. He highlights one family portrait, where you see none of the Nimoys smiling, which indicates their frustration. The struggles went beyond the fame associated with being Spock. The documentary discusses the actor’s lawsuit with Paramount over licensing rights to use his likeness as Spock on merchandise. The lawsuit went on for years, nearly preventing him from joining the feature films. That, coupled with the financial failure of his directorial effort for The Good Mother, and a divorce from his wife, led Nimoy’s drinking to get worse and worse, specifically in the 80’s. Even Adam Nimoy is very candid in the film about his own drug use. These factors led father and son led to estrangement. It was only after Leonard Nimoy remarried, and Adam had tragically lost his wife that the two men sought rehab, and eventually repaired their relationship. Adam reads a heartfelt letter written to him by his father, which was a piece of the puzzle that repaired their relationship. I loved that the film shows us both the good and the bad in Leonard’s life. While fans often blur the line between actor and character, this is a stark reminder that actors and actresses are just like us regular folk! Sure, their pay grade may differ from ours slightly. They succeed and fail and in that respect we’re one and the same, which in a way reinforces one of the themes at play in Star Trek.

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Speaking of Star Trek, this documentary makes one thing abundantly clear. Leonard Nimoy loved the character of Spock, and was extremely passionate about the franchise. Nimoy loved the character of Spock because he was the ultimate outsider, half human, and half Vulcan. He drew on the experience of his Jewish family, being outsiders and “alien” immigrants coming to America. The actor says he never saw Spock as cold and emotionless, instead playing him as someone who has control over his emotions, never showing them outwardly. After doing a guest spot on the Gene Roddenberry show The Lieutenant, Gene created the Spock role with Leonard Nimoy in mind for the part. Prior to Star Trek, the actor didn’t have an acting job that lasted more than two weeks. For Star Trek though, the creator was actually selling him on the idea of the show. Nimoy wasn’t sure the prosthetic ears would work, but Gene Roddenberry was adamant that he wanted to keep the pointy ears. In terms of hair and eyebrows, the actor contributed his thoughts to the look. The network passed on the initial pilot, and wanted it reshot with an entirely new cast. Gene Roddenberry fought to keep Nimoy, because his character’s look and his portrayal would add diversity to the cast. When the pilot went to series, the network wanted the pointy ears and jagged eyebrows gone, because they though Spock looked too devilish for Bible belt America. However, Roddenberry and Nimoy fought to keep the look. The level of respect admiration and co-operation between actor and producer/show creator was refreshing. Especially given the time period we are dealing with. An interesting little tidbit from the film, is that Leonard Nimoy shaped his portray of Spock to fit the captain he was working with. Nimoy says that in the first pilot he played Spock with more energy, because the actor playing Cpt. Pike was laid back. When Shatner came onboard and was more theatrical he decided to play Spock more laidback and reserved. After the show aired, Variety gave it a bad review, saying it wouldn’t last. Even friends who visited the set, told Nimoy he should get out of doing the show. However, Nimoy stuck to his gut and stayed loyal to his cast and crew. When Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner signed on to do Star Trek: The Animated Series, the network planned to use voice actors for other roles. However, Leonard Nimoy threatened not to participate if Nichelle Nichols and George Takei weren’t brought back as Uhura and Sulu respectively. This level of loyalty, which is rare in Hollywood, had me respecting the actor even more.

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In addition to the character’s appearance, Leonard Nimoy had influence on many of Spock’s classic character traits. Spock’s trademark line fascinatingly came about because of a scene were everyone was reacting to a potential alien attack. Nimoy decided Spock would see the event as a first contact learning experience and uttered the one word dialogue as such. Nimoy came up with the famed Vulcan death grip. The script called for Spock to hit an evil version of Kirk over the head with a pistol but, Nimoy suggested that Vulcan’s had powerful energy that Vulcan’s could emit from their fingertips, and due to his vast knowledge of human anatomy from Vulcan education, the simple grip in the right spot, could incapacitate a human. Even the Vulcan hand gesture is something Leonard Nimoy appropriated from his childhood. The hand gesture is part of the Jewish faith, and is part of a prayer ritual, that the actor saw at synagogue as a child. It stuck with him, and he first used it on Star Trek in the episode Amok Time. This character was as much created by Leonard Nimoy, as it was Gene Roddenberry, or any writer who worked on the series. His cast mates appeared in the documentary and all indicated that while their roles could be played by anyone, no one could play Spock the way Leonard did. Even current Spock Zachary Quinto said he was glad his version of Spock allowed for some variation from Nimoy’s portrayal, because he loved and revered Nimoy and his take on it. The documentary also mentioned that Star Trek and its fan base really kicked off the convention type event, as well as cosplay culture. Leonard was awestruck at the amount of people he saw at his first Star Trek convention and enjoyed interacting with fans in this setting, and tried to attend events such as this whenever he could.

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For the Love Of Spock is a documentary that succeeds in its mission. It celebrates both a long running television franchise, one of its most memorable characters, and the actor who brought him to life. It’s about having a dream, realizing it, experiencing a fall and picking yourself back up again. If you were a fan of Leonard Nimoy before, your fandom for this man will grow after watching this film, The film gave me some “inside baseball” in terms of Star Trek and Spock, that I never knew about. It made me smile and yes, I even shed a tear or two. By the end of this film you will get a sense on the impact Leonard Nimoy had on such a wide variety of actors. Fellow actors like Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander and Jim Parsons appear in the documentary, indicating that Leonard Nimoy influenced their acting technique. A writer for The Big Bang Theory even confirmed the obvious, that the character of Sheldon was based partly on Spock. Nimoy and his character reached beyond the profession of acting. Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist credits Star Trek and Spock for partly advancing science to where it is today. Even NASA scientists and astronauts were interviewed, saying they got into their profession because of Star Trek, and Nimoy. After watching this documentary, there is no denying that Leonard Nimoy through Spock, made his mark on the world that will insure that he will live long and prosper in the minds and hearts of fans worldwide. That is an accomplishment that is absolutely fascinating.

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  • This does sound intriguing but I’m not sure I want to look behind the curtain. Hmmm. Hmmmm. We’ll see if it I see.