REVIEW: “For the Love of Spock”

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As we celebrate all things Star Trek, on this its 50th anniversary, 455 Films has released For the Love of Spock in theaters and on video-on-demand streaming services this weekend, a beautifully produced documentary which serves as a kind of love letter and final farewell to Leonard Nimoy from his son, Adam.

For the Love of Spock accomplishes one of those rare feats for a mainstream Star Trek documentary in that it is informative without being condescending to its core Star Trek fan base. Documentaries of this type often have a hard time finding a way to straddle the line between satisfying hardcore fans as well as the uninitiated. For the Love of Spock manages to do both exceptionally well.

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Nimoy’s musical interludes also receive attention.

That said, if you’re expecting a dry, clinical rundown of Leonard Nimoy’s career in Star Trek with some behind-the-scenes dirt sprinkled in, prepare to be disappointed (or relieved, depending on your temperament). The key word in the film’s title here is “love” and the documentary is chiefly a tribute film serving to reveal, on a personal and – at times – emotional level, who the man was underneath the pointy ears and stoic demeanor.

Adam Nimoy produced the documentary with help from a crowd-funding campaign through Kickstarter, which helped to pay for the large amount of licensed video content in the feature, from Leonard’s Trek years (as well as other projects). The project began as a joint venture with his father, but after Leonard’s death last year, it took on a much larger scope and importance.

Adam was able to solicit the support of all principle actors from the original series for interviews, as well as those from the rebooted movies – plus many others in the entertainment industry and from Leonard’s life.

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Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”) discusses Spock with Adam Nimoy.

There are a number of interesting takeaways from this film, especially if you’re not familiar with Leonard’s early years as a struggling actor in television. The birth of the pointy ears prosthetic, the Vulcan neck pinch, and the famous hand greeting are explained away, as you’d expect.

But these bits of trivia are almost incidental to the larger story being told: that of a man who passionately wanted to be an actor and who, after considerable sacrifice and subsequent success with Spock, found it hard to separate himself from that identity.

Because this is Adam’s story as much as it is Leonard’s, we also learn about Adam’s struggle finding his own career identity living in the shadow of his famous father. Adam did manage to carve out a career directing for television. In addition to NYPD Blue, Outer Limits, and Babylon 5, Adam directed two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation – “Rascals” and “Timescape.”

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Nimoy interviews Simon Pegg on the “Star Trek Beyond” set.

There are some glaring omissions that may upset fans eager to learn more about Leonard’s work on the original Star Trek feature films. While the film does spend some time on Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Leonard characterized the experience as “depressing”) and his path to feature film directing in the 1980’s with Star Trek III and Trek IV – as well as Three Men and a Baby – there’s no mention of any of the Star Trek movies after The Voyage Home, or his ground-breaking appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation’s episode “Unification.”

We do pick up with his experience working on the 2009 Trek reboot film, with personal memories from Director JJ Abrams and members of the cast. J.J. Abrams, Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine, and Simon Pegg are among the Kelvin Timeline participants to discuss Nimoy in the interview segments.

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Nimoy is remembered as a father, brother, actor, musician, and photographer.

For the Love of Spock is beautifully assembled, and the film’s coda, which takes place at Burning Man 2015, is captivating in its visual power. As a whole, For the Love of Spock doesn’t ignore the darker parts of Leonard’s life, but it doesn’t wallow in them at the expense of what truly defined Leonard Nimoy and his legacy, which is dignity, passion, and sacrifice.

For the Love of Spock can be viewed on many digital platforms, in theaters across the United States and Canada, and is available for preorder on Blu-ray and DVD at the film’s official website.

  • I was a Kickstarter backer of this film, which meant that I got to see it at a backers-only screening on June 27th. Here’s what I thought of it:

    Adam Nimoy had advertised the movie in his Kickstarter campaign as a
    documentary celebrating Spock and Leonard Nimoy, in honor of the 50th
    anniversary of Star Trek. That was two-thirds of the film. The final third was a look at the troubled relationship between Adam and Leonard.

    The
    first third of the film — the part about Spock — was sorta fun,
    though I didn’t feel as if Adam shed any actual light on the subject.
    There was a collection of great Spock moments — not as good as what you
    could find in any fan-made YouTube compilation — a few interviews with
    Trekkies who felt that Spock helped them in various personal ways, and a
    few interviews with professional scientists who appreciated Spock.
    Neil DeGrasse Tyson was especially notable among the latter, for being
    consistently adorable, but then, he usually is. 🙂

    The second
    third of the film — the part about Leonard Nimoy — was, I thought, the
    best part. We got clips of Leonard’s guest appearances in various TV
    shows while he was a young man, shots of him in various plays after he
    became famous, and some discussion of the movies he’d directed and the
    photographs he’d taken. There were interviews with his older brother,
    Melvin, and his wife, with a childhood friend who also became an actor,
    and with the surviving cast members of TOS and of the reboot movies. I
    had never seen Melvin before, and it was interesting to hear him talk
    about his little brother.

    The final third of the film — the part
    where Adam talked about his troubled relationship with his father —
    blames Leonard’s devotion to his work and the consequent long hours,
    exhaustion, and general non-availability for Adam’s various addictions
    and general dissatisfaction with life. There’s a quite a lot of that —
    He forced the whole family to help him answer his fan mail! The pain!
    The horror! — and then it winds up with a segment whose tone is
    “Fortunately, Leonard eventually gave up all that acting nonsense and
    devoted himself to his family, as he should have all along.”

    So the film has a “happy” ending, by having Leonard give up his various creative pursuits to devote himself to his family.

    Bleah.

    Adam
    says that his ex-wife — with whom he is good friends — told him that
    there was too much of HIM in the movie. He asked the movie’s editor —
    he told us during the introduction before the film that this was a woman
    he hired specifically because she knew nothing about Star Trek
    and she told him that putting so much of himself into the movie was a
    good thing. Judged just as a movie, the editor is probably right,
    because the last third adds a bit of drama. Judged as a film touted as a celebration of Spock and Leonard Nimoy,
    however, I’m afraid I have to agree with the ex-wife. And even more
    than Adam’s injecting so much of himself into the movie, I object to his
    making “Give up your career and devote yourself to your family” the
    point or moral of the story he’s telling.

    So now I’ll talk about the movie in more detail, by part:

    1. The
    first third of the movie is probably the best that Adam could have
    done, given that he wasn’t a big Spock fan. I think someone other than
    Adam could have done a much better job with this, though I guess it’s
    not Adam’s fault that he isn’t someone else. 🙂 The thing is that Adam
    is one of the few people who have access to all of the cast members and
    to Neil DeGrasse Tyson and to folks at NASA and so on. A Spock-loving
    Trekkie could have written and planned a better movie about
    Spock, but that person wouldn’t have had the access that Adam had, and
    that’s rather unfortunate. I would have loved to have seen a movie like
    this made by someone who had Adam’s access but who truly LOVED Spock.

    The
    organization of the first part is along the lines of the Vulcan
    superpowers, so there’s a bit of “He mind-melds! He neck-pinches! He
    gives the Vulcan salute! How cool!” And yeah, okay, those things are
    cool, and there is a nod to how Spock has inspired several scientists
    and been a role-model and comfort to outsiders of various stripes. It
    was quite reasonable, that first third. But I didn’t feel as if it was
    made with real LOVE for Spock, and I didn’t feel as if it shed any light
    on why Spock is so compelling that any reasonably articulate Trekkie
    couldn’t have given us with five minutes’ thought.

    There wasn’t
    any deeper analysis of Spock’s character beyond the scientist and
    outsider stuff, so we didn’t hear about all the things besides the
    Vulcan superpowers that make Spock such a compelling character.
    Personally, I find the fact that Spock will do what he believes to be
    the right thing, no matter how much it costs him personally, to be one
    of the hallmarks of his character and one of the reasons why he’s so
    inspiring, but maybe that’s just me? Like how he was willing to face
    the death penalty to take Christopher Pike to Talos IV in “The
    Menagerie,” or how he was willing to let his father die and his mother
    hate him to protect the ambassadors on board the Enterprise in “Journey to Babel,” and of course there’s his repairing the ship at the cost of his own life in The Wrath of Khan.

    2.
    I have less to say about the second part of the movie. It gave us a
    summary — or maybe more accurately, a collage — of Leonard’s
    background and life. That was fine, though I did think it was perhaps
    telling that Adam left out several of the stories that show Leonard’s
    goodness. He gave us the story about Leonard’s insisting that Takei and
    Nichols be hired for the animated series but not the ones about his
    getting pay parity for Nichols during TOS or about his being the only
    one Grace Lee Whitney felt she could trust and confide in after someone
    connected with the show raped her.

    3. Adam talks about
    his troubled relationship with his father and makes it clear that he
    didn’t get what he wanted from his father until the last few years of
    Leonard’s life. He never tells us, though — I learned this from
    Shatner’s book about Leonard — that when Adam wanted to stop being a
    lawyer and start being a director, Leonard arranged for Adam to shadow a
    director on The Next Generation and essentially be tutored in
    the craft by a working professional, something that a person whose last
    name was NOT Nimoy probably could not have arranged at all, and if they
    had been able to arrange it, they’d have had to show some talent and
    training first.

    Adam doesn’t seem to take the cultural standards
    of the time into account. Leonard Nimoy was born one year before my own
    father was born; Adam is two years older than I am. I remember the
    times during which he and I were raised, and the cultural standard then
    was that the woman raised the children and the man worked hard and
    supported the family. It was considered normal, natural, and desirable
    for the wife to devote herself to the children and for the husband to
    devote himself to his career so that he could provide financial support
    for his family. Nowadays, we find those attitudes sexist and limiting,
    and I’m glad that our cultural standards have changed. But I think it’s
    unfair to judge a man for not living up to standards that didn’t exist
    at the time!

    A reading of Leonard’s autobiographies shows that he
    spent an enormous amount of time and energy on his career because he
    needed and wanted that creative outlet. But it also shows that during
    the years of the TV show, he made a huge number of personal appearances
    all over the country for anyone who would pay him — at a time when he
    was exhausted from working 12-16 hours a day on the show — in order to
    provide for his family while he could. He thought that his popularity
    and marketability would decline after the TV show went off the air — a
    reasonable conclusion, given what happens to most TV actors — and he
    was determined to take advantage of every available opportunity while he
    still had them. There was no creative outlet for Leonard in all those
    public appearances; he did them to support his family.

    By the standards of the time,
    Leonard was doing the right thing and more than the right thing, was
    going above and beyond and working himself into exhaustion to provide
    for his family.

    Leonard never got what he wanted and
    needed from his own father, or from his mother, either. They were very
    invested in the success of his older brother and had less attention for
    him, plus they never understood either his ambition to be an actor or
    the show that made him a star. Leonard’s parents disappointed him at
    least as much as Leonard disappointed Adam … and Leonard went on to
    become a great man. Not just a great actor, though he was that, but a
    man whose intimates (except for Adam) all talk about his goodness,
    kindness, and generosity.

    Although the movie certainly wasn’t all
    bad and in fact had some lovely moments, overall I thought that Adam
    Nimoy made a rather self-indulgent film. Of course, the poor guy did
    lose his father recently, so one can forgive a certain amount of self
    focus … but this isn’t the movie I thought I was funding, and I was
    heartsick at the “moral” Adam gave us.

    Do you want to see the film? Yeah, you probably do. But you’ll probably enjoy it more if you go in with lowered expectations. I trust I have lowered them sufficiently. 🙂

    • The Science Fiction Oracle

      Corylea, thanks for the all of the thought you put into this!

      • Thanks for reading it! I’ve loved Spock since 1969, and I was hoping to see a Spock documentary that was more about appreciation and less about conflict … but it was still nice to have a Spock-centric movie for the anniversary, even if it wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

    • Robinette Broadhead

      I watched the film last night and enjoyed it immensely. Thanks for your write up. I agree with much of what you’ve said, except for one glaring point, which I have to comment on:

      “Leonard went on to become a great man. Not just a great actor, though he was that, but a man whose intimates (except for Adam) all talk about his goodness, kindness, and generosity.”

      What, exactly, are you talking about??? The film itself is a love letter to his dad. The very last line, spoken by Zachary Quinto, implies as much. Adam just spent two years of his life literally talking about how much he loves/loved his dad, and about all the good things Leonard achieved in his life.

      He does talk about how Leonard was rarely around during Trek and Mission, but the siblings generally understood that their dad was working while he could and was providing for the family. After this period, they did see their dad more frequently. Adam’s real problem, actually, is one that most men can identify with.

      In the film, Adam spends a lot of time talking about how difficult it is to live up to your dad. It’s a general thing that all men face. Some exceed their Dad’s accomplishments (such as Leonard.) Some don’t. When you can’t, which is a very real phenomenon, it can result in torment and pain that resonates throughout the family and can even destroy relationships.

      There are countless cases of children of celebrities who self destruct because they just can’t live up to what their dads achieved. Adam Nimoy seems to be doing just fine. He’s a good director and I’d like to see him do a small genre movie. And if Adam ever reads this, good luck to you! And thanks for the great film. I loved it.

  • The Science Fiction Oracle

    Really looking forward to this — great review — thanks, Trekcore.

    One comment though that I will take exception with:

    “his ground-breaking appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation’s episode “Unification.””

    To me, only the fact that Spock was returning to Star Trek on TV was “groundbreaking”. The two-parter was frankly, just awful. The writers didn’t know how to use Spock, and there went Berman again having to kill off another TOS character, Sarek. And the worst offense was, that you had Sarek and Spock in the same episode, but yet the writers couldn’t get them together, and Sarek dies off-screen…I still have not forgiven Rick Berman to this today for that horrible offense. It’s nearly as bad as his killing of Kirk, again, in a really weak way that the writers couldn’t do justice to.

    • prometheus59650

      I don’t think it’s quite awful, but I don’t care for it as much as some others do. I would have wished for reconciliation of some kind between Spock and his father, but I get it. Sometimes in life you just don’t get that.

      Its biggest crime, I think, is that Spock is so underutilized. He could have done more. He’s not even in the first part of the episode (Six words at the end don’t count for me)

      But apparently the episode needed pivotal scenes like Worf bellowing opera, the emotional resonance of which carries some three decades later.

      /sarcasm

    • Trent

      I never liked Unification for the same reason.
      Not having Spock and Sarek in the same scenes was criminal .
      Having them at odds ,again ,after they had “mended their fences was wrong”
      When Watching it, I thought the ending twist would be Spock went to Romulus not to reunite the Vulcans and the Romulians , but to get the cure they had for his father’s disease. .

  • Michael

    So tired of posers like Rod Roddenberry and Adam Nimoy leeching off the talent their fathers had, but they lack.

    • Liz

      What’s wrong with you? Although I’ve yet to see the entire documentary, I attended the “For the Love of Spock” panel at Mission New York. It’s clear that this documentary was a labor of love for Adam. Everyone talked about how much they enjoyed hearing from the kids at the “Growing Up Trek” panels. Also Rod’s 50th anniversary merch was some of the most affordable at the con. None of these people you don’t know deserve your ire.