Movie Review: “For the Love of Spock”

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As the best day of my professional life happened in the early 1990s, when I followed Leonard Nimoy around central North Carolina on a location scout, pardon me while I get all weepy about his son’s lovely documentary, “For the Love of Spock.”

It’s an unalloyed joy, a film about the journeyman character actor who got the biggest of big breaks, had all kinds of fun with it, but transformed the character, the role and himself into an icon of nobility, generosity and humanity. But it’s also about a son remembering his dad, the ebb and flow of that relationship and how that mirrored the elder Nimoy’s growing into his greatest role, living up to it, and being a better father thanks to it.

Former entertainment lawyer turned director Adam Nimoy’s Kickstarter-funded marvel covers pretty much the full scope of his father’s life, the trek to Los Angeles in the late 1940s, the years of odd jobs — day work in the movies and two week guest spots on TV shows — through “Star Trek” and everything that made possible.

Using old interviews with his dad and the ones Adam conducted just before his father’s death, and clips from the TV shows, the movies, and interviews with legions of his colleagues, friends and fans, Nimoy the Younger constructs a definitive History of Trek, and an adoring portrait of his father, the Man Who Was Spock.

It’s not just anecdotes or Leonard reading from the audio book version of his autobiography (“I Am Spock”).  Almost everybody (not his first wife, not his widow) who needed to be in this story was interviewed. From vintage radio interviews with Gene Roddenberry to J.J. Abrams, they gush the same gusher. They all loved this guy.

Here’s childhood pal Barry Newman (“Vanishing Point”) recalling his visit to the set of the “Star Trek” pilot and his dire warning into Leonard’s pointy ears.

“‘Run,’ I said. ‘Get out of this. It’s a treadmill to oblivion!'”

Fans from Neal DeGrasse Tyson and a couple of NASA engineers, to Jason Alexander (who can do whole Kirk monologues, from memory and in character) and Simon Pegg talk about what made the character and the man special.

George Takei and Walter Koenig marvel at how Nimoy ensured that they stayed in the franchise as it migrated from canceled TV series to animated series to film franchise.

And just as everybody is getting all misty-eyed, here’s Nimoy singing “Bilbo Baggins,” and Shatner cracking wise that yeah, Leonard was the better singer of the two. But even Leonard was off key.

spock1The father-son stuff is terrific (Nimoy’s daughter is here, too). I would’ve enjoyed more of the early life, in Boston, the barber’s son. And it’s a pity there were no clips (with rights approval) of Nimoy’s post-“Trek” stage career, “Man in the Glass Booth,” “Fiddler on the Roof.”

But “For the Love of Spock” is everything you’d hope for in a biography of one of the most universally beloved characters and character actors of all time.

No, he didn’t get to make his Siamese Twins biography, the film he was scouting in N.C. (Chang and Eng retired to White Oak, near Andy Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy) to film. Over the years, I have run into writers and others who found him to be a prima donna and a pill. This guy, for instance. 

Yes, he was an absentee dad for too long, and his first marriage didn’t endure. He still managed to ennoble an actor’s life, to be a mensch to friends, family and fans, even after he became so famous his life would never be the same.

He wore the ears, and wore them well.

3half-star

 

MPAA Rating: unrated, a moment or two of profanity

Cast: Leonard Nimoy, Adam Nimoy, William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, J.J. Abrams, Nicholas Meyer, Jim Parsons, Jason Alexander, Simon Pegg, Neal DeGrasse-Tyson
Credits: Directed by Adam Nimoy. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:45

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