REVIEW: For the Love of Spock [2016]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 111 minutes | Release Date: September 9th, 2016 (USA)
Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director(s): Adam Nimoy

“He did”

I’m not sure what the original plan for Adam Nimoy‘s documentary For the Love Spock was considering a full-length feature about the origins of a fictional character—no matter how beloved—is hardly the stuff for which theatrical releases are made. But Leonard Nimoy‘s passing during production ultimately gave the project a new motivation. It was no longer about commemorating Mr. Spock on the eve of “Star Trek” the original series’ fiftieth anniversary. Suddenly the footage captured had morphed into a memorial for this man who touched so many souls including Adam, his son. It moved from being about a character shaping today’s scientists, the science fiction genre, and outsiders the world over seeking hope to showcasing its effect on Nimoy as a man, father, husband, and artist.

That’s a daunting task for anyone let alone someone so personally invested. How do you go from what could be a frivolous journey through the annals of Trekkie lore to what needs to be a heartwarming biography about the man behind the ears? You have to delve backwards in time to get an idea of who Leonard was before the whirlwind of success, focus on his personal demons that risked alienating his loved ones, and fill in the gaps a story about Mr. Spock wouldn’t possess. The television show’s intergalactic hero didn’t experience the decade that occurred between the final episode’s airdate and his return via the big screen, but the actor who played him did. And we’ll discover it was a pretty eventful ten years.

This is the stuff that really provides intrigue and makes the documentary more than the glorified DVD extra it probably would have been otherwise. Don’t get me wrong: I loved hearing anecdotes about how getting the prosthetic ears right took them until the last minute. I loved learning about the origins of the “live long and prosper” mantra’s hand signal even more. These types of behind the scenes details lend a sense of importance and authenticity to what we often take for granted while watching the final product. But the audience for that sort of thing is niche at best. Nimoy’s legacy, however, is bigger. He directed Three Men and a Baby, starred in “Mission: Impossible”, and had a music career known for “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”.

To think about him now through the prism of his final years—smiling, happy, and loving as we assume he was his entire life—is to conjure thoughts of a saintly role model. To think that about anyone is being way too idealistic, though. No one is perfect and Nimoy wasn’t an exception. He battled alcoholism, dedicated himself to work at the detriment of his family, and ended up estranged from Adam for years at one point in their relationship. So while it can be weird to constantly see the director onscreen as an expert of all things Leonard because we know he personally chose that footage over others, you have to applaud him for letting history speak for itself no matter the warts some families would censor.

Adam includes personal letters, home videos, and truthful testimony from himself and his sister Julie admitting their troubles. As an outsider you may think it’s fun that they got to answer fan mail with their father, but hearing how those letters came in giant bags, hundreds at a time starts to reveal the undue stress provided. Strangers arrived at their house to say hello—regular fans, not paparazzi being the 1960s and 70s. We hear Leonard’s kids explain why some family photos were missing smiles and why certain photo shoots were simply missing them completely. Adam is very candid about his part in their fractured relationship and admits the joy of reconciliation in time to collaborate on this project before his death. Nimoy was human, his life complicated.

That’s not to say it isn’t also a pleasure listening to friends, co-workers, and fans sing his praises as a consummate professional who would genuinely go to bat for those he considered family. It’s a who’s who menagerie of archival interviews and newly shot one-on-ones specifically for this film that spans William Shatner to Zachary Quinto, Nicholas Meyer to Bill Prady. Adam touches on everything from “The Big Bang Theory” to NASA, conflicts with Paramount Pictures and ultimately receiving the control to personally steward the Star Trek franchise forward with training wheels removed. Some subjects seems slight enough to have been cut, (a quick vignette about Leonard and his wife Sandra’s changing fashion sense), while others appear ripe for their own documentaries (slash fiction between Spock and Kirk).

Aspect ratios and quality shift depending on what the source was, but for the most part the production value is more than effective for a Kickstarted budget. We are given an extensive overview of its subject’s storied career, work ethic, and endearing adoration for his fans. And besides a few rough patches with family members you can look upon Nimoy and feel justified holding him in high esteem. Often times you learn about celebrities only to discover they aren’t anywhere near as altruistic, down-to-earth, or accessible as you hope. Not with Leonard, though. He seems like he was the real deal through bullish years and lean. He was admired by his peers, loved by his friends, and all but canonized by his family despite obvious imperfections.

Casual fans may not find enough to dig into beyond surface affection and minor bouts of conflict, but when you’re dealing with a fandom such as Star Trek you don’t generally worry about demographics using the adjective “casual”. Nimoy was a renaissance man, but he was also a champion of this iconic role to the point where it defined him on-set and off. For the Love of Spock is very much a cathartic experience for Adam to remember his dad, but it also ensures those who cherished him as much—or perhaps creepily more—could say goodbye. That farewell is a tad random courtesy of footage from Burning Man 2015, but the point is made nonetheless. In the end Nimoy proves genuinely worthy of our devotion.

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