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That actor Leonard Nimoy lived a rich and full life is made vividly clear in Adam Nimoy’s loving documentary about his father and his most famous, iconic role. Packing in a wealth of information and nostalgia as well as presenting an intimate portrait of the sometimes contentious father/son relationship, For the Love of Spock, receiving its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, will be a must-see for Trekkies getting primed for this summer’s third installment of the rebooted franchise.
Originally conceived as a salute to Nimoy’s beloved Vulcan character to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of the original television show, the project became more expansive with the actor’s death last year at age 83. It became a more far-reaching examination of his wide-ranging career, which included film directing, stage acting, photography and, less felicitously, music, as a clip of his music video of “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” hilariously illustrates.
Opening with a series of condolence calls left on Adam’s answering machine, the film is deeply personal throughout. Besides his obvious closeness with his subject, the filmmaker had much material to work with, including copious excerpts from the audio version of his father’s autobiography.
Nimoy began his acting career in the early 1950s, with clips from early appearances in such B-movies as Kid Monk Baroni and TV’s Gunsmoke demonstrating that he was getting steady work as a character actor. His life changed forever when he was asked by Gene Roddenberry to appear in a new science-fiction show. Of all the characters on Star Trek, Spock was the only one created especially for a particular actor.
Nimoy appeared in the pilot opposite Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. James Kirk, but the network rejected it, saying it was “too cerebral.” He was the only major cast member retained for the revised version, which ran for three seasons before being canceled. The rest, of course, is history.
Nimoy clearly inspired love and devotion among his colleagues, many of whom are seen in interviews. All of the surviving castmembers from the original series deliver effusive praise, with Walter Koenig emotionally describing how, when he and Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were not cast in the 1973 animated Star Trek series, Nimoy refused to participate unless they were included.
Other interview subjects include Nimoy’s friend, actor Barry Newman, who told him that Star Trek would be a “treadmill to oblivion”; director Nicholas Meyer, who talks about working with him on two Star Trek movies; and virtually everyone involved in the new films (Nimoy appeared in the first two), from director J.J. Abrams to the major castmembers, who describe him with a mixture of affection and awe. Zachary Quinto, who assumed the iconic role, movingly talks about Nimoy’s generosity toward his successor.
The documentary covers so much ground — including the origin of such famous character elements as the Vulcan greeting (it was inspired by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, believe it or not) and Vulcan nerve pinch; Nimoy’s struggles with drinking and his workaholic tendencies; his stage work that included starring roles in Fiddler on the Roof, Camelot and The King and I: his film directing career that included smash hits like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Three Men and a Baby before derailing with the flop of the Diane Keaton starrer The Good Mother; and his lawsuit against Paramount for using his likeness without compensating him — that it almost has a rushed feel. And the filmmaker’s frequent injection of his own story and troubled relationship with his father, while undeniably touching, sometimes borders on self-indulgence.
But those are quibbles. The countless devoted fans of Nimoy and his character virtually guarantee that For the Love of Spock will live long and prosper.
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Tribeca Tune In)
Production: 455 Films, For the Love of Spock Productions
Director: Adam Nimoy
Producers: Joseph Kornbrodt, Kevin Layne, David Zappone
Director of photography: Kevin Layne
Editor: Luke Snailham
Composer: Nicholas Pike
Not rated, 100 minutes
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