The 50th anniversary of Gene Roddenberry’s immortal, pop culture-defining “Star Trek” has been commemorated in the expected ways — a new film (“Star Trek Beyond”), buzz over an upcoming series (“Star Trek Discovery”), a new opportunity for William Shatner to share his hairpiece with the world (reality series “Better Late Than Never”).
However, it’s unlikely Trekkers will run across anything more nostalgic and emotionally satisfying than “For the Love of Spock.” This documentary exploration of the late Leonard Nimoy, directed by his son Adam Nimoy, opens Friday in the Screening Room Cinema Cafe. For “Trek” fans, it’s a not-to-be-missed treat.
And for everyone else, it’s a fascinating, insightful experience with just a few notable failings – it’s overlong by at least 20 minutes, it spends a bit too much time focused on the director, it covers ground familiar to even the most minor Spock-a-holic.
But who can quibble (or Tribble) when the interviews and footage are so strong? Adam Nimoy started work on the film before his father’s death at age 83, and that gave him the benefit of scores of recent interviews.
No one tells the Leonard Nimoy story like Leonard Nimoy. As he puts it early in the film, “I wasn’t the fastest, and I wasn’t the brightest.” He was, however, one of the most hard-working actors of his era. While trying to build a career in Hollywood, the Boston native saved money by selling vacuum cleaners, working in a pet store and an ice cream parlor, driving a cab, and managing an apartment building, among other jobs.
He began to earn steady work on television — “Prior to ‘Star Trek,’ I never had an acting job that lasted longer than two weeks,” he said — and clips of Nimoy’s pre-Spock bit parts on shows like “Gunsmoke” (as a Native American) are humorous, only because of his future iconic status.
He showed real range as an actor, and that appealed to Gene Roddenberry as he assembled the first cast of “Star Trek.”
“With those cheekbones, some kind of pointed ears might go well,” Roddenberry recalled thinking in a vintage clip.
With success came celebrity, and Nimoy and his family were not entirely prepared for the fandom that soon dominated their lives. As the actor remembered, when “Trek” hit, his name, address and phone number were still listed in the phone book.
Adam and his sister Julie Nimoy shed some unique light on the difficulties of having a star parent. And Nimoy’s wise but relentless quest to ensure his family’s financial security – he “rarely turned down any paid engagement” – did not help their home life.
These stories add much to our understanding of who Nimoy was, and why he was so suited to play Spock, the ultimate outsider (half human, half Vulcan). Also enlightening are details about the famous Vulcan greeting (inspired by Nimoy’s memories from synagogue), his post-series lawsuit against Paramount, his stint as a director, and the alcoholism that slowly took over his life.
With scores of clips from throughout the actor’s life and career, “For the Love of Spock” succeeds in reminding us that Nimoy the man was as unique and intelligent as Spock the character. The film is a fine, moving tribute, and even offers some laughs in the form of a video for Nimoy’s utterly absurd novelty song “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.” The gregarious actor would approve, and so would the ever-logical Mr. Spock.
Title: “For the Love of Spock”
3 stars (out of 4)
With: William Shatner, Zachary Quinto, J.J. Abrams, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols
Director: Adam Nimoy
Running time: 111 minutes
Rating: No MPAA rating but PG-13 equivalent for adult content, language, and brief nudity.
Showings: 7 p.m. Sept. 9-10, 16-17 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13-14 in the Screening Room Cinema Cafe, 3131 Sheridan Drive Amherst