A film review by Craig J. Koban September 15, 2016


2016, no MPAA rating, 111 mins.


A documentary written and directed by Adam Nimoy

I discovered the original STAR TREK TV series rather late in life during my final year of high school, during which time I began gorging on late night reruns of Gene Roddenbery’s iconic sci-fi series on the CBC.  

I’ll always have fondness for the dashing courage and cocky bravado of William Shatner’s Captain Kirk, but Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock was – and always will be – my favorite TREK persona.  Despite his staunch and self imposed emotional detachment and somewhat devilish appearance, Spock strangely felt the most warmly inviting of all of Roddenbery’s characters.  His constant cerebral battle to subvert his more sentimental half human tendencies with his cold and analytical half Vulcan stoicism struck a cord with me; the character’s a metaphor for life.  Even though he’d never admit it, Spock was really the heart of STAR TREK. 

FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK is a new Kickstarter funded documentary about, yes, everyone’s favorite half breed STAR TREK character, born initially out of director Adam Nimoy’s (son of Leonard) desire to chronicle Spock’s emergence and long standing status in pop culture to coincide with the series’ 50th Anniversary.  With his father’s passing in 2015, Adam wisely understood that the focus of his very personal doc should not just be about Leonard’s most famous role, but should also traverse his career as a whole.  Nimoy jumped at the chance to work with his son on a film, which would mark their first creative collaboration together since helming an episode of THE OUTER LIMITS ten years prior.   FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK deals with their partnership, which ended with his death, and joyously delves into STAR TREK lore to explain why Spock has resonated with such a startling variety of people from all walks of life.  More compellingly, though, the doc never shies away from Nimoy’s less than stellar reputation as an absentee father, who would later let alcoholism nearly destroy his ties with his family.  



The film incorporates many talking head interviews alongside archival TV and movie footage, family photos, and most crucially, Leonard’s own voiceover narration, which comments at various points of his career highs and lows with great – ahem! – fascination and logic.  Nimoy recounts his early fears of relaying to his conservative parents a desire to work in the arts, which led to him financially fending for himself to peruse it.  When he moved from his hometown of Boston to Hollywood in his late teens he amusingly quips, “I must have looked like I just got off the boat from Transylvania.”  Nimoy struggled early on, but nevertheless got many bit parts through hard work and perseverance, appearing in several B-grade movies like KID MONK BARONI and even donning red face to play a Native American on TV’s GUNSMOKE.  He was getting steady employment as a working actor, but, by his own admission, he never had a job before STAR TREK that “lasted more than two weeks.” 

His workaholic tendencies and drive paid off in the early to mid 1960’s, and a brief appearance on a 1965 episode of TV’s THE LIEUTENANT got him noticed by the show’s creator Gene Roddenbery, who thought that “he’d make a good alien” for an upcoming science fiction series he had in mind.  The rest, shall they say, is history, and FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK delves into well-established and widely known aspects of STAR TREK creation lore during these stages of its narrative (arguably the film’s least enthralling segments).  Perhaps more intriguing was Nimoy’s post TREK career after the series’ cancellation, which led to a regular stint on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE as well as IN SEARCH OF.  We also learn of Nimoy's resistance to signing on to re-play Spock for STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE in the late 70’s, which ostensibly stemmed from a heated lawsuit he had with Paramount Pictures over his likeness being used for merchandise without his permission.  They settled and Spock did indeed make his silver screen debut. 

FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK is wise to point out that Nimoy was an artistic Jack of all trades.  He parlayed into his contract negotiations with Paramount a job behind the director’s chair for STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK and arguably one of the most beloved entries of the original film series, STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME.  He followed that up with directing stints on other films, like THREE MEN AND A BABY, a film that far too many people forget that he quarterbacked to massive box office returns.  We also discover at later stages of his life that became devoted to photography, not to mention that he was a fairly respected stage actor, turning out acclaimed performances in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and THE KING AND I.  As STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN director Nicholas Meyer wisely comments in the doc, Nimoy was a “true Renaissance man.” 

Adam Nimoy peppers his film with many moments of hilarious retrospection, especially during one particularly low point – depending on how you interpret it – of his father’s career when he appears in a strange music video of sorts singing THE BALLAD OF BILBO BAGGINS, which is as embarrassing to watch as it is hysterical.  Other funny bits revolve around grand irony, such as the case of one of Nimoy’s long-time friends Barry Newman, who states in the film that he strongly believed back in the day that his BFF’s appearance in STAR TREK would be “a treadmill to oblivion.”  Obviously enough, a doc about Nimoy would not be complete without many recollections from his STAR TREK co-stars.  His long-time friend in Shatner very self-deprecatingly responds to a question about what he ultimately thought of his colleague and confidant: “He was better singer than me.  He could hold a note – off-key – but he could hold a note.” 

On a more serious note, FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK reiterates what Nimoy’s six-decade portrayal of his blue-shirted Starfleet science officer meant to the world.  The worldwide appeal of Spock did not just reside with sci-fi fanboys.  Neil deGrasse Tyson appears in the doc to rightfully establish Nimoy’s and STAR TREK’s incalculable influence in inspiring a generation of children to pursue careers in science (several NASA employees also appear to lovingly recall what the character of Spock meant to them in devoting their lives to their jobs).  Spock also served as a beacon of hope for disenfranchised individuals of mixed races, who could relate to how the half-human/half-Vulcan character struggled daily for acceptance, understanding, and tolerance.  Beyond that, some subjects simply recall Nimoy as an extremely gregarious soul that put the needs of others well beyond his own.  This is driven home in a wonderful moment featuring Walter Koenig recalling when Nimoy found out that he, Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were not cast in the 1973 animated STAR TREK series.  Nimoy was, but refused to participate unless all of his previous co-stars were on board.  The producers ended up agreeing with him. 

FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK becomes even more unexpectedly thoughtful and deeply touching when it allows for its own director to frequently appear on camera, often taking questions from his own subjects about what it was like to grow up with…Spock.  It’s at this stage when the film becomes more rewardingly intimate than a majority of documentaries, especially for how Nimoy reveals with great sadness the tensions that emerged between himself and his father, which led to their estrangement for quite some time.  Both men became addicted to drugs in various forms, which further complicated an already fractured father/son bond.  The doc’s masterstroke move involves a letter that Nimoy wrote to his son in 1973, which is recited throughout the film to portray Nimoy as a man that admitted to his demons while trying to own up to them.  Spock did indeed fundamentally change the landscape of popular culture and touched millions of lives over the years, but as Adam tearfully points out, the character became an entity that frequently interfered with Nimoy’s responsibilities as a father and husband. 

FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK works marvelous well on so many multiple tiers.  If you’re a fan of STAR TREK, screening it is a must.  If you enjoy behind-the-scenes biopic docs about the story of one modest Massachusetts-raised boy and his yearning to make it in Hollywood against many family objections, then screening it is a must.  More importantly, if you enjoy heart-tugging portraits of fathers and sons that try to maintain and nurture their mutual love for one another over a lifetime of trials and tribulations, then screening it is a must.  FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK could easily be mistaken as a piece of cheaply disposable fan service for STAR TREK fans.  The fact that it emerges as a work of unexpected profundity in examining the warts and all relationship between its director and his much more famous father is just icing on the cake.  

Even the perpetually poker faced Spock himself would have a hard time keeping a dry eye while watching it. 


  H O M E