No one person can take sole credit for Star Trek’s success, not even creator Gene Roddenberry.
But Leonard Nimoy could take a pretty good claim to being the franchise’s heart, or at least its face to the outside world, having portrayed Trek’s most iconic character on the original show, plus the animated series and six feature films — and that’s before his appearance in the 2009 reboot provided the key link between the Star Trek of the past and its current incarnation as a series of Hollywood blockbusters.
Nimoy’s career is chronicled in a new documentary, For the Love of Spock, directed by his son Adam Nimoy (who began his filmmaking career by directing episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation). Adam has said that the film started out as a history of the Spock character and the broader cultural phenomenon. But after Leonard’s death in 2015, it transformed, becoming a joint biography of the actor and the character he portrayed.
For the Love of Spock opened in theaters and on VOD this weekend, and if you want a sneak peek, you can you can watch behind the scenes footage on the We Are Colony website.
The film covers the highlights of Nimoy’s life — which for 25 years, was closely tied to the story of Star Trek. There’s Spock’s breakout success with audiences, with the almost improvisational development of key elements of his character and culture. There’s Star Trek’s cancellation, followed by Nimoy’s efforts to leverage his fame into a career beyond Trek — until he was pulled into the series’ revival as a movie franchise. (He eventually directed two of the films, including enormously successful, whale-centric Voyage Home).
There are certainly moments when For the Love of Spock can feel like little more than a solid behind-the-scenes featurette — yet it’s elevated in a few key ways. First, there’s the obvious depth of feeling that almost everyone brings to their interviews. William Shatner (Kirk) still seems shaken by his friend’s death, while Walter Koenig (Chekov) argues that in contrast to the rest of the Trek cast, Nimoy is the only actor in the world who could have played his role.
It’s probably not surprising that almost everyone speaks about Leonard in glowing terms, but Adam also appears on-camera, giving us a more complex portrait of his workaholic and often distant father. It’s a tough balance for the movie to strike, jumping back-and-forth between the personal history and the broader story, but ultimately, it gives you a more complete picture of the man — if anything, I wished the film had been a little more forthcoming about the reasons behind father and son’s estrangement and eventual reconciliation.
Now, if you’re not a Star Trek fan, you might be wondering why a decades-old TV character is worth this much discussion and outright adoration — if so, this movie probably isn’t for you.
Still,the documentary tries to explore and explain the character’s broader significance. There’s his importance within the franchise itself, where his cool logic provided a crucial counterpoint to Kirk, the dashing captain, and McCoy, the moralistic doctor — and where his rare displays of emotion gave the series and films some of their most memorable moments.
And there’s Spock’s importance to many of the viewers — to a gay fan for whom Spock became an importance symbol of outsiderness, and to the scientists and engineers whose interest in space was ignited by Star Trek, and to whom Spock provided a key model of intellectual curiosity and the scientific outlook.
For the Love of Spock gives viewers a glimpse at how a character distinguished by funny ears and arched eyebrows somehow became a symbol for scientific thought and a progressive outlook on the future — just as a kinda cheesy TV show created a set of characters and a universe that are still going strong.