For the Love of Spock started as a collaboration between Leonard Nimoy and his son Adam, but life had other ideas, taking Leonard away due to complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This left Adam both mourning his father and pondering what to do with the documentary, ultimately turning to crowdsourcing (which was aided considerably by an awareness-raising guest spot on The Big Bang Theory) to finish.
However, in the process what clearly began as more of a by-the-numbers account of life and career as told by Leonard Nimoy (narrating as if he were reading one of his autobiographies) turned into a therapeutic exercise for a grieving son to reflect upon his fractured relationship with his father as well as his own personal struggles. The result is a documentary which feels as torn between two different poles as its title subject, the famously half-human, half-Vulcan Spock, turning the camera back on the documentarian more than you’d expect. Plus, there are more than a couple of awkward transitions, e.g., one section on how the impeccable fashion sense of Leonard’s wife influenced his public persona particularly screams, “We filmed this, but what do we with it now?”
Yeah, but it’s a documentary about Leonard Nimoy! And Star Trek! And it arrived just in time for the franchise’s 50th Anniversary! And it’s on Netflix right now! Plus, the conflict between father and son at least lends this an added layer of intrigue.
As such, whatever its failings as a documentary For the Love of Spock still makes for a fascinating watch for Nimoy/Star Trek fans, although it’s not exactly like we’re lacking for Trek docs. To name just a few, Gene Roddenberry’s son Eugene has Trek Nation, which is as pre-occupied with a son’s interpretation of a father’s legacy as For the Love of Spock. William Shatner’s made The Captains and Get a Life!. Denise Crosby narrated and starred in both of those Trekkie docs.
For the Love of Spock hits many of the familiar tropes of those other Trek docs:
Inevitable explanation of the franchise history? Check. There’s nothing here the average hardcore Trek fan doesn’t already know, but to the more casual fans there’s likely of plenty of insight, such as the anecdote about Leonard refusing to be a part of Star Trek: The Animated Series if George Takei and Nichelle Nichols weren’t also involved.
Someone, hopefully a newbie, goes to a Trek convention and tries to understand all those people in costumes? Check. Self-proclaimed Trek outsider Adam visits Star Trek convention for the first time, filming both his own surprise at what he sees as well as interviews with enthusiastic attendees attempting to explain their devotion to the franchise.
Talking head segments with various famous fans and actual Star Trek directors, writers and actors? Check. In addition to the usuals (i.e., Shatner, Koenig, Abrams, Quinto, Dorothy Fontana, etc.), several Big Bang Theory cast members and writers also pop up, proving Adam’s guest spot on the show served a dual purpose, acting on their show in exchange for them sitting to be interviewed by him.
What For the Love of Spock has over those others is, true to its title, a focus on the franchise’s most popular character, exploring not just the life and career of Leonard Nimoy but also legacy of Spock. There is a more than passing attempt to understand why this character sparked with audiences and set the template that all subsequent Trek shows followed (Spock imitators include Data, Odo, Seven of Nine and T’Pol). Plus, the glimpse into Nimoy’s private life through score and scores of home video footage is as intimate a look at the man as you could want, chronicling his struggles with alcoholism and how he only truly found peace and love in his life after the Spock phase of his career had long since passed.
THE BOTTOM LINE
An imperfect, but loving tribute to both the man and character.
As of this writing, I Am Spock is available on Netflix.