For the Love of Spock


The Nimoys are all ears.

The Nimoys are all ears.

(2016) Documentary (Gravitas) Leonard Nimoy, Adam Nimoy, Mel Nimoy, Sybil Nimoy, Julie Nimoy, William Shatner, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Mayim Bialik, Jim Parsons, J.J. Abrams, Jason Alexander, Walter Koenig, Catherine Hicks, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Nicholas Meyer, D.C. Fontana, Amy Mainzer. Directed by Adam Nimoy

 

The character of Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek series was and is a cultural icon. Played by Leonard Nimoy, then a character actor who had never worked more than two weeks on the same project in his career, he was created at a time of great social upheaval and in many ways stood for rationality, logic and self-control in a time when just about everyone was about as emotional as one could get. He also stood for cultural tolerance, as he was best friends with a human which was a metaphor for the racial turmoil going on in the United States at the time (and sadly continues to this day).

Nimoy’s son Adam, a successful television director, wanted to do a documentary on the cultural phenomenon that is Spock and got his father’s blessing to do it. After a Kickstarter campaign netted the necessary funds, Adam conducted an interview with his father and started to talk to other members of the original series cast when his father suddenly passed away at age 83.

The focus of the film changed from Spock to Leonard Nimoy. It became a love letter from a son to his father. The two had a very rocky relationship at times, particularly when Adam’s drug use became an issue, which fueled displeasure from his father, an alcoholic. They went years without speaking, but eventually reconciled.

He tells his father’s story, glossing over his childhood and young adulthood and bringing him to his days in Trek. Much of  the movie focuses on his time as Spock and in between; on the rigors of fame and having to share his father with an adoring fan base. Early on, he and his sister Julie answered fan mail for their father. It was Adam who in the famous prank showed up on the set without his dad’s knowledge wearing Vulcan make-up (the footage is shown here).

Nimoy famously has had a loving relationship with the Trek community of both fans and the cast and crews of the various TV and film iterations; he also had a sometimes contentious relationship with Paramount, the studio that produced the series; his lawsuit to gain the cast royalties from merchandising was settled largely because the studio wanted to make motion pictures based on the show and Nimoy refused to sign for the film before the suit was settled. It was also at his insistence that George Takei and Nichelle Nichols were added to the animated series cast; he felt strongly that the diversity of the original show’s cast needed to be brought over to the animated show and even today both of those actors refer to the incident with great affection.

The younger Nimoy includes plenty of home movies as well as backstage footage from the show and films which for me personally was very nostalgic; I lived in Los Angeles at the time the show and the first movies were being filmed and I was reminded of that watching the film, bringing on in me a strong sense of comfort. It was an idyllic time and an idyllic place.

The movie does run a bit long in my opinion but love letters always tend to. Fans of the TV show and of Star Trek in general won’t mind; I think they’ll kind of prefer it that way. The interviews with the new cast add a bit of dimension in that all of them grew up with Star Trek even if they weren’t fans and those that were (such as Simon Pegg) were a bit awestruck working with Nimoy in his signature role. Fans like Jason Alexander and Jim Parsons talk about what the character meant to them but at the end of the day, it is his brother Mel who breaks down when talking about the terrible day when Leonard Nimoy passed away that gives us the greatest sense of what the man behind the Vulcan meant to us all.

The film closes with a tribute to Nimoy at the Burning Man festival shortly after he passed away and I swear that the flames on the tribute as, like the other temporary art installations at the festival, burned to the ground brought to mind the Federation emblem in the shape of the flames seemed to be the most cosmic of all the tributes. Spock lives but without Nimoy to give the character its essence (with all due respect to Zachary Quinto who plays Spock in the movie reboot franchise) it is mostly the idea of Spock that we have now – and that gives all of us comfort. Truly, this is a wonderful way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original show.

REASONS TO GO: Very much a love letter from a son to his father. It’s an interesting perspective on fame by the children of the famous. The backstage footage is pretty nifty.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is a little bit on the long side.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is some foul language but not a lot.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The movie was funded by a Kickstarter campaign.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/28/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: To Be Takei
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Milton’s Secret

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New Releases for the Week of November 5, 2010


November 5, 2010

The good, the bad and the...ummm...okay...

MEGAMIND

(DreamWorks) Featuring the voices of Brad Pitt, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross, J.K. Simmons, Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, Tom McGrath. Directed by Tom McGrath

Two rival babies escape a dying alien planet to become rivals here on Earth – the heroic Metro Man and the villainous Megamind. When Megamind finally defeats his hated rival, he becomes the de facto ruler of Metro City. What every supervillain dreams of, no? Unfortunately now that he owns Metro City, he’s got to keep it and when a rival supervillain moves in, all of a sudden he finds himself in a totally unfamiliar position – the good guy.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Superhero/Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for action and some language)

Due Date

(Warner Brothers) Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan. A man trying to make it home in time for the birth of his first child encounters obstacle after obstacle, finally agreeing to share a rental car with an aspiring actor who will test him with the trials of Job. From Todd Phillips, the mind behind The Hangover.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Road Comedy

Rating: R (for language, drug use and sexual content)

For Colored Girls

 (Lionsgate) Janet Jackson, Kerry Washington, Anika Noni Rose, Whoopi Goldberg. Director and urban brand name Tyler Perry brings this Obie-award winning play – one of the most honored Off-Broadway productions of all time – to the big screen for the first time. A distinguished and impressive cast explores what it means to be a woman of African descent in the 21st century.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Dramedy

Rating: R (for disturbing violence including a rape, sexual content and language)

Waking Sleeping Beauty

 (Disney) Michael Eisner, Roy Disney, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Schneider. With the juggernaut that is Disney churning out hit Oscar-winning animated features one after another, it’s hard to believe that their animation department was once on life-support and the studio was actually thinking of shutting it down. It took the dedication and talent of a group of wonderfully passionate people to turn the failing animation studio around and produce such classics as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. We saw this marvelous documentary at the Florida Film Festival; our review for it is here.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements and brief mild language)

Waking Sleeping Beauty


Waking Sleeping Beauty

A meeting for Beauty and the Beast doesn't go so well.

(Disney) Michael Eisner, Roy Disney, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Schneider, Glen Keane, Randy Cartwright, Howard Ashman, Peter Wells, Don Hahn. Directed by Don Hahn

The Walt Disney Studios is synonymous with animated features. Most people are at least aware that studio co-founder Walt Disney (who founded the Mouse House along with his brother, which most people don’t know) invented the genre in 1939 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. They are responsible for some of he biggest box office grosses of all time and when you count the home video sales, merchandising and theme park admissions that have come directly or indirectly as a result of their animated films, the amount of money that has poured into the coffers of Disney is staggering indeed.

And yet it almost didn’t happen. In 1984, the studio had lost its way when it came to the animation department. The movies they were producing – The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron and others – were coming out to critical panning and audience disinterest. The Fox and the Hound came out on the same day as The Care Bears Movie and was outdrawn by the Bears.

Disney as a corporate entity was in big trouble. Their film division was in disarray and only the theme parks were keeping the company afloat. A corporate raider was looking to come in, buy the company and sell off the pieces. The House that Mickey Built, it seemed, was all out of magic. Ron Miller, Walt’s son-in-law, was in charge of the company and seemed unable to pull it out of its morass. Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew and son of the other co-founder Roy O. Disney, resigned from the Board of Directors and led a coup that ousted Miller and installed as co-chairmen Michael Eisner and Frank Wells. Eisner, who had a history of success at Paramount, brought over Jeffrey Katzenberg from there to be his right hand man. Disney was installed as the President of the Animation Department.

The Animators were in a period of transition. The Nine Old Men who had been there since the days of Walt were in their 60s and approaching retirement age. The Department was a mix of the old and the new – young, energetic new animators nearly all of whom were graduates of the Disney-funded California Institute of the Arts, where my sister went to school by the by. Among these were future wunderkind director Tim Burton.

The morale in the division was at an all-time low. Don Bluth, widely regarded as the potential savior of the animation department, had departed, taking many of the young animators with him. The building in which Walt Disney himself had helped create such legendary films as Cinderella, Bambi and Sleeping Beauty, was given away as offices for the stars of the newly-created Touchstone Films division. The animators were exiled to a converted factory in a horrible neighborhood in Glendale. The 200 or so animators still left wondered when the axe would fall.

Except it didn’t. Disney brought in Peter Schneider to run the division and the songwriting team of Howard Ashman and Alan Mencken for their feature The Little Mermaid and the rest would be history. The Little Mermaid was a triumph artistically, critically and commercially, proving that there was still a huge market for animated features. A new software system was developed for The Rescuers Down Under which would pave the way for digitally animated movies and the Pixar revolution.

In the ten years between 1984 and 1994 (when Wells died in a helicopter crash, effectively ending the détente in a war between Eisner and Katzenberg which would end with Katzenberg teaming up with Stephen Spielberg and David Geffen to form DreamWorks, where Katzenberg would form a new animation studios that would lead to such animated hits as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon), the Animation Studios would go from being an industry laughingstock, moribund and artistically bankrupt to one of the most powerful and successful divisions in Hollywood history.

The roster of films developed during this movie is impressive – Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Toy Story and The Lion King among them. The period is known as the Disney Renaissance and is responsible for the animated feature boom that continues today. Without these films, it is doubtful that movies like Up, Monsters vs. Aliens…heck even Avatar would probably exist.

This is a documentary of this period, taken from home movies (many of which were shot by Randy Cartwright, one of the young animators), contemporary interviews, backstage footage and drawings made by the animators at the time, mostly caricatures. When the animators were displeased, they would respond with wicked caricatures of those who had displeased them, many of which survive today. The drawing above is one such, depicting a meeting in which Ashman (left) lets co-directors Gary Trousdale (right) and Kirk Wise of Beauty and the Beast his displeasure over some of their ideas.

It was a period of great magic, but of great stress as well. The animators were worked long and hard, leading to physical illness and emotional trauma (several marriages would end as a result of the workload). At a meeting with Katzenberg, he is brought to tears over the plight of the animators and as a result, some reforms were brought in although the Studios continued and still do continue to work their animators very hard. There were also studio politics going on (as there always are) that destroyed friendships and created additional stress.

Still, the results are movies that will live forever as classics and that isn’t a bad legacy to leave behind. Waking Sleeping Beauty is not a triumphant documentary in the sense that it will change your outlook on life, but it is a look at a place and time in which magic was occurring. Those who love Disney animation are going to want to see this; those who love the filmmaking process in general are going to like this. Those who love documentary movies are going to enjoy this, and those who don’t like any of those things are probably not going to see this anyway. Still, it’s a well-made movie that I can recommend easily for just about anyone with a pulse.

REASONS TO GO: An insider’s view of the process of getting features made in Hollywood and at Disney in particular.

REASONS TO STAY: One gets the distinct impression that a few punches are being pulled.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the language is a little rough but not enough to be bothersome; some of the thematic elements might be a bit much for younger sorts to follow or care about.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Hahn’s feature length debut; previously he directed the host sequences of Fantasia 2000.

HOME OR THEATER: Home video is probably the way to go with this.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Warlords