The Good, The Bad & the Badass: Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy's passing hit me hard. Granted, he was eighty-three and rather frail, but I always assumed Nimoy would be one of those guys that would just always be around, defying time just like his alter-ego Spock did on so many occasions. But, as Nimoy's first biography stated in its title, “I Am Not Spock” (corrected in later editions to “I Am Spock”) in the end Nimoy was just like any of us – mortal.
It's tough for me to write about what a profound effect Nimoy had on my upbringing, but here it goes. We live in a world now where “nerds” are considered cool. This wasn't always the case. When I was in high-school in the nineties, nerds (such as myself) were pushed around and bullied. There's a reason why so many of us grew up idolizing Spock. If you know anything about the character, you'll know he was half-human and half-vulcan, and that his being bullied as a child was a major part of the character's mythology. In effect, Spock was one of us – a bullied child made good.
What made Nimoy special was how much he seemed to embrace his role as Spock. Sure, in the seventies he bristled at the typecasting and wanted Spock killed-off, but by the time I got into Trek that was all over. As he got more involved behind-the-scenes, Nimoy seemed not only to make peace with the character, but also to use it as a way to inspire people. With William Shatner, there was always a sense that he secretly had disdain for his fans, while Nimoy came off as soft-spoken, humble and always gracious. With his passing, we've lost one of the real pop culture icons of our time, but in the end, just as Spock always seemed to be immortal, so is Nimoy, as he leaves behind well over a hundred hours of TV/movies as Spock, ensuring us that while he may be gone, Spock will always be around to inspire new generations of fans.
My vote here goes to STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. There's a reason this movie is the holy grail for Trekkies. For one thing, it has the best villain of the series – Ricardo Montalban's Khan. It also has one of the best sci-fi musical scores of all-time courtesy of a young James Horner. But, what really makes the movie work is the Kirk-Spock-McCoy dynamic, with director Nicholas Meyer figuring out what Robert Wise could not with THE MOTION (less) PICTURE, which is that people didn't watch TREK for the science or the aliens, but rather due to their attachment to the characters, specifically this central threesome. The scene where Spock sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise is a stone-cold classic, and it's worth noting that the movie beautifully sets up III and IV, which kind of round out an informal trilogy focused on Spock's death and rebirth.
Which brings me to STAR TREK III...
Back when the STAR TREK film series was at the height of its popularity, people had a theory that only the even-numbered films were good. It always pissed me off because it seemed the producers felt the same way and wouldn't even try to make a good movie when the odd ones would come up (how else do you explain INSURRECTION?). People only finally shut up about it when STAR TREK: NEMESIS – the tenth film – came out and proved to be the series nadir. But, there's a huge exception - STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK. Known mostly as being Nimoy's first time in the director's chair (the opportunity being the cost of him coming back as Spock) III is often shrugged-off as a weaker installment, but it's actually one of the best and a strong bridge between II and IV. For one thing, the sense of continuity between II & III is excellent, with Nimoy wisely waiting until being more established behind-the-scenes before shaking up the formula and imprinting the saga with his own personal directorial vision (which was to go way more lighthearted). III winds-up being a really dark installment, with Kirk's son David being brutally killed and giving Kirk the physical confrontation with the villain (Christopher Lloyd's Kruge) he was denied in WRATH OF KHAN. DeForest Kelley also gets to be more prominent than usual, with him in effect being both McCoy and Spock thanks to the latter's katra. Also – like II – the score by James Horner is amazing.
Of course, Nimoy did more than just play Spock. He had some major success as a director in the eighties, with THREE MEN & A BABY being the number one top-grossing film of 1987 (he wisely bailed on the sequel). As an actor, one role of his that's often overlooked is his menacing turn in Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. A deeply unsettling film, Nimoy is excellent as a new-agey shrink who's a kind of take-off on the 70's self-help gurus of the day, particularly those of the EST-ian variety (for more EST-satire – watch the 1977 Burt Reynolds movie SEMI-TOUGH, or the current season of THE AMERICANS). Nimoy was actually an ace character actor and while he was always going to identified as Spock, it's a shame he didn't get to take-on more roles outside of TREK-dom.
I was one of the few die-hard TOS (the original series) TREK fans to like STAR TREK INTO DARKESS. To me, the Bad Robot Trek movies aren't really Trek so I have an easier time digesting them than most. However, there were some bad things about it, such as the shameless rip-off of the Kirk-Spock STAR TREK II death scene (which they really hadn't earned this early in the series) and Nimoy's cameo especially felt like fan-service to the very audience that was probably never going to like it in the first place. His part in 2009's STAR TREK was very warmly received, but they should have called it a day right there. I can only assume everyone liked working with Nimoy so much they wanted to once again have the pleasure, but his one-scene here should have been left on the cutting-room floor as it was so tacked-on.
Well really, what else can it be other than the “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” scene from WRATH OF KHAN? Even having seen this movie about forty-times or so (I watched it it monthly as a kid) it still packs a punch. It's so beautifully written, shot, scored and especially acted by everyone, from Kelley and James Doohan, to especially Shatner and Nimoy.
5. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
4. STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY
3. STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK
2. STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME
1. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (TIE) STAR TREK: TOS
CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...