Thursday, March 5, 2015

Leonard Nimoy (1931 - 2015)

I became a Star Trek fan in the third grade, when my dad rented Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, because I had exhausted my ability to re-rent any of the three Star Wars movies. It was my first exposure to the franchise, and in retrospect, it was a pretty strange place to start. Spock was dead. Jim Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise were mourning the loss of their greatest crew member, whose self-sacrifice saved everyone’s life. I was fascinated by this resurrection fantasy for all its cool special effects and melodrama. What was mostly effective, however, was the general lack of the film’s title character whose appearance at the end had a strange effect. When Leonard Nimoy turned around, revealing his face, I felt like I already knew him.

He had been with the entire movie – but behind the camera, working as director on a major motion picture, for the first time in his career. After a lot of resistance, to get on board with the resurrection of the franchise, through movies, Nimoy was now dedicated. Spock was back from the dead and here to stay…

It’s so interesting that a half-human emotionless character resonated so much with audiences. Spock was a role model for courage and a rational approach to all things. No matter how terrifying a situation could be, he was capable of staring danger in the face with more curiosity than animosity. There’s also something undeniably funny about the deadpan delivery of the word “fascinating,” when every other character in the room is petrified. 

After the cancellation of Star Trek in 1969, Nimoy continued his acting career in television (which had begun in the early fifties), including Mission: Impossible. In 1978 he appeared in Philip Kaufmann’s excellent remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers where he used his calm and rational demeanor to a creepy effect. I never saw In Search of… but I did see him spoof it on a 1997 episode of The Simpsons with an opening monologue, which I found to be so funny, I’ve kept it memorized to this day. Along with his cameos on that show, he lent his distinct voice to a lot of cartoons and movies.

Like another famous Trek alum, he ventured into music for a while. Notably, with one of my favorite bad songs ever recorded, The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins. I won’t go into that one.

After the big success of the fish-out-of-water sci-fi comedy that was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Nimoy tried his hand in directing other movies, like 3 Men and a Baby, which was the highest-grossing U.S. movie in 1987. But his triumph as a film director was only brief. Nimoy co-wrote the sixth Star Trek movie, which functioned as a beautiful farewell to the original cast.

When I learned of his passing a few days ago, the sadness I felt was quite familiar, since my first exposure to Star Trek (and Nimoy) was through a movie that began by reprising Spock’s notable death scene. His Vulcan catchphrase, “Live long and prosper,” easily applies to his long and prosperous life.

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