by JAMES FENWICK
Forever to be remembered as Mr Spock, Leonard Nimoy passed away on 27 February 2015 at the age of 83. The news coverage has been obsessively showing images of him as the Vulcan commander in the original series and emphasising his iconic cultural status, which is indisputable.
Yet, his legacy was so much more than just being Spock. One of his most memorable roles – and quite possibly one of my favourite films of all time – is his appearance in the Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) remake as the nefarious Dr. David Kibner – the film is oft-claimed to be the greatest remake of all time (which, surely can’t be said of the ‘remake’ of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) in the form of J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek Into Darkness, but this is no place for such quarrels right now). Invasion of the Body Snatchers was in fact positioned as the 7th greatest remake of all time in one such list compiled by Rotten Tomatoes, with the critics’ consensus being:
“Employing gritty camerawork and evocative sound effects, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a powerful remake that expands upon themes and ideas only lightly explored in the original.”
The gritty horror of the film is best exemplified in the following clip (sans Leonard Nimoy):
Nimoy’s Dr. David Kiber – for which he was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor – isn’t too far removed from the role of Spock, playing a man robbed of emotion by the invading alien pods; but whereas Spock’s lack of emotion is one of pure logic and often laced with humour, Kibner is the polar opposite, his emotionless nature being utterly terrifying, as is demonstrated in the following clip:
Nimoy did have a career outside of Star Trek, but the sheer cultural impact of the franchise overshadowed such work. Perhaps, also, his own style of underacting – in contrast to William Shatner’s hyper over acting – allowed him to blend into the roles he played. The subtlety of his performances, particularly as Spock, prevented his roles in science-fiction from ever seeming too “hammy”. Take one of the greatest scenes Nimoy ever played, and quite possibly one of the greatest scenes in sci-fi, the death of Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan:
Nimoy garnered three Emmy Award nominations for his work as Spock, but he wasn’t always comfortable with the role. The death of Spock in Star Trek II was intended to be the end of the character, until Nimoy – having enjoyed the making of the film so much – wanted a way to bring him back. He’d later go on to direct two films in the original Star Trek movie franchise: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the latter being more accurately labelled a science-fiction comedy.
It’s with comedy that Nimoy would return to again and again in his role as a director, firstly on Three Men and a Baby (1987). The film features Steve Guttenburg, Tom Selleck and Ted Danson who have to balance their bachelor lives with the sudden and unexpected arrival of a love-child on their doorstep. The film would go onto be the most successful film that year at the American box office, grossing $167,780,960 domestically, beating the likes of Beverly Hills Cop II, Lethal Weapon, Good Morning Vietnam and Fatal Attraction.
His follow-up film – a serious drama exploring sexuality and starring Diane Keaton and Liam Neeson – was a box-office bomb, not even breaking into the top-100 grossing films of 1988. In fact, Nimoy would never come close to replicating the success of Three Men and a Baby, his remaining films as director all in the comedy genre. Funny About Love (1990), starring Gene Wilder, performed well at the box-office, but has a 0% score on the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, reflecting the universally negative reviews it received on its release. Nimoy directed one final comedy, Holy Matrimony (1994), starring Patricia Arquette.
And so it is with Star Trek and Spock that Nimoy would return, turning up as a special guest in its numerous franchise series, such as the excellent Star Trek The Next Generation two-part episode ‘Unification’, where we learn Spock is now an ambassador and he’s on an (unauthorised) mission to reunite his home-world of Vulcan with the Romulan Empire. The episode became one of the most watched, according to Nielsen Ratings, in the entire run of Star Trek The Next Generation, emphasing, perhaps, Nimoy’s and Spock’s cultural impact and the emotional respect he still garnered. Nimoy would also feature in the Star Trek reboot films: Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), his appearances acting almost like an endorsement of the new films, as well as introducing him to a new audience of fans.
Strangely, Nimoy – going boldy where no other men would dare – he had a brief musical career. It would seem both Shatner and he had a shared loved of crooning; how can one forget this hilarious send-up of Rocket Man by Shatner:
Nimoy made five albums with the Dot Records label. Two were ‘sci-fi’ records, where Nimoy sang as Spock. These were Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space (1972) and Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy (1974). His subsequent albums were covers and folk songs.
To conclude, Leonard Nimoy was the finest science-fiction actor there his been, in a role that can never be replicated (sorry Zachary Quinto). The original Star Trek films he made between 1979 and 1991 are a towering achievement in sci-fi, utilising character not over-the-top special effects and chase sequences. Nimoy as Spock was unique, funny, emotional, and – to quote Captain Kirk – “of all the souls we have encountered, his was the most human.”