Monday, August 7, 2017

For the Love of Spock

Year 9, Day 218 - 8/6/17 - Movie #2,707

BEFORE: It's Day 5 of Geek Week, and adding more movies to the Watchlist is on hold while I deal with these documentaries that are on Netflix, not already in my DVD collection.  I just expanded Geek Week to 11 days, because there are two more films I want to add, one about the film "Back to the Future" and one about poster artist Drew Struzan.  And adding those films at the last minute forced a restructuring of the remaining films, to get the best linking.  Now, if I had chosen to add those films weeks ago, I might not have had to change things up mid-stream, but it it what it is.

So I've got no direct link from last night's film, but that's OK during a documentary chain, it's never going to be perfect.  Once I covered Star Wars and Dune, Star Trek is the next logical choice.  Of course, I realized too late that there IS a possible connection, a film called "Ringers: Lord of the Fans", which for some reason features both David Carradine (who was seen in archive photos in "Jodorowsky's Dune") and Leonard Nimoy - probably because Nimoy once recorded a novelty song about Bilbo Baggins.  That documentary about fans of "The Lord of the Rings" would have fit in perfectly here, but I couldn't add it because it doesn't seem to be available on any platform - iTunes, Amazon or Netflix.  I could have bought a DVD quite cheaply, but not on such short notice.  Oh, well.

THE PLOT: An examination of the enduring appeal of Leonard Nimoy and his portrayal of Spock in "Star Trek".

AFTER: I was a little torn whether to include this film here or save it for some other time, partially because of the lack of linking, which is usually my guide.  But "carpe diem", there may never be a more appropriate time.  Anyway, this fits right in with "Elstree 1976" and "I Am Your Father", as a portrait of someone who had a long, varied career as an actor, but will probably be remembered more prominently in the long run for his work in science-fiction.  Of course his stage work is mentioned here, and the record albums he sang on in the 1970's, plus his directing work on films like "Three Men and a Baby", but from now until doomsday, people will think of him as Mr. Spock first - and he seemed more or less OK with that. (I've still got that "Bright Lights" documentary about Carrie Fisher to get to in December, that will probably play off the same theme...)

This began as a documentary to commemorate the character for the 50th anniversary of the original series, with Leonard Nimoy working with his son, Adam, as the director - and we find out late in the film that they had been estranged from each other for some time, but had recently reconciled.  Then Nimoy's death in 2015 took the film in a different direction, to pay tribute to his entire life, including before and after "Star Trek", with interviews from family members and co-stars weighing in.  There was so much footage available that this movie didn't even need narration most of the time, because Nimoy had given so many interviews and spoke on so many subjects that much of it became him relating his own story.

Of course, we all want to hear about the casting, and the first time he put on those pointy ears, but you might not have known that he fought for equal pay for his castmates, and wouldn't participate in voicing his character in the "Trek" animated series unless they also hired Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were also hired, because they represented the diversity that Star Trek's future society was meant to depict.  Besides, anything worth doing is worth doing well, and those characters just wouldn't have sounded the same voiced by other actors doing impressions.

I remember seeing Nimoy on reruns of "Mission: Impossible" when I was a kid, and just starting to figure out that fiction wasn't real, and actors could appear in more than just one role.  He played a make-up expert who could look like just about anyone (as long as they shared the same basic facial structure) and replaced Martin Landau, who had left the show (I guess to be on his own sci-fi show, "Space: 1999"?).  People may not be as aware of Nimoy's stage work, which included playing Tevye in the touring production of "Fiddler on the Roof", the McMurphy role in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (later played by Nicholson in the film version), plus roles in "Equus", "Twelfth Night" and a one-man show about Vincent Van Gogh that he also wrote.

So clearly there was much more to Nimoy than Spock, but this most famous role did sort of take over his life, as his children recall that on the rare weekends when he wasn't making personal appearances to promote the show or earn more income, he stayed more or less in character at home, which meant that he was often distant and emotionless.  It's very humanizing in a way to think that an actor wants to provide the best life for his family, but as for many people, that meant spending a great deal of time away from them.  Plus the family's life was occasionally out of control if they received phone calls or unexpected drop-ins from fans of the TV show.  Even more humanizing results came from Nimoy's  discussions of his alcoholism, and then his ill health that was a result of years of secret smoking.

I was intrigued to learn that Nimoy was the last of the original actors to sign on for the first Trek movie, largely this was due to an outstanding lawsuit he had filed against Paramount, which had been using his image (as Spock) to license a wide variety of products, without paying him royalties.  But once they agreed to settle the suit, he was on board the Enterprise once again.  He later directed two of the Star Trek films (#3 and #4), which some say were two of the better ones, and came back to appear in the 2009 reboot, after some tricky time travel and universe-hopping created a divergent timeline for new fans to latch on to.

Other revelations about his time as Spock are probably very well-known to Trekkers, like the fact that Nimoy invented both the Vulcan salute AND the Vulcan nerve pinch.  Not the Vulcan mind-meld, though, that's all Roddenberry.  It seems a little ironic that the character who rarely showed any emotion would also have the ability to read the minds and emotions of others.  But much of that came about from the way the writers considered Spock the "brain" of the ship, or least part of the id/ego/super-ego trilogy represented by the characters of Kirk, McCoy and Spock, respectively.

I'm on my third wave of watching movies on Netflix now (#1 - animated features, #2 - Adam Sandler films) and as you may correctly surmise, I've got some issues with the service.  And it's not the fact that since I'm watching the service through my PlayStation that the controller has to stay about 1 foot away from the TV, while my recliner is at optimal viewing distance, about 10 feet away (that's my problem, but you can see how that can be very annoying...).  It's the fact that about two minutes into the closing credits of a film, the movie I'm viewing gets shrunk to a tiny rectangle in the upper corner of the screen, so that Netflix can fill most of the screen with a promo for the NEXT movie on my list, or more often, the next movie that the service wants me to watch.  What is up with THAT?  Using a streaming service should mean that I am in control of what to watch next, that's the whole damn point.  OK, so maybe it could turn me on this way to a movie that I don't know about, which I could theoretically end up liking, but right away, this hard sell turns me off - now I won't watch that film that shrunk my current movie, even if it's the best damn film in the world.

And what about the hard-working people who acted in small roles, or did minor services on a film, like special effects or gaffing work?  Don't those people deserve to have their names reach my eyeballs without the aid of a magnifying glass?  There needs to be a coming together of the unions of electrical workers, Directors Guild, Producers Guild and SAG to stand up to Netflix (and all the cable channels like Starz that insist on running promos over the closing credits) and let them know that THIS IS NOT OK.  What if I wanted to know the name of that great song that played about halfway through the film?  Sorry, no can do.  I can hit BACK on the Netflix command, but that will take me back to the start of the film, there seems to be NO WAY to watch the complete closing credits at a reasonable size.

And what if a film has a funny scene that takes place during, or even after, the credits, as some directors like to add?  Complete idiocy was witnessed when I watched "Sandy Wexler", a film that was made specifically to be screened on Netflix.  There's a funny (I assume) bit at the end where Mike Judge, as his "Beavis" character, prank-calls Sandy in the middle of the night - but you can't see it, because the Netflix software starts running a promo for the next film it thinks you want to watch, but you haven't yet finished the jokes in THIS one.  Why put some comedy at the end of the film, where no one can now see it?  I swear, something's got to change, but this "feature" just doesn't work right.

Now, bringing it back to "Star Trek", we're on the cusp of a new Trek series, Discovery, which looks like it might be OK - but I understand the plan is to run the pilot on CBS, and then the remaining episodes exclusively on CBS' All-Access streaming service, like they did with "The Good Fight".  Look, I understand that they want to get more people to use their new service, but this is a moronic decision.  Sure, let's take a show that was bound to draw more ratings to our channel, like, maybe millions of Trek fans, and put it on a new, untested service that maybe 100,000 people (I'm guessing here) will sign up for.  Why not just shoot the show now and put it out of its misery?  

I'm a fan of "Star Trek", have been for a long time - but I'm not joining up for a new streaming service.  I just got started on Netflix, and there are a few episodes of "11.22.63" that I have to finish watching on Hulu, but for the most part, I prefer to watch things off my DVR, or on DVDs that I burned myself from the DVR.  Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I like having the physical object, because it allows me to watch the film on MY schedule - whereas it could disappear from a streaming platform (Amazon, iTunes, Netflix) at any time.  We live in a wonderful age, and by now everything we want to see or do should be available around the clock (and the calendar) but I won't be held hostage by the whims of programmers.  And I don't know if you noticed, but the average age of the CBS audience is over 50 years old - do they really think senior citizens are going to be able to figure out a new streaming platform?  It's not going to happen. 

So I'm calling it early - the new "Star Trek" series will be the most brilliant, innovative sci-fi show that hardly anyone is going to watch, just because the network is going to hold those episodes hostage to try to get more subscribers, and that's bound to be a horrible mistake.  My wife's a bigger Trek fan than I am, and she barely knows anything about the new series, and has no intent to watch it.  But that Seth McFarlane sci-fi parody "Orville", she's excited for that.  That's bad news for "Star Trek", if you ask me. 

Also starring William Shatner, Chris Pine (last seen in "Wonder Woman"), Karl Urban (last seen in "Star Trek Beyond"), Zoe Saldana (last seen in "Vantage Point"), Simon Pegg (last heard in "Ice Age: Collision Course"), Zachary Quinto (last seen in "Snowden"), Nichelle Nichols (last seen in "Made in Paris"), George Takei (last seen in "You Don't Mess With the Zohan"), Walter Koenig, Jim Parsons (last seen in "The Big Year"), Mayim Bialik, J.J. Abrams (last seen in "Comic Book: The Movie"), Jason Alexander (last seen in "Jacob's Ladder"), Catherine Hicks (last seen in "Turbulence"), Neil deGrasse Tyson (also last heard in "Ice Age: Collision Course"), Barry Newman, Nicholas Meyer, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Scott Mantz, Adam Nimoy, Julie Nimoy, and archive footage of DeForest Kelley (last seen in "Marriage on the Rocks"), James Doohan, Ricardo Montalban, Jeffrey Hunter.

RATING: 6 out of 10 raised eyebrows

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