Trek has lost another of its shining stars: Harve Bennett, who died on February 25th in Medford, Oregon.
Notwithstanding that I probably use too many superlatives, I am confident saying that Star Trek as we know it today would not exist without Bennett. After the studio (quite rightly) booted Roddenberry out of the captain’s chair after The Motion Picture, it gave command to Bennett, who wrote and produced Trek’s “holy trilogy” of Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock, and Voyage Home.
Recognizing the creative input on the trilogy from many talented people (notably Nicholas Meyer, Jack Sowards, and – of course – Leonard Nimoy), Bennett’s leadership on these three films made them the enduring darlings they are to Trek fans today. In the broader public’s mind, that trilogy transitioned Star Trek from a campy 60s science fiction show for nerds into a smart, sophisticated franchise for the whole family.
Moreover, the immediate financial success of those three films gave Paramount the impetus to green light The Next Generation.
In an interesting division of labor on Voyage Home, Bennett wrote all the 23rd Century scenes and Meyer wrote everything on Earth. So we can’t credit Bennett with “double dumb-ass on you,” “colorful metaphors,” or “nuclear wessels.” But he did have exclusive writing credit on Search for Spock, so he can claim my personal favorite scene in all of Star Trek.
Seriously that “how many fingers am I holding up?” is genius.
Bennett also produced Final Frontier. Paramount wanted him to produce the next film, but he felt they couldn’t make a good movie in such a compressed time span (a little over a year from first draft to release), and decided it was time to leave.
Nor did he ever write, or even cameo in, an episode of the four modern series. The book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story suggests that Roddenberry had a longstanding dispute with Bennett, which might explain why he never joined the TNG crew.
At a Q and A with fans a few years ago, he gave his opinions on the reboot and says that he’d suggested doing a series on young Kirk and crew as far back as the 80s.
A pragmatic filmmaker, he once said: “When you go where no man has gone before, you have to build things and then it starts getting expensive.” (Maybe it explains why he set one of his movies in San Francisco.) For more on the behind the scenes of Treks 2, 3, and 4, I’d recommend the videos by SF Debris.
And seriously … if you haven’t re-watched Wrath of Khan yet this week, go do it right now.