“In Praise Of Harve Bennett (1930-2015)”

shatner_bennet
“If I pinch his cheek hard enough, he’ll let me direct!”

 

Two days before Leonard Nimoy’s passing (why are we being told now?), a photon tube was lowered into the torpedo bay and shot into the atmosphere of the Genesis planet. Harve Bennett had extensive science fiction television credits, producing “The Six Million Dollar Man”, “The Bionic Woman” (favorites of mine when I was a kid), and “The Mod Squad”. He came out of nowhere to produce the middle section of Star Trek films – II, III, IV, and V when Paramount executives asked him if he could take over the franchise.

As a producer, he proved he could craft a compelling a story while staying within budget. Although he was a man who brimmed with ideas and ambition, Gene Roddenberry never successfully coped with the rigors of film production, and the first Star Trek movie was not a box office success – at least not the success Paramount was hoping for (in the wake of Star Wars). A string of successful staffing decisions (that of hiring Nicholas Meyer and Leonard Nimoy to direct, contracting Industrial Light & Magic to produce visual effects, and utilizing TV production crews to shoot) led to Star Trek’s most profitable phase in the film franchise up to that point.

In Hollywood though people have short memories and if it isn’t about your past success, it’s about your most recent failure. When the William Shatner-directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier did not perform up to expectations and Paramount nixed his idea for a reboot, he left the franchise (or was fired, depending upon who tells the story). In addition to producing four Star Trek movies, he came up with the idea of bringing Khan back, he achieved the damn-near-impossible writing the script for Star Trek III:The Search For Spock and bringing Spock back to life in a credible way, and he co-wrote Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Like Gene Coon and Robert Justman before him, Harve Bennett was another unsung hero of the franchise. He was the man who single-handedly saved Star Trek.

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