Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh
chris_walsh

R.I.P. Harve Bennett, another piece of "Star Trek"'s heart

Another reason to think about Star Trek -- another sad reason, admittedly: yesterday, longtime Trek producer Harve Bennett passed away. He was 84.

Bennett had already been on my mind in the wake of Leonard Nimoy's death last week: Bennett had written and produced Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), likely the most emotionally naked film in the series. Long behind-the-scenes story short, Nimoy had wanted out of Trek, until he'd decided he didn't, so the third film had to BRING SPOCK BACK FROM THE DEAD. And not be a dramatic cheat that'd negate the damn affecting ending of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Bennett, who'd produced Khan and been involved in uncredited rewrites of it, wrote III's script, and certain silly/convenient touches aside (even crappier science than usual in a Trek story; Starfleet wanting to get rid of its twice-remodeled flag ship), found how to make it work dramatically. As Roger Ebert liked to say, what a film is about is often less important than how a film is about what it is: The Search For Spock has major tragic consequences; when it ends and Kirk is asked why he was willing to make the sacrifices he did, Kirk says "If I hadn't, the price would've been my soul." Bennett and director Nimoy wanted to be sure Kirk did everything he could for his best friend, as friendship has long been so important to Star Trek.

Harve Bennett, overall, is a gigantic reason Star Trek still works: he was hired because he was a good, and quick, TV producer (previously making The Mod Squad, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman) who could do a Trek film on a much smaller budget than Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He prepared by watching all 79 episodes of the original show, both to find a story that would support a follow-up and to understand Trek's spirit and tone. "Space Seed" provided that. Post-Search, Bennett argued against doing a proposed Star Trek war film and lobbied for a lighter story: the result was The Voyage Home, a story very much in the spirit and good humor of Star Trek that connected to a larger audience. Without the films Bennett made in the 1980s, there'd likely be no The Next Generation, or any of the spin-offs and reboots since. (TNG likely returned the favor and helped Trek weather the relative misfire of 1989's The Final Frontier, an ambitious, overly goofy, frustrating film that's still worth it for Kirk saying "Excuse me: what does God need with a starship?" and for a flashback to a tragedy in McCoy's past. Bennett produced that, as well as an abortive Starfleet Academy film that was replaced by Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.)

Harve Bennett was another who found long life and, I hope, peace. Thank you for helping keep Star Trek alive.
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