Less than a week after losing Star Trek legend Leonard Nimoy, the world of Trek lost another giant, one without whom we might not still be talking about Star Trek at all. Harve Bennett, who produced Star Trek II–V in the film series, passed away at the age of 84. Bennett was also well known as the producer of such successful genre shows like The Mod Squad, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.
In a statement, Star Trek II and VI director Nicholas Meyer said, “He was a remarkable man and he was unpretentious and self-effacing. I don’t think there would be a Star Trek franchise without him. He rescued it. He’s endangered of being lost in the shuffle, but he’s the guy who figured it out.”
In 1979, after a decade of waiting, tons of different scripts, and years of development hell, Star Trek: The Motion Picture made it on to movie screens. Although the movie made money, neither fans nor critics loved it, or recognized much of the Trek they knew and loved from television in that movie, which seemed like a bloated attempt at making another 2001: A Space Odyssey. At $45 million dollars (an insane budget in 1979) the studio eked out little profit from the movie. It seemed like Star Trek was dead all over again.
So in 1980, the head of Paramount studios came to Bennett, then famous for producing TV hit shows like The Six Million Dollar Man, and said, “Can you make a better movie than Star Trek: The Motion Picture? And can you make it for less than 45 f***ing million dollars?” Bennett replied, “Boy, where I’m from, I can make five movies for that.” And with that, Bennett was hired to produce Star Trek II.
With a budget of $12 million dollars, he was the one who made all the decisions that made Star Trek II a classic. It was his idea to make Ricardo Montalban’s Khan the villain, to hire newbie director Nicholas Meyer, and he lured back a totally over it Leonard Nimoy to return with the promise of a great death scene. All of these ingredients made Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan the hit it was with both audiences and critics alike, and Bennett produced films III, IV, and V. When Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was the highest grossing in the franchise and solidified Trek as a permanent cultural force, it led Paramount to greenlight Star Trek: The Next Generation the following year.
Bennett left the franchise after Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, after Paramount passed on his idea for a movie set in the early academy days of young Kirk and Spock, but a lot of the ideas for his Star Trek: Academy movie would nevertheless end up in JJ Abrams’ successful 2009 reboot of Star Trek. While Bennett’s name might not be as well known as Nimoy, Shatner, or Gene Roddenberry, he is nevertheless is just as important a figure in having helped this franchise live long and prosper.