Tuesday, June 27, 2017

#2,373. Saturn 3 (1980)


Directed By: Stanley Donen

Starring: Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas, Harvey Keitel




Tagline: "The Ultimate Space Adventure"

Trivia: The robot Hector stood over eight feet tall and cost a little over a million dollars to make









The critics were especially harsh on Saturn 3, a 1980 sci-fi / horror film directed by Stanley Donen. Roger Ebert called the movie “dumb, dumb, dumb”, while TV Guide declared it “dreadful”. Time Out went so far as to say “there’s more fun to be had cleaning out your cat litter tray” than watching this film. Saturn 3 was even nominated for three 1981 Golden Raspberry Awards, for Worst Actor, Worst Actress, and the biggie, Worst Picture (which it lost to Can’t Stop the Music).

But is Saturn 3 really as bad as all that?

Well, it’s no sci-fi classic, but it’s certainly better than its reviews would lead you to believe.

The Earth is overpopulated, and to generate enough food for its inhabitants, research stations have been established on planets and moons all across the solar system. The Saturn 3 food research facility (named as such because it’s situated on Saturn’s third moon) is manned by a two-person crew: Major Adam (Kirk Douglas) and his gorgeous assistant Alex (Farrah Fawcett). They have spent years living in isolation, all alone on this vast outpost (in fact, Alex, who was born in space, has never once visited earth). 

In an effort to speed up their production, mission control decides to send a scientist to Saturn 3, where he will construct a high-tech robot designed to increase the station’s output. But the person they’ve chosen for the job is murdered just before take-off, and his killer, Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel), disguises himself as the dead man and takes his place. Labeled unfit for duty by his superiors, the mentally disturbed Benson nonetheless makes his way to Saturn 3, where, upon his arrival, he falls instantly in love with Alex (who is already romantically involved with Adam). Benson does eventually complete his task, building an 8-foot-tall automaton named Hector that’s equipped with actual human brain tissue (to help it perform more efficiently).

But Hector was programmed by reading Benson’s thoughts, which means this incredibly powerful robot now has the mind of a killer. To make matters worse, Hector also inherited Benson’s feelings for Alex, resulting in a showdown between man and machine that threatens to tear Saturn 3 apart.

Perhaps the biggest injustice done to Saturn 3 was Kirk Douglas’s Razzie nomination as the year’s worst actor; his performance as Adam may not be as strong as his work in The Bad and the Beautiful or Paths of Glory, but he’s good enough, and for a man of 62 he was in damn fine shape (he even has a nude scene, displaying his bare ass during a skirmish with Benson). I also liked Harvey Keitel’s Benson, a cold, calculating scientist who is the polar opposite of the friendly, outgoing Adam (unfortunately, due to his Brooklyn accent, Keitel’s entire performance was dubbed by actor Roy Dotrice, and to see Harvey Keitel but not hear his voice was a distraction). Also, considering the era in which Saturn 3 was produced, the special effects are good, and the set pieces that make up the space station (designed by John Barry, the original director, who was replaced when he and star Kirk Douglas experienced “creative differences”) are better; the facility looks great, and is even quite menacing at times (not as claustrophobic or intimidating as the Nostromo in Alien, but close). 

Alas, the film has its issues as well, starting with Farrah Fawcett, who, though beautiful, delivers a sub-par performance as Alex. In addition, the movie could have benefitted from a bit more backstory (we learn very little about the main characters, and even less about their motivations). Worst of all is the cat-and-mouse game that develops between the human characters and Hector the robot, which isn’t nearly as engaging as it should have been (and seeing as it takes up the final third of Saturn 3, this is a pretty big problem).

So, while its detractors may have gone a bit overboard in damning Saturn 3, it is far from perfect. Still, I’m glad I saw it, and, at some point in the future, I could actually see myself watching it again.







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