Since I’m feeling sick as a dog today, I’ll share the wealth (without making your temperature go up to stay in bed levels) by getting you a bit queasy with this rather wretched 1980 sci-fi/ “horror” film that completely wastes the talents of too many good people and is so surprisingly awful that anything resembling a proper remake would require the invention of a mass mind-wiping machine PLUS time travel so you could stop the original from being made.
Yes, Saturn 3 is THAT bad for a big movie fan such as myself, but it’s much worse because as soon as you start listing most of the talent behind it, you see that most of them have done far, FAR better work than this stinker and you can’t chalk up this film’s failures to everyone simply having an “off” day every single one it took to make this howler…
Hell, when I think of director Stanley Donen, I think of a master director, choreographer and innovator for the ages. Royal Wedding, On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers are four of the greatest movie musicals EVER (shut up and go see them if you haven’t yet), the Hitchcock-inspired thrillers Charade and Arabesque are far better than Hitch’s mid-60’s works Torn Curtain or Topaz and Bedazzled is still one of the funniest takes on the Faust story you’ll ever see. Kirk Douglas? Well, come on, now, the man is a legend, period. Paths of Glory, The Vikings, Ace in the Hole, The Bad and the Beautiful, Lust for Life, Spartacus and more? Add in the talented, quirky actor Harvey Keitel and TV star Farrah Fawcett (making her second sci-fi movie appearance), production designer turned screenwriter John Barry, a script by Martin Amis, and music by the great Elmer Bernstein and how could you go wrong, right? RIGHT?
WRONG. For assorted reasons, Saturn 3 manages to be boring, intelligence insulting, un-sexy and save for the value of watching it to wonder what the hell happened with all that usually harder-working talent, a near-complete waste of time. It’s also a sad example of egos gone wild and a film company trying too hard to get a film made to appeal to audiences flocking into theaters to see Star Wars and Alien, but unwilling to spend more time or money fleshing out important things like characters, story and even some of the special effects. The film feels like an unfinished vanity project that’s missing a few key expository scenes and to me, generates more confusion than it does suspense.
On board a shuttle in deep space on the way to the titular hydroponic research station, Keitel’s unbalanced character, Benson, murders another man at and steals his identity along with the disassembled robot that’s supposed to replace one of the two humans there. Adam (Douglas) and Alex (Fawcett) are the May-December space lovers in paradise, rolling around under the sheets and generally doing what two people with too much time on their hands will do when the otherwise dull work of solving Earth’s food and energy crises gets to be too depressing.
Anyway, the newly christened “Captain” Benson shows up on Saturn 3, introduces himself to the couple, puts together that robot (which is named Hector in a supposedly ironic way) and in short order, both new arrivals proceed to make a beeline for Alex with lecherous intent. Of course, once he clues in to what’s happening, Adam isn’t having any of this. However, between Benson’s insanity and Hector’s even more unstable nature thanks to being hooked up to Benson’s brain (which basically turns the more than man-sized machine into an indestructible, really smart vibrator), he has two big problems to worry about. Well, one average sized and one much bigger and metallic, now both cuckoo for Alex Puffs.
Now, the film does a few things well, such as give viewers some nice interior sets, a few cool costumes and a big, frightening robot in the form of Hector, who looks like a Greek statue and Giger’s Alien had a love child. Still, for all its shiny sculpted chest, abs and legs, it’s got some damn scrawny (yet still powerful) arms and in place of an actual head, what looks like a pair of lighted binoculars attached to a folding neck made from a Luxo lamp. Not exactly the head a killer robot needs for maximum effect, although the long glass cylinder full of brain matter inside its body works as somewhat memorable. While it’s a really unique design, I recall seeing the movie and wondering back then if the head was cut off because Hector was already too tall for the sets he’s seen in.
Anyway, the metal monster is quite a menace here, and not just to Adam and Alex. The dog the couple own gets it, and let’s just say Keitel makes a shockingly early departure from the film which is a good thing, as he’s dubbed by another actor and is distracting as hell each moment he’s on screen. This in of itself is a problem because the dub sounded to me as if it was recorded in a small closet and the actor isn’t even using his natural voice, making Keitel effectively creepier than usual, but as an actor, cheated out of performing the part he was contracted to play.
After Benson goes buh-bye, the film is basically Alien without the scares and Adam and Alex try to figure out a way to survive and Hector lumbers around in a sex-crazed furor or something. The robot traps the humans on the station by destroying their only means of escape, so it’s pretty obvious they’re going to have to meet up on a more personal level. Since Hector can’t feel anything in his meat-free shell, he’s got some medically invasive plans for Adam that will get both of them closer to Alex (well, ONE of them). There’s a surprise of an ending (well, not too surprising) and the film ends with another lame spaceship effect as you wonder if you should watch it again just so you can point out the assorted logic gaps or because you want to pick out where it all falls apart.
You probably won’t want to watch that fight scene with a naked Adam rolling around on the floor with Benson (eek!), but the film raises a few other odd issues. If you consider Alex has never been to Earth or with another man, her attraction to Adam may seem natural, but it turns into a bizarre thread left hanging because you realize that the dead Captain that was supposed to fly in would probably replace him as her lover… if Benson didn’t kill him when the film began. Even in the future, women are reduced to second class sexpots, but interestingly enough, other than popping up in a white nightie, Fawcett’s scenes in some more revealing costumes were chopped from the film and all we got were some magazine stills of her looking like something out of a Fredrick’s of Hollywood catalog, outer space edition.
The film has some “R” rated violence and gore effects, you see MORE of Douglas’ naked butt than the quickie flash of Farrah’s boob, and yeah, you’ll want to wash this down afterwards with one of Donen’s far more superior efforts. I say go with Bedazzled just because you’ll need a big laugh afterward, that film has plenty of them and it makes you work for most of them in a really satisfying manner. That or Singin’ in the Rain for its hilarious story and musical numbers, specifically anything Donald O’Connor is flailing and flopping around in (for me, he makes the film more than Gene Kelly does)…