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Two lovers stationed at a remote base in the asteroid fields of Saturn are intruded upon by a retentive technocrat from Earth and his charge: a malevolent 8-ft robot. Remember, in space no one can hear you scream...
For more about Saturn 3 and the Saturn 3 Blu-ray release, see Saturn 3 Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on December 1, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas, Harvey Keitel
Directors: Stanley Donen, John Barry
» See full cast & crew
Saturn 3 Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 1, 2013
There's a fantastically funny scene in The First Wives Club where hard drinking (and aging) actress Elise (Goldie Hawn) is in her cups at a local bar, lamenting the fact that the latest role she's been offered is not for the perky ingénue part she thought she'd be perfect for, but instead that character's mother. Elise goes on a long rant about Hollywood's predilection to let male stars continue to play "dashing" characters, quite often with impossibly young female stars at their sides, while the reverse situation is never permitted. Elise may have had Stanley Donen's odd 1980 science fiction feature Saturn 3 in mind, for it offered Kirk Douglas, then in his mid-60s, portraying the love interest of Farrah Fawcett, at that point more or less half Douglas' age as a 33 year old. The disparity is all the more strange in that both stars cavort around with few clothes on at various times throughout the film. The nude scenes for Fawcett are at least understandable—she was after all at that point a pinup sensation of considerable proportions (no pun intended), trying to make the transition from the phenomenon of Charlie's Angels into big screen stardom (an effort which she was frankly never totally able to bring off). Douglas' display of his upper body seems a little on the desperate side, however, as if the senior citizen were subliminally telling the audience, "Hey, I've still got it, too!" This particular aspect is only one of several undeniably weird things about Saturn 3, a film which also has a dubbed Harvey Keitel as a psychotic villain, a marauding robot who has eyes (and hands) for Fawcett, and a pseudo-environmental subtext that plays like a slightly daffy retread of the much better 1972 opus Silent Running. Donen seems like a rather odd choice to helm a film like this, and in fact he became director almost by default, after original director John Barry (the production designer, not the composer) was let go and Donen, one of the film's producers, stepped in to save the project. Donen is best known for both his ebullient musicals (Singin' in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) as well as for his forays into romantic thrillers (Charade, Arabesque), genres that are far enough removed from each other to prove Donen's versatility. But Donen's output suffered a somewhat serious quality decline after the mid-sixties (I'd argue that the incredible 1967 film Two for the Road is really his last unabashed masterpiece), and Saturn 3 was one of the last three films that Donen made. He may frankly have just been tired, apathetic or simply unable to reign in a messy script or to deal with the repercussions of having his budget slashed, but the fact is Saturn 3 never really blasts off, despite some interesting elements.
It's actually a little sad to see a director of Donen's reputation and undeniable virtuosity unabashedly cop from other, better science fiction films, including an opening shot of a long spaceship zooming in over the camera which could have come from either Star Wars or 2001: A Space Odyssey. And the homages (to phrase it delicately) don't extend merely to the visual aspects of the film. You'll have a hard time convincing me that a director of such musical intuition as Donen obviously had didn't have something to do with Elmer Bernstein's opening theme, which starts out with a perfect fifth blaring in the brass which is decidedly reminiscent of Richard Strauss' opening motif in Also Sprach Zarathustra, which of course experienced a rather unexpected second wind (no pun intended) when it was used in Kubrick's masterpiece. (To be fair, Bernstein then goes in completely different directions with the theme.)
The story of Saturn 3 at least has a little innovation going for it. Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) are caretakers on Saturn's third moon (hence the title of the film), which for unexplained reasons is a kind of hydroponic growing station that has been a focal point of experimentation to try to provide an ecologically devastated Earth with a new food supply. Adam and Alex, who are also a couple, find their semi-idyllic little retreat suddenly invaded by a curt interloper named Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel), who has come replete with a high tech new robot which Benson informs the duo will replace one of them. Unbeknownst to Adam and Alex, Benson actually isn't Benson but an unstable psychopath (is there any other kind?) who has actually murdered the real Benson and taken his place.
"Benson" is something of a high tech wonderment himself, coming equipped with a kind of creepy looking portal in his neck which allows him to enter into a symbiotic relationship with the robot in order to train it more quickly. Unfortunately, what ends up happening is that some of Benson's lustful urges toward Alex get transferred to the robot, resulting in a fairly disturbing inter-species attack scene. The robot also receives Benson's penchant for murder, leading to a couple of rather gruesome deaths.
There's a lot of potential in Saturn 3, but it's virtually all unrealized. A lot of this seems to be due to the film's rather troubled production history. In addition to Barry evidently conflicting with Douglas and being replaced by Donen, the powers that be didn't like Keitel's Brooklyn patois, and the actor had to be dubbed. Additionally, Sir Lew Grade's other big production of that timeframe, Raise the Titanic!, went hugely over budget, ironically helping to sink Saturn 3, whose budget was summarily trimmed rather aggressively.
Saturn 3 is one of those films that seems to have everything going for it—at least on paper. A unique trio of star talents, a legendary director, a screenplay by famed novelist Martin Amis, top flight creative staff behind the scenes (including a glut of Academy Award winners), and yet nothing ever really gels into a cohesive drama here. When the heroes end up trying to take out the robot with a gambit that smacks precariously of Tarzan's efforts to trap a marauding lion, things get to the giggle worthy stage. Maybe Donen should have made this a musical.
Saturn 3 Blu-ray, Video Quality
Saturn 3 is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory, an imprint of Shout! Factory, with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. Shout! is trumpeting a brand new high definition transfer for Saturn 3, and it does look remarkably good most of the time. The film was lensed by the well regarded British cinematographer Billy Williams, who would go on to win an Oscar for Gandhi. Williams is hampered however by an unattractive set that consists largely of hallways with plastic tubing running in and around them, as well as some less than convincing miniatures. The biggest complaint some may have is a certain pallid quality to the color, especially with regard to flesh tones, which often seem kind of pale brown-beige rather than full blooded. The image is decently if not overwhelmingly detailed and contrast and black levels are both strong and consistent. A natural layer of grain is readily apparent (which of course spikes in the many optical effects sequences). There are a couple of odd anomalies here. There's some fairly noticeable telecine wobble in the opening credits, and then something that I can only call a telecine earthquake at about 1:26:10, during the closing credits, when suddenly the entire credits roll tilts suddenly slightly sideways. Maybe Hector the robot grabbed the telecine operator.
Saturn 3 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Saturn 3 received standard Dolby and six track releases for its 35mm and 70mm iterations, and those mixes are recreated here via DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and 5.1 options. Perhaps a bit surpisingly, the 5.1 mix is relatively restrained, limiting a lot of the sonic action to the front channels. Occasional foley effects spill into the side and rear channels, but it's typically Elmer Bernstein's score that tends to fill out the surrounds more than anything. That said, the mix is relatively involving, if not overly immersive. This is really not a "whiz bang" science fiction spectacular, and so the sound mix is fairly conservative to begin with, but both DTS-HD Master Audio offerings present dialog, effects and score cleanly and clearly, with excellent prioritization.
Saturn 3 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Saturn 3 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Saturn 3 has acheived a certain cult appeal through the years, but even the film's die hard fans would be hard pressed to argue that there's much on tap here other than a certain camp value (along with occasional nudity from Ms. Fawcett). Shout! Factory continues to churn out really respectable editions of these little remembered cult items, and this release is another entry by the label which has good technical merits and some appealing supplements. I can't actually recommend this since the film is so questionable, but the curious and/or fans of the film may well want to check it out.
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Saturn 3 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Stanley Donen's Saturn 3 Detailed - October 3, 2013
Scream Factory, the horror-thriller offshoot of independent film distributor Shout Factory, has detailed its upcoming combo pack edition of director Stanley Donen's classic sci-fi thriller Saturn 3 (1980), starring Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas, and Harvey Keitel. ...
• Saturn 3 Blu-ray - August 12, 2013
Scream Factory, the horror-thriller offshoot of independent film distributor Shout Factory, has revealed that it plans to release a combo pack edition of director Stanley Donen's Saturn 3 (1980), starring Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas, and Harvey Keitel. The release ...
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