Sunday, April 19, 2015

1980 Week: Saturn 3

          One of the strangest projects to emerge from the post-Star Wars sci-fi boom, this British production featuring American leading actors is part adventure saga, part horror show, part love story, and part mystery thriller. It also features one of the most unlikely combinations of stars in movie history: Aging he-man Kirk Douglas shares the screen with sun-kissed TV beauty Farrah Fawcett and New York-trained Method actor Harvey Keitel. That is, unless one counts the hulking robot who features prominently in the story as a costar. Set in the future, the picture begins when a mystery man kills a fellow space pilot in order to commandeer a shuttle delivering supplies to a scientific outpost on one of Saturn’s moons. The sole occupants of the outpost are Adam (Douglas), who is tasked with growing crops because Earth can no longer manufacture sufficient food, and Adam’s assistant/lover, Alex (Fawcett). Her origins are never made clear, though the implication is that she was provided to Adam as a sexual plaything. When the mystery man arrives, he reveals himself as Benson (Keitel), and says that his mission is to build a robot that can increase productivity at Saturn 3 (the name of the outpost).
          Adam and Alex are rattled by the change to their status quo, since they dig their quiet life—and who can blame them, since they seem to spend more time changing costumes and having sex than they do conducting experiments. Eventually, Adam and Alex realize that Benson is a psycho. Their first clue is when Benson jabs a metallic probe into a slot that he’s installed in the back of his neck, and uses it to psychically control the robot. Benson causes even more trouble when he announces his desire to sleep with Alex. Before long, things devolve into full-on violence once the robot gains a degree of autonomy, so Adam and Alex have to deal with two predators at once.
          Unlikely as it may seem, Saturn 3 was directed by Stanley Donen of Singin’ in the Rain fame, and to say that he’s got no feel for horror and/or sci-fi is to make a great understatement. Although certain individual scenes are handled well enough, including the introduction of Benson’s psychic link with the robot and a lengthy chase sequence, Donen fails to generate credibility or tension. Things in Saturn 3 just sort of happen, and Donen seems far more concerned with showing off the film’s elaborate production design than with telling a proper story. (Incredibly, the script was penned by acclaimed British novelist Martin Amis.) It doesn’t help that the acting is awful or that impatient editing rushes the story along at a distractingly frenetic pace.
          Douglas was well into the self-parody phase of his career, Fawcett seems as if she was lobotomized before filming, and Keitel—whose voice was replaced with that of another actor during postproduction—gives a more robotic performance than the actual robot. Nonetheless, fans of vintage sci-fi will find many things to enjoy, thanks to the colorful visuals and the surprising incidents of extreme violence. Plus, seeing as how the story ultimately becomes completely nonsensical, it’s possible to watch Saturn 3 as an accidental comedy. (There’s a reason why the picture earned three Razzie Award nominations.) Oh, and for those who fall under Saturn 3’s weird spell—or for those who simply crave another chance to ogle the lovely Ms. Fawcett—it’s worth surfing the Web for an infamous deleted scene featuring Douglas and Fawcett simulating a sexy drug trip, because Douglas’ goofy acting is as stunning as Fawcett’s slutty costume.

Saturn 3: FUNKY


Kurt said...

I saw this with my friends the weekend it opened. I remembered the audience started razzing it, especially Farrah Fawcett's scenes.

Xteve said...

Funky is the perfect description for this one. The opening shot is taken straight out of the Star Wars playbook; what were they thinking casting Kirk Douglas in that role?

Booksteve said...

Any film where you get to see more of Kirk Douglas's naked behind than you do Farrah Fawcett's has a problem from the get-go.

Unknown said...

Amis used his experiences on this film in his excellent novel, Money, so it wasn't a complete waste of time. I've never managed to sit through it, though.