Sci-fi in the polyester age has always been a strange thing indeed. The 70's, thanks to brilliant films like 2001, the original ALIEN, SILENT RUNNING and SOYLENT GREEN (a film far greater than its most famous line of dialog) also birthed a slew of outright embarrassments and guilty pleasures. For every Kubrick opus there were 5 slices of nonsense like DAMNATION ALLEY and TROG. There were also the highly entertaining but flawed likes of LOGAN'S RUN and THE OMEGA MAN to contend with.
Filmed in 1979 and released early in 1980, SATURN 3 is every inch the 70 's film. A deeply weird mix of killer robot movie and treatise on aging star power and the waning sex appeal of the old Hollywood guard SATURN 3 is a bit of a train wreck. Set in the future, a very fit but visibly aging Kirk Douglas plays a Major named Adam. Adam and his partner Alex (Farrah Fawcett at the peak of her sex kitten powers) are stationed on one of Saturn's moons beavering away on a plant growth project to help planet Earth. Earth is suffering from catastrophic pollution levels and the aftermath of much natural disaster. They essentially live in a completely closed but vaguely Edenesque greenhouse working on creating new food sources. And Douglas has a pretty sweet deal - he's sleeping with the naive but sweet Alex and she seems to be in love with him (though since she has such little life experience it's not like she had much to compare him too). Into this paradise steps murderous psychopath Benson (a bizarrely dubbed in post-production Harvey Keitel) - a supposed robotics expert sent by higher ups from a nearby space outpost who has brought his massive toy along to help improve productivity on Saturn 3. Problem is that Benson is a murderer who has killed the person who was supposed to arrive and stolen their spaceship.
SATURN 3 then becomes a love "quadrangle" - the cold and creepy Benson develops an intense sexual fixation on Alex. He's also built the massive robot - named Hector after the figure from the Trojan War - and programmed it using his own brain as a direct source (one of the most arresting images in the film is the use of a "port" in the back of Keitel's skull to insert a coil link that connects to the robot). The robot slowly slips out of Benson's control and becomes sexually fixated on Alex as well. After a key malfunction Hector attacks his creator and goes after Alex. Can the Major protect her?
The last act of the film turn into a very strange FRIDAY THE 13th variation with Alex trying to get away from the chasing robot and having bloody limbs plopped in front of her. There is even that 70's staple - the casually slaughtered pet. Adam is, well, kind of useless. This is especially funny since director Stanley Donen (of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN fame) makes sure to cater to his aging star's vanity at every turn. Douglas keeps taking his shirt off and getting busy with Fawcett who goes topless briefly. They make a weirdly believable couple, however, mostly due to the bizarre environment they inhabit. Keitel's Benson is so cold and unfeeling (except for his sexual urges) that even though he is younger and more virile than Douglas one has no problem believing Alex would be repulsed by him.
There are a lot of ideas floating around here but SATURN 3 just can't make up its mind as to what it really is. It is bogged down in too much piss poor science (the handling of airlocks and basic principles of gravity alone would drive Harlan Ellison mad) to be a 2001 style thoughtful sci-fi piece and it just isn't zany enough to be a LOGAN'S RUN or STAR WARS. And the sexual subtext would fit better in a traditional thriller. Finally the robot's desire for Alex is just silly - what is he actually going to DO with her? It's like a dog lusting after a table chair to a degree.
The sets vary from impressive (interiors and greenhouse) to cheap (exteriors). The FX are also wildly uneven -.the optical work especially. Considering what a troubled production this was however none of this is really a surprise. Donen was brought in at the last second after the original director clashed with Douglas and was fired. And the dubbing of Keitel (the producers wanted a more mid-Atlantic accent) is quite disconcerting. In short - SATURN 3 is an interesting mess but also a fascinating document of the last gasp of the Disco sci-fi age.
SATURN 3 beams down in a surprisingly strong 1.85.1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer. The only real area of any notable weakness here is in some of the optical effects. These shots tend to appear shakier and with less definition but this is the fault of the source material and not the transfer. The rest of the transfer is very nice and film like with good natural grain and strong black levels. Textures are intricate and facial detail excellent. This is a solid organic transfer.
Audio is handled by a serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. This is a decent lossless track hampered only by the limitations of its era. LFE action is minimal with surround activity fairly limited. The music and sound effects sound acceptable but a bit less robust than preferable. Dialog though is clear and centered.
The most valuable extra is the audio commentary by SATURN 3 "experts" Greg Moss and Dave Bradley. These dudes are obsessed - but since this is a film with such a complex and tortured history these are precisely the kinds of people you want on the case. The discussion is academic but informative.
Fx supervisor Colin Chilvers and dialog dubber Roy Dotrice (who provided Keitel's voice) sit for short interviews that are fun and worth a watch - Dotrice in particular. The dubber actually explains quite neatly how these people do the work they do. Also included are the TV version scenes that were used for network broadcast. These are basically scene extensions that offer minimal interest and are in SD. The real prize in the deleted material is the dream sequence where Douglas and Fawcett drop a hallucinogen. Fawcett appears in a crazy sex kitten space girl getup that had to be seen to be believed. The original producers found it offensive (silly fools!) but it is actually very funny. Finally you get the original theatrical trailer in HD, a solid still gallery and some ropey looking TV ad spots in SD. As this is a Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack, you also get a DVD including the same extras included in the keepcase.
The Final Word:
Shout! Factory have provided a very nice SE for this slightly forgotten sci-fi oddity. While not really a "good" film by any objective standard SATURN 3 is certainly a very interesting one. And the extras provide some nice context. Recommended for the more adventurous sci-fi fans and those with a taste for the odder side of genre cinema. And Farrah fans.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!