On ‘Saturn 3’, no one can hear you stifle a yawn

May 30, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 30, 2013

Last year, I wrote about some 1970s and 1980s science fiction movies that fascinated me, even though I was too young to see them in the theater. (Left unmentioned was the fact that I did go see at least three pictures — the original Star WarsClose Encounters of the Third Kind and Animal House — in initial release despite really being too young and immature to have done so.)

Well, there was another picture that, along with AlienOutland and Capricorn One, fascinated me due to its science fiction content but went unwatched by me. It was a film called Saturn 3, and here’s what I knew about it: It was set in some kind of ill-lit outpost, it starred Farrah Fawcett, and it featured a menacing silver quasi-biological robot called Hector.

It turns out that someone (perhaps illicitly) has posted a rather murky full-length copy of Saturn 3 on YouTube, so the other day I got a chance to watch what turns out to be this justly obscure outing from 1980.

This was a film, I should stipulate, that started out with no small measure of promise. The story was conceived by John Barry, the British production designer who won praise for his work on A Clockwork Orange, Star Wars and Superman. Martin Amis, now a well-established British novelist, wrote the screenplay. The cast list essentially contained just three names, but oh, what names: Kirk Douglas, Harvey Keitel and Farrah Fawcett.

Fawcett and Douglas play Alex and Major Adam, respectively, the only two humans posted to the remote food research base known as Saturn 3, on a moon orbiting that ringed world. Keitel — with a voice dubbed by Roy Dotrice in an uncredited performance, according to the Internet Movie Database — plays Benson.

However, Benson is actually impersonating one Capt. James, whom — about two minutes into the picture! — Benson casually murders on-screen moments before James was to depart for Saturn 3. James’ mission, which Benson assumes, is to stimulate production at the research station. His tool for doing so is Hector, a new Demigod-model robot with a biological brain.

But because the mechanical creature’s training involves directly receiving transmissions from Benson’s brain, Hector is corrupted by his master’s homicidal impulses, his lust for Alex, and his jealousy about the much older Major Adam. Ultimately, the unhinged robot goes on a rampage, taking over the station.

One could do a fascinating metaphorical analysis of the story. Is Hector a double for God, who expels Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden? Is Benson Eve, who by biting into an apple from the Tree of Knowledge introduces shame and lust to the garden?

Whatever, as today’s kids might say.

Unfortunately, Fawcett’s performance is pretty weak, and all the characters seem flat. None of them are especially likeable, and thus it’s hard to sympathize with their plight at the mechanical hands of Hector. Even worse, the picture’s pacing over the first half or so is agonizingly slow, creating little tension. Much as Ghosts of Mars, which I recently reviewed, seemed to be a substandard Aliens knockoff, Saturn 3 struck me as a second-rate Alien copy.

To boot, none of the special effects here are particularly special, at least in the (admittedly murky, as previously mentioned) copy of this film that I viewed.

Consider my long-standing curiosity about this picture sated. Saturn 3: One wouldn’t want to live there, and one really shouldn’t want to visit, either.


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