20 February 2012

Saturn 3

United Kingdom – 1980
Director – Stanley Donen
CBS/FOX Home Video, 1987, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour 28 minutes 

Until my friend laid this old tape in my hands I had never heard of Saturn 3. That isn’t saying much I suppose, but he hadn’t either, and we are both big fans of robot oriented space-fiction so it was a pleasant surprise. Before watching the film I did a little research and discovered some interesting stuff. Despite not initially wanting to write extensively about what is a fairly mainstream film, after watching I was inspired to say something about it its relationship to space-fi in general.

When it was released, Saturn 3 appears to have received generally negative reviews, and remarkably, continues to do so . Not surprisingly these predominantly appear to stem from unfavorable comparison to Star Wars, which was released just a few years before. Although not mentioned in anything I read, I think it also owes a large debt to Kubrick’s 2001 in both overall plot, and Elmer Bernstein's score. But even if it’s not exceedingly original, Saturn 3 does a damned good job of wearing it’s pedigree on its sleeve.

The important thing to remember about Star Wars, especially because it has compounded its cultural significance in the last decade, is that it wasn’t very creative. As I’ve said before, it’s an entertaining movie, but the plot as we know is a generic and predictable white hero myth. Saturn 3 is not as epic or inspiring than its predecessor, but neither is it any less creative. What was so remarkable about Star Wars (and this is what I think most people find so endearing about it) was the visual design. Saturn 3 interestingly enough, was written and (initially) directed by John Barry, the same man responsible for the look of Star Wars.

The story itself centers around Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farah Fawcet) on one of Saturn’s moons where they operate a hydroponic farm but mostly shag. When another astronaut, Benson (Harvey Keitel) arrives at their secluded love nest, they soon discover that he and his robot are not on a mission of peace. Compelling? Perhaps not, but visually everything in this movie, from the spacesuits to the ships clicks. The thing that really sells it for me is the robot, “Hector”, an eight foot tall machine powered by a giant tube of vat-grown human-fetus brains. The concept is pretty twisted if you think about it, and the way in which Hector takes on the sociopathic personality of its programmer Benson is particularly well conceived.

I’ve always cushioned my disappointment with the termination of sci-fi cinema’s great sagas with a simple philosophy; If the human geography of space has been expanded as much as my favorite films claim, then it is quite possible that each space-fiction film (of a nominally similar quality) merely represents another local facet in the same broad story. In that sense, there is no “end” to what I call the Space-Fi Narrative Continuum*. Garnished with moments of genuine intelligence and clothed in awesome visuals, Saturn 3 definitely makes the cut.

*In the future I'll refer to qualifying films under this label. Previously reviewed films which qualify have been back referenced.

 This Japanese poster is from Movie Outlaw


Aylmer said...

Saturn 3 is one of a number of post Star Wars/Alien b-movies that I love. Others that I saw around the same time: Battle Beyond The Stars, Galaxy Of Terror, Humanoid, Forbidden World. The coverage of these movies in mags like Starlog and Fango always made them look like epic space operas. Not quite.

The Goodkind said...

No, none of them are quite as operatic as the mothership. But you know what; that's what I like about them, they don't over-reach. I mention in my review of Arena that a fantastic look at the mundane is what is appealing about much of science fiction. I think that applies to Saturn 3 and it's ilk, warts and all.

Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

I haven't seen this in forever, but I remember that box you have above being the one on display at my local video store growing up. Always cool to get a blast from the past like that.

The Goodkind said...

And the box doesn't do Hector justice. I fuggin' love that brain-tube.

Aylmer said...

"a fantastic look at the mundane"

... yes that's an interesting point. 2001 is full of close examinations of mundane activities, and is all the better for it. MOON too.

The Goodkind said...

Oh yes, MOON. That's a fantastic film! 2001 as well, but I feel like they're both more about social introspection. Saturn 3 and its ilk are more about extrospection if that makes any sense.

Anonymous said...

SomeTHING is wrong on ... SATURN 3!

Scumbalina said...

I have this very same copy of Saturn 3 (matching poster too). With all of it's flaws it's held up beautifully. Tt has just enough unintentional humor AND there's a giant robot. It's a win-win situation. Also, not being a huge Harvey Keitel fan, I was never quite sure why I didn't mind him in this. Come to find out, he was dubbed. The voice of Benson is not the voice of Harvey Keitel. So if you're like me and had an instant aversion to that nasally cry in Bad Lieutenant, that's a another major plus for Saturn 3.