Saturn 3 Blu-ray DVD Combo Review
Directed by Stanley Donen
Written by Martin Amis and John Barry
1980, Region A, 88 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on December 3rd, 2013
Farrah Fawcett as Alex
Kirk Douglas as Adam
Harvey Keitel as Benson
Earth has become overpopulated and polluted and there is a need to find a new food supply for the planet. Adam and Alex are hydroponic scientists aboard Saturn 3, a space station orbiting Saturn. They are involved both professionally and personally despite a 30-year age gap between the two. Their harmonious lifestyle is turned upside down, however, with the arrival of Captain Benson, sent to increase production with the assistance of a robot named Hector. This mechanical marvel is programmed through organic tissue and is linked directly into Benson's brain for faster learning abilities. The new arrivals make it known that the droid will replace one of the existing staff, likely the aging Adam.
Not everything is as it seems however, since Benson is not really whom he claims, but rather a murderous sociopath who has manipulated his way onto the project. This becomes problematic when the robot adopts his violent mentality and attraction to the nubile Alex. What follows is a bizarre pair of love triangles with the lady at the center of both, but it is unlikely her chosen lover is much challenge for the two threats that will do anything to win her heart. The tension of social relationships is quickly overshadowed by the terror of an unstoppable cyber-maniac on the loose, as Alex and Adam must find a way to stay alive long enough for the station to emerge from a planetary eclipse that blocks all radio transmission and distress signals.
Kirk Douglas (Paths of Glory, Spartacus) stars as Adam, the aging scientist forced to defend his interests against the challenges of the youthful and psychotic Benson, played by Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs, Bad Lieutenant). Keitel's cool demeanor is enhanced by his condescending attitude toward these lesser scientists and is the perfect antagonist to the emotional Douglas. There is a fair amount of unexpected nudity provided by Kirk Douglas, including during an awesome fight scene with Keitel. Farah Fawcett (Charlie's Angels) offers a few moments of occasional undress and looks terrific but never really clicks as a scientist. She has a nice scream and is fun to watch in the cat-and-mouse chase sequences that fill the final act, but is generally out of her element here.
Saturn 3 was a notoriously troubled production that included the usual elements of “creative differences” and “technical difficulties” that frequently plague movies. This time around, the original director (production designer John Barry, Star Wars) was replaced after conflicts with actor Kirk Douglas and the ballooning costs of getting the robot prop to work. Douglas reportedly took over directing duties until producer Stanley Donen (Charade, The Little Prince) stepped in to set things right. Once principal photography was completed and the film was edited, Donen opted to bring in noted voice actor Roy Dotrice (Game of Thrones) to replace all of actor Harvey Keitel's dialogue performance. A thinly veiled account of the behind-the-scenes drama can be read in screenwriter Martin Amis' novel Money.
Legendary composer Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven) offers a truly bizarre score that is alternately far-out weird and then balanced by more traditional composition. Some of the miniatures are unfortunately obvious and the scenes travelling through Saturn's rings are awkward underwater shots featuring rocks that can pass through the ship without causing damage.There were many late nights when this film would play on cable and for some reason as a kid I found the robot terrifying. Hector is in good company with fellow cyber-stalkers HAL (2001: A Space Odyssey), Maximillian (The Black Hole) and M.A.R.K. 13 (Hardware), the rest of Saturn 3 sadly does not hold up very well, but it is definitely worth watching as a space oddity.
Video and Audio:
Saturn 3 is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks pretty good for its age. The transfer is consistently strong, but consequently reveals some of the limitations of the production since miniatures and optical effects once obscured by darkness now pop out clearly. Colors are consistent but not vibrant and flesh tones are muted while black levels remain solid.
The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 track makes good use of the surrounds and the original stereo audio is nicely preserved in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix. Dialogue is primarily front-channel heavy and remains free of distortion. There are some nice directional sound effects around the ship, but it is Bernstein's musical score that benefits the most from the expanded 5.1 option.
Scream Factory has assembled a surprising number of bonus features for this forgotten flick, starting with an audio commentary. Greg Moss is a Saturn 3 enthusiast whose knowledge will shame others for their vague familiarity with the film. He runs the website Something is Wrong on Saturn 3 and brings countless anecdotes and theories to this discussion moderated by Dave Bradley. Moss really enjoys this movie and adds a lot to the experience. I'm glad he got to be a part of this release.
Voice artist Roy Dotrice discusses the awkward challenge of dubbing over Harvey Keitel's performance in a six minute interview. Having never received a real answer as to why his services were required, he remains confused, as he is apparently a Keitel fan.
Colin Chilvers won an Academy Award for his special effects work on Superman: The Movie and his next job was effects supervisor on Saturn 3. He offers a unique look at the production with stories involving the creation of various set-pieces, including the construction of the robot in a fast-moving 16-minute featurette.
A deleted scene (3 mintues) featured prominently in the original marketing campaign is included here. This is the material involving Adam and Alex's drug trip and her kinky wardrobe.
10 minutes of extended scenes from the television version are provided in less-than-great picture quality, but the content offers a look at some of the extended material that home audiences enjoyed instead of the glimpses of nudity and violence of the theatrical version.
The original trailer and TV spots are paired with a nice selection of promotional stills.
A DVD copy of the film is also included with this release.