Saturn 3 was almost universally excoriated upon its release; somewhat to the contrary, one finds it almost interesting, even if it is ultimately a script that suffers from too many pretensions. Saturn 3 came out not long after the huge success of Alien (1979) and gives the impression of trying to be another Alien, substituting a giant cyclopean robot prowling the space station corridors for an alien nasty. That could well be the case, but for the fact that Saturn 3 was planned well before Alien was ever released. As such, it appears more like an version of Frankenstein (1931) transplanted into an outer space setting and run over with some odd allusions to the Garden of Eden Kirk Douglas (whose character is even named Adam) and Farrah Fawcett as lovers who live in an innocent garden paradise, Harvey Keitel as the serpent who enters paradise and whose lusts end up polluting its idyll.
The plot lacks a certain momentum but Stanley Donen builds it well during the latter half with some decent scenes of the robot pursuing people through the complex. However, it all becomes confused by the end. There is an abrupt and downbeat ending with Farrah Fawcett just deciding the return to Earth throughout Earth is used as a symbol of decadence and one supposes her return acts as a symbol of surrender to loss of innocence, but as an ending it comes as a decided anticlimax. Nevertheless, there are some oddly intriguing lines littered throughout that effectively sketch a picture of life back on Earth. Harvey Keitel approaches Farrah Fawcett:
You have a beautiful body. May I have the use of it?
Later she asks him Have you ever had a pet?, which receives the reply Ive had dog a few times. Something to eat.
Saturn 3 was made on a then fair $10 million budget. The whole of the budget appears to have been spent on the sets, which are highly imaginative although in a determination to avoid the dirty downbeat look that became all the science-fiction vogue after Star Wars and Alien there at times the design seems more extravagant than practical. The station has clearly been built around an entire soundstage and gives the impression of a full complex that doesnt just end at the cameras edge. The robot Hector looks impressively convincing and well designed. The special effects vary somewhat. The opening sequence with the camera flying past Saturn and the station, the hangar full of black-suited figures and Harvey Keitel killing his comrade by opening an airlock door and splattering his body, and then taking off in the shuttle and circling Saturns rocky rings and landing on the moon, is impressive. Although the mattes and opticals here fail to always convince. Moreover, it is a sequence that seems designed more for effect than sensibility why do some people on the station walk on the ceiling and others at different angles (gravity on space stations works as centrifugal force)? Why would a pilot fly through the rock-packed rings, which would be a navigational nightmare, rather than around them?
Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett never do much to stand out in their roles, although there is a performance of strangely appealing physical menace from Harvey Keitel, who was then a relative unknown and not the major name he is today. Farrah Fawcett was then riding at the peak of her success and regarded as the bombshell of the 1970s as a result of appearing in a single season of Charlies Angels (1977-81) and then becoming a poster pin-up sensation. She was widely pilloried for her phenomenal lack of acting talent, something that is clearly on display here. In the 1980s, Farrah proved her critics wrong and returned to strength as an actress taking on a number of strong roles of decidedly feminist bent in the likes of the tv mini-series The Burning Bed (1984) and the film Extremities (1986), even the title role in the tv movie biopic Margaret Bourke-White (1989).
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