Saturn 3 (1980)

Ok, now THAT was some hilarious shit! I’d heard about ‘Saturn 3’ several times over the years as one of those lower budget sci-fi flicks that REALLY tried to jump onto the ‘Star Wars’ bandwagon in light of the movie-going audiences apparent thirst for Big Scale Science Fiction / Horror at the time. I throw ‘Horror’ in there because it’s also clearly trying to ape the mature, sinister vibe that Ridley Scott’s classic ‘Alien’, that was released the year before, achieved so assuredly. The thing is…those two films did what they were doing well, whereas this one fell WAY short. So short, in fact, that many times throughout the 1 hour and 36 minute run-time, I found myself laughing out loud at what I was seeing.
‘Saturn 3’ opens with a blatant ‘over the camera’ intro shot of a supposedly huge ship a la the Star Destroyer vs Rebel blockade runner scene at the opening of ‘A New Hope’. It’s SO obviously imitating that cinematic milestone that it’s desperation to be accepted by ‘Star Wars’ fans (and their wallets) is painful to behold. On this obvious model space ship, we see techs prepping a flimsy, insect-looking craft while the loudspeaker calls for a ‘Captain James’ to report in. We then see ‘Captain James’ encounter a fully space suited, and therefore mysterious, pilot in the locker room, who then calmly ‘spaces’ the good Captain via a space vent in the roof or something. It’s hilarious when the obvious ice and food coloring doll of the captain is clearly dropped from a height to shatter on the bars, only to be able to tell that they just inverted the camera to make it look like he was sucked spaceward by the sudden loss of atmosphere. After this casual murder, the mysterious pilot climbs into the ship and blasts off. After flying through some REALLY obvious not-so-special effects, he lands on a styrofoam model of an experimental hydroponics base called Saturn 3. While still being all mysterious and shit, this dude meets the two caretakers of the facility, ‘Adam’ (62 year old Kirk Douglas) and ‘Alex’ (the admittedly ravishing 31 year old Farrah Fawcett). Not only are these two velour-track suited dimwits the sole inhabitants of the sizable base, but they’re also inexplicably, and slightly creepily, lovers. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen…we are treated to a topless Farrah (oh, yeah!!) and a bottomless Kirk (oh, no!!) in this dicey lil flick…in case you just HAD to know. So, Mysterious Dude finally removes his Praying-Mantis-Head space helmet and is revealed to be a robotic-acting weirdo named ‘Benson’ (Harvey Keitel). He informs them that he is there to help get them back on schedule and that he plans to do so through the use of an experimental, 8 foot tall robot with a tiny head named ‘Hector’. As ‘Adam’ and ‘Alex’ frolick in their 70’s leisure apartment that in no way looks like it belongs on what appears to be a dangerous environmental habitat barnacle’d to a tiny planet or a huge asteroid, ‘Benson’ starts becoming more and more sexually obsessed with ‘Alex’ (I mean really…who wouldn’t). However, it doesn’t take long before his lusty eyes give way to attempted date rape material. Around the same time, ‘Hector’ starts becoming erratic and, after gruesomely killing the couple’s little dog (cuz nothing like Animal Cruelty gets ‘bad guy’ across better!), he turns his sights on ‘Adam’ and ‘Alex’…and the ‘cat n mouse’ game begins.
I’m going to lay out the format of this review a bit differently than my previous write-ups. I opted to jot some notes down as the flick rolled on and I’m just going to give you exactly what I wrote and then I’ll explain why. Here we go!:

– “…useless Title push…”. This stood out to me right away. We’re given some ’70’s futuristic’- fonted ‘Saturn 3’ that, after appearing, suddenly pushes inward for a second or two, and stops. Now if we’d drifted INTO the title or something, I can see why they’d put in the effort…but here it was COMPLETELY pointless. I just shook my head.

-“…blatant ‘SW’ rip-off opening shot…”. I mentioned this one earlier but it’s SO obvious where they got their ‘inspiration’ from that I nearly felt a little sorry for them and their clear lack of originality. Nearly.

-“…hokey effects…”. 3 years after ‘Star Wars’ revolutionized model work and cinematography, the effects here are nearly awe-inspiring in how primitive and ‘budget’ they look. There were a couple that I thought were interesting visual ideas that could’ve had potential with the right amount of cash and competence behind them but mostly they looked terrible…especially anything featuring a model space craft.

-“…music wrong. ‘Big’ when no need...”. The entire opening has this big Elmer Bernstein score playing over it that just didn’t fit or need to be there. The opening could’ve had the potential to actually be somewhat suspenseful has just the ‘natural’ sounds been allowed to play, instead of the mood-breaking and intrusive ‘score’ they threw over it. Later, the score just becomes really forgettable.

“…feels like a 50’s movie…”. SO much of this presentation feels like a 1950’s science fiction flick, right down to the crappy effects, highly dated costumes and the presence of an elderly Kirk Douglas. It doesn’t ‘feel’ like a science fiction movie that came out the same year as the effortlessly superior ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. Not. At. All.

– “…terrible acting!…” Now I didn’t expect much from obvious ‘eye candy’ Farrah Fawcett but accomplished actors Douglas and Keitel are genuinely bad here. It’s clear the director didn’t know what the hell he was doing or how to provoke consistent and engaging performances out of these marquee ‘names’ that he had at his disposal. It’s also readily apparent that on The Page, the characters of ‘Adam’, ‘Alex’ and ‘Benson’ are paper-thin, almost non-existent ‘characters’ that they didn’t know what to do with.

-“...Farrah Fawcett nude!…”. Ok, maybe not fully nude, but topless enough to help further cement the sky rocketing sex symbol status that she rode successfully for the late 70’s / early 80’s. What can I say, I’m a red-blooded heterosexual man…the sexy boobies were most welcome! Sue me.

-“…sets are needlessly dark…” There were a few scenes where, for some reason, they were super dark, with no reason for it. It’s a research facility, I think that light would be something of an asset. Anyway…just something I noticed.

-“…WTF?! Robo Harvey Fawcett proposition weird sex shit…” I rolled my eyes when Keitel’s character starts propositioning Farrah in a way to suggest that she’s essentially sexual property in his eyes, and should just let him bump his uglies up inside her cuz he wants it and apparently this rapey protocol is how it’s done on Earth in the future…therefore those rules should apply on Saturn 3 as well. It felt like cheap and ugly attempts at titillating the audience by treating this international sex symbol onscreen like sexual cattle by an immature and somewhat misogynistic screenwriter / director.

-“…convenient cam views…” MANY times we’re treated to characters using the bases camera system to spy on, or ‘cat n mouse’ one another, only the camera positions are HIGHLY unlikely. Like the first time we see ‘Benson’ spying on ‘Adam’ and ‘Alex’ as they awkwardly get to mating. The camera looks like its there in bed with them…some huge close-up of the sides of their heads as the senior citizen and the half-his-age bimbo creepily get it on. Again…not sure I’m buying it.

-“...ridiculous costumes and hair…”. I swear, Farrah changed her damn hairstyle about 5 times in this movie. The long, luxurious blond mane was constantly perfectly teased, or feathered, or straightened etc. It’s just the two of them on this entire heavenly body before Creepy Keitel turns up!!! What the fuck was she doing…hitting the salon every other day!?! There was absolutely NO logical reason for her space scientist (hahaaa!) character to need to be SO concerned about her beauty. The costumes were funny too…all these chic fashions that you probably would’ve seen in some 70’s edition of Playboy…some speculative article on the ‘must have’ clothing of the future or some other kitschy bullshit, right next to an ad for Joe Camel cigarettes. It just dated the hell out of the flick.

“…exploitative…” It became apparent, and almost a little ugly, that Farrah Fawcett was in this movie for one reason, and one reason only. Pure Eye Candy that can be put in perilous and sexually suggestive situations that would give reason to see her ogled, menaced, dominated and overall placed in certain male audience members sick fantasies of possession and subservience. From her revealing costumes to flat-out nudity (or strong suggestions of it), Farrah Fawcett was only in ‘Saturn 3’ to be exploited…plain and simple.

-“…Murder Chant...”. The word ‘subtlety’ obviously had no place in the making of this piece of shit. More then once, when the evil robot ‘Hector’ (who strangely enough reminded me of one of my favorite marauding robots, the sinister ‘Mark 13’ from 1990’s underrated dystopian nightmare ‘Hardware’) was the focal point of a scene, the score began chanting what sounded a lot like “Murder…Murder…Murder…”. I chuckled more then once at that on-the-nose choice of music score.

-“…stole sound effects from ‘Alien’…” I instantly recognized several of the computer sounds and background effects as being lifted straight from the production of that excellent film. On the flip side, some of the other sounds in this it seemed that James Cameron appropriated for use in ‘Aliens’ 6 years later. Only much better.

-“…occasional cool shot or idea…” This didn’t happen often but once in a while I caught myself approving of certain visuals, or the concept of them as they popped up. This also made me wonder how viable a remake of this could be. But just as soon as I inwardly gave my approval to a specific shot…some pathetic effect or scene would happen and I’d be back in Laughing-At-Movie mode.

-“…Animal Cruelty…” The scene where ‘Alex’ finds her inexplicably present pet dog gorily decapitated in the garden was only there for shock value, and was a clumsy and cruel plot device used to demonstrate that things are going wrong and that the stakes had now climbed. It seemed that someone liked the idea of ‘Jones’, the Nostromo’s pet feline in ‘Alien’ so therefore THIS movie should also have a pet that’s on hand for no other reason but to be menaced and, in this case, gruesomely killed off-screen and left to be found, for shock value. Not needed.

-“…think James Cameron stole end from this…” Can’t believe I’m writing this about My Favorite Movie EVER, but I think that the sequence in ‘Aliens’ where the pissed off Alien Queen is hunting ‘Newt’ under the grated floor of the Sulaco’s hanger bay COULD’VE been easily inspired by / ripped off from a similar scene here where ‘Hector’ stalks Douglas and Fawcett as they crawl under the sub-flooring, while the robot hunts them from above. Hell…even the grating of the floor looked the same! I just couldn’t help but to notice the similarities. Sorry, Jim…I just call em as I see em.

-“…Detonate Button…” This just seemed funny to me. ‘Adam’ and ‘Alex’ quickly don their awkward-looking space suits and make a run outside for ‘Benson’s rickity-looking ship. As they approach, we see ‘Benson’s hand hit a large ‘DETONATE’ button on a random control console and the ship explodes into a really awful-looking explosion. It was hilarious, for some reason.

All in all, I’m glad that I FINALLY got around seeing this flick, after having heard a fair bit about it’s rocky reputation for so many years. Did I have fun watching it? Admittedly, yes I did. Is it a good movie? Not at all. I’d go so far as to say that it’s a total piece of shit that’s clear in it’s desire to exploit the popularity of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Alien’, while also shamefully exploiting famous sex symbol Farrah Fawcett in a sleazy bid to get male asses into movie theatre seats. The effects are mostly straight-up laughably terrible, there’s an unnecessary mean streak that melds with the sleazy undercurrent of the narrative, and the acting is awful. The ‘characters’ barely qualify as characters, Kirk Douglas, despite demonstrating some surprising fitness for a dude of 62 years, was far too old for the character he played and, while quite large, the sets felt cheap. It’s horribly dated and doesn’t feel like it belongs counted as an 80’s flick. It feels like a mid-70’s B-movie that bought it’s aesthetic and narrative flavor from the annals of 1950’s science fiction, and not in any kind of good way. If you like low-budget ‘copy cat’ science fiction melded with the clumsy exploitation of the late 1970’s, or if you’re into watching undeniable acting talent being utterly wasted and made a mockery of, then this flick may work for you. I would easily recommend ‘Saturn 3’ for a drunken heckle session…as it just begs for it!

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