Throwback Thursday: Saturn 3 (1980)

In the years following ‘Star Wars,’ Hollywood big-wigs were left wondering: what would make the perfect science fiction film? What elements are needed to pull off the next great space movie? Number one on that list: robots. You couldn’t visualize the future without an awesome robot or two. You also needed hot chicks. Girls in the future were bound to be way hotter than the girls in the present, right? With the right robot and an unspeakably beautiful woman, you had a surefire sci-fi hit.

The producers of ‘Saturn 3’ started on the right track on both counts, casting Farrah Fawcett as space nymph Alex and creating a crazy robot named Hector – an eight-foot-tall monster with memory banks made of human brain tissue. Sadly, everything else about the movie is so absolutely wrong, it teeters on the brink of lunacy, eliciting hysterical laughter and brow furrowing instead of wonder and terror. In short: this movie is a mess.

Alex and her lover/colleague Adam (Kirk Douglas) have a nice quiet life, doing hydroponics experiments on one of Saturn’s moons (probably the third one, who knows, they never say outright, the only infer in the film’s title). They receive an unwelcome visitor in the form of Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel), who has come to check up on their science projects. Benson has already proven himself to be a tad nuts: he killed the pilot who was supposed to go to Saturn 3 by opening an airlock on him, and then he hijacked the spaceship and flew it to Alex and Adam’s place. Benson has brought with him Hector, a new kind of robot. Hector is a giant, shaped like a man, except for its head, which is nothing but two little cylindrical eyes on a goose-neck. Hector is a blank slate; he learns by jacking directly into Benson’s brain. Since Benson is crazy, what do you think we can expect from Hector?

Saturn 3 (1980)

Soon, the entire moonbase is engulfed in a weird patriarchal power struggle. Benson wants to kill Adam and keep Alex for himself. Hector also wants Alex for him/its-self, which necessitates getting rid of Adam and Benson. Alex wants to stay with Adam, even though Adam is a good forty years older than she, but he’s the only man she’s ever been with. Alex has never even been to Earth.

Why don’t Alex and Adam just call for help? Because they’re stuck in the shadow of an eclipse. No signal bars!

Unlike other space-saga films of the time that took place in a galaxy far, far away, the awesome robot and pretty girl aren’t enough to save the show this time – although they are fun to look at. There are so many other things wrong with ‘Saturn 3’ that only people seeking out a bad movie – those who want to watch a film absolutely fall in on itself – will enjoy it. Other viewers, hoping for a decent little sci-fi flick, had best look elsewhere. The story turns into awkward chest-beating, probably setting gender equality back a few years.

Throwback Thursday: 'Saturn 3' (1980)

I don’t know a lot about science, but I know when something is wonky. I know, for example, that no gravity in space means you don’t walk normally on the surface of a planetoid. I know that big banks of blinking lights are not necessarily a computer. And I can tell when Harvey Keitel’s voice has been overdubbed, which it has, all throughout ‘Saturn 3.’ All of these things make the movie look and feel like a sheltered child’s idea of science fiction. I’m surprised there are no dragons in the film.

The plot of ‘Saturn 3’ hinges squarely on two things:

  1. Sweet-looking robot.
  2. Sweet-looking lady.

Everything else is designed to showcase the robot and the lady. When the story goes crazily sexist, it is supposed to emphasize how hot the lady is. When the science goes wonky, the robot is brought on-screen to emphasize how futuristic everything is. It doesn’t explain things that really need to be explained. Every character has a round blue tattoo on their face. What is it for? Is it an identification mark? Is Mike Tyson the President of Future Space? You’ve got an eight-foot-tall robot. Why is his head so tiny? And is Farrah Fawcett the only woman left in existence? Even guys in randomly passing ships want to get with her. There’s no story here – there’s just a framework with some words hanging on it.

Throwback Thursday: 'Saturn 3' (1980)

From the obviously miniature spaceships that launch with so much smoke they must be fueled with dry ice to the grand expanse of Douglas’ chest, ‘Saturn 3’ is a half-hearted attempt at a dark, ‘Alien’-esque sci-fi epic. Unfortunately, it feels like a community project, like a group of humorless businessmen attempting to design and build an amusement park. And while there are times viewers don’t realize there are only three sets in the whole movie, those are few and far between. However, Hector is a true piece of work. He’s the most likable character in the movie.

With the horrific miscasting of Douglas as space hero and the aimless direction of musical-maker Stanley Donen, ‘Saturn 3’ is movie goulash: the producers just threw everything into it, hoping it would be good. And it is great, if you like things that are bad. Actually, Hector is pretty awesome, one of the better robots I’ve seen; it’s a shame he’s in such a lousy movie. And Fawcett was a cutie pie. There are lots of men who have seen this movie only for the split second of Farrah nudity. Then again, sometimes all a person needs is a wicked cool robot and a hot chick to make him or her happy.

Your enjoyment of ‘Saturn 3’ may very well depend on if you want it good… or if you just want it.