There’s very little to praise in Saturn 3, the much-maligned Razzy-nominated science-fiction film from 1980, which appears like a stain on Stanley Donen’s ('Singing in the Rain', 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers') esteemed filmography. At the time, we could admire Donen’s desire to step into another genre, similar to Robert Wise’s success with 'Star Trek The Motion Picture' a year prior, but even with relaxed expectations today, the film never rises above a mere curiosity-piece for the talent involved.
Saturn 3 (1980) dir. Stanley Donen
Starring: Kirk Douglas Farrah Fawcett, Harvey Keitel
By Alan Bacchus
It’s not much more than a conceptual three-hander which has Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett playing biological researchers on a space station orbiting a moon of Saturn seeking to find new ways to sustain life on an over-populated Earth. Entering the fray is Benson (Keitel), sent from earth to replace one of the members of the team with a sophisticated robot powered by a real live brain pickled in a vacuum sealed capsule.
With Douglas’s character Adam as the brains of the operation and Alex (Fawcett) characterized solely as the object of sexual gratification placed there to keep his virile energy up, the film reeks of the worst kind of sexual exploitation and female objectification we can imagine. The fact Farrah Fawcett’s name is billed above Kirk Douglas’ suggests the filmmakers sought to capitalize on Fawcett’s iconic celebrity as a pick-up model at the time. But the treatment of her character as an object of sexual desire is shameful, right down to the obvious flicker of nudity Fawcett flashes early on in the film.
If there’s a fourth character it’s the robot referred to as Hector, which comes off as Robbie the Robot meets the Cameron’s Terminator. Benson’s robot goes off the rails playing into the familiar sci-fi theme of the fallibility of machinery when built to serve man. When the robot starts to run amuck, the picture settles into a distilled but uninspired chase film designed to emulate Alien, Star Wars and Westworld. The film is let down by a robot design which resembles an incomplete version of Robocop or a Metropolis’ robot, missing a head. Any tension or suspense intended to come from the robot’s relentless efforts to kill the heroes are lost in the rickety mechanical effects in getting the creature to move within the frame.
Kirk Douglas’ presence would seem like a head scratcher. His better days were certainly behind him, but even in the worst moments of this film Douglas’ Hollywood star presence and innate screen charisma shine through. Fawcett while belittled sexually is also a strong presence on the screen. Unfortunately Keitel’s performance was disgracefully completely redubbed to remove his New York drawl in favour of a refined location-undetermined accent.
Strangely the legacy of this picture might just be its influence, intentional or not, on David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. Like Promises, one of Saturn 3’s strangest moments is the sight of its hero, in a hand-to-hand fight scene, completely nude, in this case Kirk Douglas in the buff fighting with Keitel for control of the ship.