‘Saturn 3’ Blu-Ray Review: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ with a Claustrophobic Feel
In 1979 Ridley Scott released Alien which both changed and renewed interest in the “monster-in-space” genre. Saturn 3 was released less than a year after Alien and had an equally impressive resume with director Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain) and lead actors Kirk Douglas (Spartacus), Harvey Keitel (Taxi Driver) and Farrah Fawcett (Charlie’s Angels). Unfortunately, Saturn 3 had production troubles from the beginning and ended up with a film edited down to 88 minutes that couldn’t match up to the success of Alien nor satisfy the tastes of audiences wanting another Star Wars space western. After watching the new Blu-ray release from Scream Factory it makes sense that it did not appeal to those audiences. This movie is really neither of those; it’s more of a 2001: A Space Odyssey with a claustrophobic feel and minimally cast movie.
The movie begins with a man in astronaut gear with his face obscured killing the pilot of a spacecraft and making his way off to Saturn 3, a research station where two scientists; an older man named Adam (Douglas) and a young blonde woman named Alex (Fawcett), are working to solve some of the Earth’s food shortage problems. The man arrives and introduces himself as Captain Benson (Keitel) and, almost immediately, starts building a large robot with the purpose of replacing the members of the research team with the robot in order to speed up their work. Benson is able to introduce his own intelligence and personality into the robot (which he has named Hector) which is bad given we know him to be a murdering imposter. Soon Benson makes unwanted advances on Alex and tries to get her to take pills he calls “Blue Dreamers.” Adam realizes that Benson is building the robot to get rid of him tries to get Benson to take the robot apart but refuses. From here on it becomes a chase with Adam and Alex trying to escape from Hector, who has the same lust for Alex as his creator, and ultimately ends up in a showdown between man and machine.
Saturn 3 is actually a pretty good sci-fi movie with elements that we really would not see in sci-fi films for many years later. Unlike movies like Alien which are more like horror films, Saturn 3 puts a lot of focus on dialogue and character development which serve the movie very well. When you have a film with only three human characters it’s very important to make you care about those characters. The pacing is well-done and the score (when used) from Elmer Bernstein fits perfectly. The performances here are very believable, which should be expected from this cast and Douglas does a good job conveying a scientist realizing he is aging beyond his capabilities. Farah Fawcett does a good job playing a naïve love interest to Douglas. It makes an interesting relationship. She has never been to earth and doesn’t know any better to compare her aged lover against. The result is that they are both lovers but Douglas is a father figure at the same time. Keitel’s performance is a little harder to gauge for one simple reason; it’s not his voice! Somewhere in post-production Keitel’s entire role was dubbed over by actor Roy Dotrice (Amadeus) so it’s Keitel’s physical performance matched to another voice. Even so, his physical expression brings a cold, calculating, almost-disconnected quality to his character. Also, Dotrice’s voice worked incredibly well for the robot, Hector. I cannot imagine Keitel’s New York accent giving the same feel.
However, there are several issues with the film. One of the most noticeable is Elmer Bernstein’s original score was only captured for about 20 minutes (he had written over an hour of original music for the film). Also, the final movie feels much too short. In the special features of the disc is deleted footage; much of which adds a lot more to the story and explains much of what happens. Most of it really should not have been cut out. Some of the miniature work is also sub-par, though probably due to budget issues and not so terrible as to greatly distract from the film. However, Hector the robot, is a very interesting design and works very well.
Overall, the movie is an interesting one to watch. It touches on some interesting issues such as Earth overcrowding and the use of machine to replace obsolete humans. The film succeeds in creating some cool sets and feelings of creepiness and claustrophobia. It would be a great watch for fans of sci-fi and films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and even claustrophobic thrillers like The Shining. Definitely a movie that is worth watching and not one to be in the campy films category of the 1980’s; it just didn’t live up to the expectations of fans that were anticipating something else entirely.
The video transfer on Saturn 3 does an excellent job. The images are clear and crisp for the most part and the color palette really pops in some scenes; particularly the blues of the ship. The human color tones are very nice and lifelike. Saturn 3 looks great on Blu-ray and probably with good reason. The original was likely very well-done as the movie was filmed by cinematographer Billy Williams, who would go on to win an Oscar for Ghandi.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is excellent. The original DTS-HD 2.0 track is included but a very well-done surround sound mix is the way to go to get the most out of this blu-ray. The dialogue is easy to understand and the balance between dialogue, sound effects, and score is where it should be. I did not notice any sound errors like hissing or distortion.
• Commentary by Greg Moss (Saturn 3 Fan site) and film critic David Bradley
• Interviews with Academy Award winning Special Effects artist Colin Chilvers and actor Roy Dotrice
• Deleted Scenes
• Additional scenes from the network television version
• Theatrical Trailer
• TV Spots
• Still Gallery
Saturn 3 is currently available from Scream Factory
Fun Tidbit: Roy Dotrice, the voice of Hector, is currently known as Hallyne the Pyromancer in Game of Thrones.