Star Wars was released in 1977 and turned Hollywood on its head: no longer was sci-fi the domain of geeks and nerds. Well, not entirely.
By honouring the pulp sci-fi movies of the ’30s (Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, King of the Rocketmen), Star Wars showed Hollywood there was more to be had than morality tales (Silent Running, The Day The Earth Stood Still) and shlocky monster movies (The Blob, The Thing From Another World).
Two years later Alien pushed the boundaries even further.
Both those movies would set standards which movie-makers are trying to meet even today, more than 30 years later.
Star Wars was responsible for many copy cat movies, some good (Flash Gordon) and some bad (Battle Beyond The Stars). Worse, it would influence movies that had no right to be influenced by it (Dune).
Alien was also responsible for a great deal of excellent movies. Unfortunately, Saturn 3 is one of them. Please, don’t judge a film by the quality of that which it inspires: not all that imitates is a compliment.
Saturn 3 is the tale of one robot’s love for Farrah Fawcett, proving that “Farrah Hair” can turn even a robot heart.
The movie opens with evil spaceman, Benson (played by the literally immortal Harvey Keitel), having just failed his space exams and, in a fit of rage, murdering the man sent to do the job he failed the interview for.
Let me just say that, from the get-go, unlike those other two movies I mentioned, the SFX date this movie quite badly, which is difficult to forgive given that Star Wars and Alien predate it.
Alex (Farrah Fawcett) and Major Adam (Kirk Douglas) are space researchers who need some help doing research faster. Apparently, in space, no one needs a surname.
So, crazy murderer Benson has to take a robot to Titan (the third moon of Saturn, hence Saturn Three) and “train” it. This involves sticking a plug in the back of Benson’s head and downloading his thoughts directly in to the robot via bluetooth.
Their research is necessary to solve a world food crisis which has led to rather flexible morals. For example, Benson, upon meeting Alex (who has never been to Earth), says something to the effect of “You have a beautiful body, may I use it?“. By which, she is, quite rightly, ultimately creeped out. Old Crazy is enraged when she says “I’m with the Major” and tells her off, saying “On Earth, that would be immoral” or some such.
Lovely. I think not.
Alex and Adam were perfectly happy doing ‘research’ to solve the apparent hunger problem on Earth. Let me add that on Saturn 3, there is a small complex that’s dedicated to said hunger problem. And rather than have a large team working night and day on what I’d consider to be a BIG PROBLEM, they’ve got old Farrah and Kirk making out, having space showers together and doing space aerobics, whilst doing a bit of research in their spare time.
Benson makes things awkward as he interrupts their love-nest with things like saving Earth and bringing his new fangled ideas. Oh and that robot. Did I mention it was called Hector and was part of the “demigod” series?
I mean, seriously, whomever designated that robot the “demigod” series, probably also thinks that the Event Horizon is a “wicked cool” looking ship and certainly not a scary cathedral of death.
Things start to go wrong when space-killer Benson starts programming Hector directly from his murderous brain. This sends Hector all kinds of crazy. Worse, Hector learns Benson’s lust for Alex.
Cue inevitable murderous robot rampage.
The thing which strikes me most about this film is the fact that a young(er) Harvey Keitel, ’70s “it girl” Farrah Fawcett and Kirk Douglas are the only actors in this movie. Three pretty big names in Hollywood, even today.
And the movie is…well…not so good, Al.
The phrase “Alien with a robot” was probably used in conning them in to signing up. And conned they were. So what is so bad about the movie?
Well, ultimately, the villain of the piece just looks horrible. And, is also, well, not very bright. A film of this nature hangs on the quality of its villain. Especially when said villain is so prominent in the movie. Accordingly, this film just hangs.
Bad SFX are part and parcel of pre-CGI sci-fi. So, I normally wouldn’t let that affect me. I still love The Thing and Terminator, despite some dodgy animatronics. In fact, I think CGI is employed far too readily these days. And yet, this film came about three years after Star Wars and just a year after Alien. There’s really no excuse for such a lame looking bad guy.
Because, unfortunately, the script calls for Hector’s sheer robotness to provide the terror (well, Hector’s hardly going to be bursting out of cupboards or anything is he?). It’s just not very believable, given that the robot is obviously a man in a suit with some robot bits attached.
As the robot lumbers about the Saturn 3 complex, wearing a decapitated head for a party hat (not as funny as you might imagine), you are drawn out of the film and can only look on with a kind of morbid interest.
The “robot terror” is non-existent and at no point could anyone worry that Kirk and Farrah are being terrorized by a slow-moving, rather dim witted robot.
Unless you have an unnatural concerned for Farrah’s hair.
There are some good things in the movie, however. You’ve got to give some credit to the SFX for trying something different. The aforementioned “robot bits” look to be genuine remote controlled robot arms and the “head” is suitably odd to be a bit “whoah”.
Plus, the script isn’t terrible: there aren’t any glaringly idiotic things that stand out (apart from Adam and Alex attempting to solve world hunger BY THEMSELVES).
The film does go off on a weird tangent, somewhere toward the end, when Kirk gets fitted with his very own Bluetooth adaptor by Hector. This shows some promise which just isn’t capitalized on.
Soon after, rather bizarrely, the film ends.
I do have a soft spot for this film because I remember it being terrifying as a child. But looking back at it now, its actually less scary (and coherent) than modern Doctor Who. Consequently, I would only suggest watching this if you fancy some old skool science fiction horror and/or you want to see Farrah Fawcett topless.
TL:DR “A sci-fi horror attempts to capitalise on the success of Alien but fails miserably by not being scary or even any good. Entertaining but don’t expect anything remarkable.”