Saturn 3

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I went into Saturn 3 (1980) as a fan of Martin Amis’ work, particularly The Pregnant Widow, only to discover later that a majority of the final script had been rewritten by Frederic Raphael. Needless to say that my experience watching Saturn 3 as part of Amis’ larger body of work turned out to be misguided. According to the supplements on the rather fine Shout! Factory blu-ray release of Saturn 3 the real auteur is John Barry, the man who “made us believe a man could fly”.

It makes complete sense that Saturn 3 is John Barry’s creation; it is a production designer’s dream after all. What doesn’t work is that Stanley Donen’s sensibilities are so far removed from the science-fiction genre that the design of the film is never fully incorporated or realized as a major aspect of Saturn 3. Personally I really admire Donen, but his handling of the material fails to tap into not only the location but also the themes that are merely touched upon rather than explored. I’m not saying that in different hands Saturn 3 would be something like Solaris (1972), but it could be a notch or two more above The Black Hole (1979).

Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas and Harvey Keitel really do a tremendous job under these circumstances. Donen (a great director of actors) and company do sustain an erotic tension and sense of danger throughout the proceeding. Given that the murderous robot named Hector is so silly looking, one really has to appreciate that Douglas and Fawcett manage to imbue their scenes together with a mortal fear. Interestingly, the film treats both Fawcett and the much older Douglas as sexual objects, albeit far more explicitly with regards to the former. One expects Fawcett to fill the roll of the object of desire (which she does with grace and integrity) but so see Douglas partially nude throughout the film is more than a little surprising. There’s a scene where a naked Douglas attempts to strangle the psychotic Keitel that just oozes with homoerotic underpinnings.

The bottom line is that there are enough interesting things at work in Saturn 3 to give it a watch, but there also isn’t very much to enjoy. In terms of Star Wars (1977) knock-offs, Saturn 3 is definitely one of the more mature attempts at revitalizing the genre. Yet, despite this, I’d probably watch Starcrash (1978) over Saturn 3 any day.