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Pioneer Entertainment presents
Saturn 3 (1980)

Benson: "You have a great body. May I use it?"
Alex: "I'm with the Major."
Benson: "For his personal consumption only?"

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: June 28, 2000

Stars: Kirk Douglas, Farrah Fawcett, Harvey Keitel
Other Stars: Douglas Lambert
Director: Stanley Donen

MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 01h:30m:00s
Release Date: August 10, 1999
UPC: 013023029293
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C-D+B- D+

DVD Review

Saturn 3 is one of those sci-fi movies that distinctly splits its audience. Most people either seem to hate it, or they like it enough to be called "fans" of the film. I think I'm somewhere in between now that I've actually sat down and watched the film after years since my last viewing.

Set in a non-specific future, Saturn 3 begins onboard a giant spacestation. In a brief setup, we learn that Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel) has apparently been declared too mentally unstable to continue service. So, he murders Captain James in order to assume James' identity and overtake his mission to moonstation Saturn 3. Major Adam (Kirk Douglas) and his assistant Alex (Farrah Fawcett) are food researchers working underground on moonbase Saturn 3, trying to find ways to engineer improved food for Earth. Benson shows up promising them a new robot which will speed their progress and improve their work. A new 8-foot-tall robot, "Hector," learns by absorbing information from human brains, so Benson uses his own brain to control Hector, but his unstable personality spills over into the robot. Soon, Benson and Hector are clashing with each other's wills. Hector turns violent, threatening the whole project and tries to take control of the facility.

Overall, Saturn 3 has style on its side. The sets are fairly well made, the cinematography is moody, the ominous music is appropriate, and most of the important special effects are decent. Unfortunately, the writing is the central weakness. Legendary novelist Martin Amis must have taken sleeping pills to write this one-dimensional story. No time is ever spent developing the characters and most notably ignored is Captain Benson. Benson is supposed to be a homicidal lunatic, but why? Why did he kill Captain James just to wind up on a crap mission at a food-growth colony? Questions like these pop up in many places, resulting in a very empty plot. The robot, Hector, is never given much detail either. Despite some good effects making him a creepy, giant robot, Hector's development into a killing machine is never really explained well. The film moves at an extremely fast pace, leaving weird gaps in the logical progression. Plot holes pop up everywhere, and too many moments in the movie try to scare you for the wrong reasons. Considering the "Frankenstein" element to the plot, the lack of any real relationship time between Hector and Benson leave you wondering about too much. I get the feeling a lot of footage was left on the cutting room floor. Oddly enough, despite that the special effects work on Hector and the sets is good, some portions of the film have ridiculously BAD effects. Most outer space footage, as when Benson travelling to Saturn 3, is embarassingly awful. Normally, I wouldn't criticize effects, but when a movie goes between convincing and laughable so often, it alters its credibility. Amazingly, the whole package was directed by Stanley Donen, whose career spans films like Singin' In The Rain, Kismet, Bedazzled, and The Little Prince.

Despite the generally weak story, Saturn 3 has a cast that makes it bearable. Kirk Douglas is fitting as the age-concerned space worker who is close to burning out. Farrah Fawcett's doe-eyed, naive portrayal of Alex is accurate to someone who's never been to Earth and knows very little about urban life. The real centerpiece however, is Harvey Keitel's cold performance as Benson. He really holds the film together in its early moments and he lends a sense of seriousness to the plot where others might have made it laughable. I've never been able to figure out if Keitel was dubbed or not, but the creepy, nasal voice of Benson goes a long way in fleshing him out.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: As far as the image quality goes, allow me to explain my low rating. While Saturn 3 looks fine, it is not widescreened. When it was discovered that Artisan Entertainment, who initially had the rights to Saturn 3 for DVD release, questions about the disc's content were answered by saying that Artisan (who, at the time were going to manufacture the disc) had located a letterboxed master print to use for the disc. Last I remember, Saturn 3's original aspect ratio was at least 1:87:1. While I have no problem with DVDs that insist on a second full frame version, not having the choice of the original ratio is a big no-no in my opinion, and I have very little tolerance for it. All films on DVD should be presented in their original aspect ratio, no questions asked. Fans of this movie should really complain about this.

All that aside, the picture quality is good. The opening credits are jaw-droppingly bad, though. The first minute or two looks like a first generation MPEG-1 VCD. Don't let this scare you off, though. After the credits, the movie settles into a very good, sharp image with solid blacks and great color balance. Despite a few minor instances of compression problems, this is a good full frame image.

Image Transfer Grade: D+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The audio in Saturn 3 really surprised me. Although nothing on the keepcase designates the audio type, it decodes as Dolby 2.0 Surround. Although much of the onscreen action is confined to the center channel, a lot of sound effects get some impressive front channel action. The surround speakers get used for some ambient effects, but mostly to enhance the great musical score. Unfortunately, the film sports a very shallow low-end. I expected a lot of carried- over subwoofer activity from things like Hector stomping about, but overall the bass usage is pretty weak. Despite the lack of any precise imaging, the audio is much better than I ever recall.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Saturn 3's sole extra is the original theatrical trailer, which is full frame and very bad quality. The disc is presented rather poorly, as well. The outer packaging uses a weird, retro font design that makes the film look older than it is. The disc itself contains no real menu system, but rather a single static screen with the chapter listing. Some films are so unpopular, I rarely expect much in the way of extras, but Saturn 3 feels like a throw away. I seem to recall a making-of featurette about this film airing on some cable channel when I was a little kid. That would have been a nice extra.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

To me, Saturn 3 seems a victim of the "space race" in the late 70's and early 80's. The period where lots of studios tried to put out films to cash in on the coattails of Star Wars-inspired sci-fi mania. While Saturn 3 is generally entertaining, it's a kind of vapid entertainment. The extremely thin plot and ambiguous ending only compound audience confusion. Too many questions are left unanswered like, why does Earth need genetically engineered food? What exactly was the space station in the beginning? Why is a locker room for spaceship pilots actually a giant airlock, allowing anyone to easily murder and dispose of evidence?

Had the film been more about Benson trying to overtake Saturn 3, I think it would have been more successful. Instead, the out-of-control robot angle recalls too many movie clichés. There's a lot to like in Saturn 3, but there's equal amounts of things not to like. Psychological cat-and-mouse movies with unstable machines require a great deal of finesse to be truly effective. Take, for example, 2001 or Colossus: The Forbin Project (both of which pre-date this film). Not surprisingly, this film won several Razzie awards (the reverse of Oscars®) in its day. Try it out as a rental.


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