Directed by Stanley Donen
Distributed by Scream Factory
Credit must be given to Scream Factory for not only trotting out the bigger genre titles and providing them with great transfers and wonderfully produced supplements, but for unearthing hidden gems and forgotten classics as well. For every Halloween II or The Fog that they give us, there is also the opportunity to check out a lesser known flicks like Body Bags or The Town That Dreaded Sundown. But then…every now and then they’ll release stuff like Saturn 3. Which…it…uh…erm…
Opening with a fairly spectacular (and surprisingly bloody) murder involving an airlock and metal cables, Saturn 3 introduces us to Captain Benson (Keitel, whose inimitable Brooklyn accent has been dubbed over with a vaguely British vocal performance), an unhinged astronaut who has just dispatched a fellow pilot and has taken over his mission – to fly out to a lonely moonbase responsible for providing food for an increasingly resource-depleted Earth and offer assistance to its workers. There, he finds Saturn 3 run only by a crew of two – Adam (Douglas), and his partner/lover Alex (Fawcett). The psychotic Benson brings with him help in the form of a large robot named “Hector” (from the new “Demigod” line of robots Earth has begun manufacturing). After assembling Hector, Benson patches his own brain into the big metal bastard, using his own thoughts to control the behemoth. And unfortunately for Adam, Benson has set his sights on the lovely Alex, and will stop at nothing to have her for himself. However, Benson failed to consider the possibility that Hector might become sentient, and that the robot may have some sinister designs on Alex himself.
Golly, is this movie wacky. Directed by famed musical director Stanley Donen (he of Singin’ in the Rain fame ), and featuring a respectable cast and an accomplished special effects crew, Saturn 3 should be a great film. But it’s not. Instead, the film is hampered by a silly plot, some lousy dialogue, some horrid design choices, and some pretty hokey effects work. And sadly, it’s all played with a straight face.
To be fair, there is some nice photography and some cool sets, a good score (by Elmer Bernstein), and the three leads do their best to sell the material. Douglas is typically charming, Fawcett manages to lend depth to a character that is really only meant to be paraded about in skimpy attire, and Keitel lends Benson a genuine sense of menace, even through his compromised performance (if only the original audio still existed). But still, for all that, the film squanders its opportunity to tell a mature sci-fi tale, or even to provide some fun, mindless entertainment. It doesn’t manage to fully satisfy on any level, even for all its pedigree. Too bad.
Still, Scream Factory has done a first rate job in bringing Saturn 3 to disc. The film comes in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, with the Blu featuring a damned good transfer and solid audio (there are 2.0 and 5.1 DTS options here). Presentation wise, this older film holds up surprisingly well.
And then, the bonus features. First up is an audio commentary with Saturn 3 expert Greg Moss. Moss, who runs a Saturn 3 fansite (“Something is Wrong on Saturn 3”), along with film writer/moderator Dave Bradley, provides plenty of info about the film’s making – including a fascinating anecdote on Saturn 3’s initial casting (Sean Connery and Michael Caine were originally meant to be cast in the Douglas and Keitel roles, respectively). If you happen to enjoy the film, be sure to give this track a listen.
Next up is a brief interview with British voice actor Roy Dotrice, who discusses the circumstances surrounding his recruitment in dubbing over Keitel’s vocal performance to provide Benson with a more transatlantic accent. It’s an interesting talk, especially considering that Dotrice still seems to express some reservations about whether or not the dubbing was necessary in the first place.
A slightly more substantial interview follows, this one featuring Saturn 3’s special effects director, Colin Chilvers. Here, Chilvers discusses the film’s limited budget and the relatively small crew he had to contend with in order to create the film’s visual effects sequences (after hearing his side of things, it must be said that Chilvers acquits his work quite well).
Also to be found are a collection of additional scenes from the network television cut of the movie, presented here in VHS-quality 4×3. Still, worth having. There is also a deleted scene featuring a bit of goofiness from Douglas and Fawcett after their characters have taken some ecstasy (or “blue dreamers”), complete with an eye-popping costume from the latter.
Rounding things out are the film’s wonderfully vintage trailer, two VHS-quality TV spots, and a still gallery featuring publicity shots, lobby cards, and poster artwork. All in all, a pretty great package for this film.
Overall, Saturn 3 simply wasn’t meant for this viewer. If the provided synopsis did anything for you, or if you’re simply a sucker for 70s sci-fi curiosities (no problem there), then you might very well want to give Saturn 3 a visit. No doubt, this disc is the best possible way to experience the film, and here’s hoping you enjoy it more than this writer managed to.
2 out of 5
4 out of 5