Saturn 3 (1980)
So, this movie begins in 1977 with the groundbreaking Star Wars, continues through the day-glo blinking lights of Battlestar Galactica in 1978, runs like a headless chicken through the ill-lit moody corridors of Alien from 1979, and...then crashes and burns in a huge ego-fueled fireball of crappiness in the few short weeks of 1980 that theaters actually bothered to run it before pulling its rotting carcass off the projectionist reels and double-showing Bad News Bears Go to Japan. Fast-forward to last week when I first learned of this movie's existence thanks solely to a random internet search for Cheryl Tieg's boobs, which I mistook for Farrah Fawcett's boobs (they look exactly the same!), which led me to Saturn 3 in all its wisely-forgotten glory.
I...I have no response for this...
Anyway, on to the movie. It's, like 200 years in the future or something and our withering planet is dying of hunger and choking to death with toxic pollution. I know this because everyone keeps mentioning how pathetic life is on Earth and how everyone is starving and forced to watch reruns of Full House or something and only the rich and powerful can still afford to have high-speed internet connections and meat and stuff. Of course, Planet Earth (all nationstates seem to have been abolished) can still afford to build gigantifucking huge spaceships and establish sprawling, mostly-empty space stations on the gas giants of our solar system. Clearly someone is not hurting for money planetside, or at least NASA has developed a sense of theatrics when designing deep-space exploration vessels. Our film takes place on the "Saturn 3" food-growing research station, conveniently located on distant Saturn's even more distant moon of Titan, because the hard, high-tech task of, you know, growing carrots and kale is really best done 900 million miles from the closest farmer's market in Des Moines.
Saturn 3, nestled amongst the Titan rocks.
The station's sole inhabitants are an old, moldy guy and a hot young blonde girl, both supposedly "scientists" who seem to spend an inordinate amount of on-clock worktime either half-dressed and giggling or totally buck-naked and fornicating like bored West Virginia teenagers. Let's not meet them at all, ok? Let's just turn off the movie and go outside and play Frisbee in the park, ok? Ok? Fine, bitches, let's meet these two (alleged) genetic scientists who are (allegedly) solving the world's food problems from beneath the stained and crusty sheets of their shared quarters. The old guy is named Adam and he looks just like Kirk Douglas, who readers might remember from absolutely nothing except vague concepts of shared cultural memories gleaned from snippets of internet videos and "that name sounds kinda familiar" google searches, because, seriously, none of you have actually seen Spartacus or Cactus Jack or Heroes of Telemark or any of the other three dozen films Douglas made before he was in that one episode of Touched by an Angel in 2000 (that none of you saw, either). You know his eldest son Michael, of course, but you didn't know that his dad was Kirk Douglas and if you did you surely thought he was Robert Mitchum instead.
Put your shirt back on, Kirk, it's not 1961 anymore.
Adam's sorta co-worker/mostly lover, is a pretty little thing with flippy 1980's Farrah Fawcett hair named Alex. I'm pretty sure (98%) she's played by Cheryl Tiegs (re: my initial reason for finding this movie), though the internet insists that she's Farrah Fawcett despite all evidence to the contrary. Seriously, though, I couldn't tell them apart for any amount of money.
And speaking of money, the budget for this film was a reported 10 million dollars, which in 2013 money is about 27 mil, which was about what the aforementioned Alien came in at, but a whopping 45 million less than what was poured into Superman in 1978 (wow, really?). Where did all that money go? Surely on a wide-ranging cast of hundreds, right? No, actually Saturn 3 is essentially a two-man-one-woman show, with only one other guy having a speaking role which lasted all of four lines. Clearly the budget was blown on the sets and the robot (more later), and mostly the sets, which are indeed impressive in a glitzy, over-lit Barbarella sort of way. While Star Wars and Alien both went with a lived-in grungy style of interior design, and Star Trek was known for clean and sterile hallways and floors, Saturn 3's set design team apparently decided to go with what they thought a disco/brothel would look like 200 years in the future, if everyone was on LSD all the time. Everything in the station is curvy and tubey and saturated with eye-burning amounts of fluorescent tubes and oddly-placed spotlights. Control panels are needlessly flashy and over complicated with a dozen buttons just to open a door. Chairs and beds and couches are all over-styled and look extremely uncomfortable to a normal human body. And, my god, all the flashing lights and blinking bulbs!
You'd think all the lighting would be red, like in a submarine, better on the eyes and all.
Anyway, so Adam and Alex spend their days humping and faking progress reports on their research and eating quite well and all seems happy. So happy in fact that they've pretty much given up on wearing clothes and throughout the movie we get enough perky Fawcett boobies and wrinkly leathery Douglas butt to satisfy the entire spectrum of 4chan perverts/film history majors. Keep in mind that Kirk Douglas is almost exactly twice the age of his tanned, hair-sprayed co-star, suggesting that in THE FUTURE such things are actually possible outside of poorly-made Dutch pornos and CBS sitcoms. One guesses that Douglas, upon reading the script chock full of stage directions like "And now they start boning, again", and upon learning that his female lead would be Jill Munroe from Charlie's Angels, jumped out of his house and literally ran all the way to his agent's office to sign the contract. Not sure what Cheryl Tiegs/Farrah Fawcett got out of it. Wait, are we sure that's not actually Cheryl Ladd?
Shouldn't you two be farming beets or something? You know all of Earth is starving, right?
Now, if I may speak for us all, an entire 90-minute movie of these two boning and growing rutabagas and boning some more would get really boring after a while, so we need some dramatic tension to liven things up. This comes in the form of an unexpected visitor to their frontier outpost. Pam, could you please take us back a few scenes and explain to our readers (1) who this Caption Benson character is and (2) why he's not really "Captain Benson" and (3) why does his spaceship look like huge bug-eyed fly and (4) why did he fly through Saturn's rings to get to Titan when there was literally a zillion miles of open space he could have flown through instead? Oh, and (5) why is there so much dry ice fog on spaceships of THE FUTURE?
Bonus question, why co-ed showers?
I can answer two of those questions for sure, Nate. "Captain Benson," which may or may not be his real name, is a lunatic who murdered the astronaut who was supposed to go to Saturn 3 and took his place. I think it's worth mentioning that he did this by opening an airlock in the locker room (!), which caused the astronaut to be sucked out of the space station. It looks as though this airlock can be opened by anybody capable of pulling a lever, and if I wasn't so fed up with this movie already, I'd discuss the silliness of this design in more detail, but I just want to get on with this review so I can watch something more interesting, like reruns of the original Dark Shadows. Now there's a TV show that deserves to be reviewed by MMT! Why did Captain Benson do this? Because he failed a psychological test and wasn't allowed to make the mission to Saturn 3. It's unclear if failing this test meant just that he couldn't go to Saturn 3, or if it meant his career as an astronaut was over. It's crystal clear why he failed, though: he's creepy-crazy. So crazy that if this isn't a recent change in his mental state, he had no business being an astronaut in the first place. This might also answer Nate's fourth question, since Benson's such a nutcase he probably thought it was a good idea to fly through Saturn's rings. For the bug-eyed spaceship and the dry ice fog, I have not a clue. Hints throughout the movie suggest that Earth's society is more than a little messed up, so this might be the explanation.
Harvey Keitel, btw, noted thespian and chewer of scenery.
The movie's too busy showing off flashy sets to go into much detail about Captain Benson's mission, but finally he mentions that he's here to give them a robot. It's part of the new "Demigod series," which pretty much gives away the whole plot right there. This is not your usual robot: it's controlled by the brain of an unborn baby (I told you Earth's society was pretty messed up). The brain will need three to four weeks to absorb necessary knowledge, then it'll be ready to go. This unfortunately means that either Adam or Alex will no longer be needed, and whichever one is superfluous will have to go back to Earth. Neither Adam nor Alex is pleased with this thought, and I can't say that I blame them, especially since it seems that the other one will probably have to stay on Saturn 3 instead of going back to Earth, too. As a further indication of what Earth is like, Adam mentions that he's near "abort time," which I take to mean mandatory euthanasia.
Nothing says "futuristic" like useless banks of spotlights illuminating only part of the room.
The Captain gets the robot, which for some reason he calls Hector, put together while Adam and Alex do a few drugs (in addition to lots of sex, there's also lots of casual drug use in this movie, I'm not sure when Adam and Alex actually do any work). Hector is indeed an impressive sight. He's humanoid but taller than a human man, made of gleaming metal with well-detailed perfect abs (Huh? Why bother to make a robot look muscular?). However, instead of a head, all he has are eyes on retractable stalks. Unfortunately he doesn't work perfectly right out of the box. He doesn't seem to know his own strength, which causes Captain Benson to spend a little more time back in the workshop. It develops that his improvements in Hector include keeping him in radio contact, achieved by an implant in the back of the Captain's neck. The Captain will be using his thoughts to control Hector. In addition to scaring Adam and Alex to death, it ought to be making them wonder what net benefit to Earth there is in replacing one of them with the Captain, since it sounds as though Hector won't be able to function without the Captain's control. Is this a characteristic of the Demigod Series, or is this a little something the Captain has come up with himself?
I should note that the connector he jams into the back of his neck is longer than the width of his neck (bad prop management).
Really, I think you all know everything you need to know about this movie to figure out what's going to happen. Oh, I did forget one important thing: Captain Benson wants Alex. Bad. His silver-tongued approach to seduction consists of saying, "You have a lovely body. May I use it?" Not surprisingly, this gets him nowhere, although from his reaction, it appears that on the Earth of this movie, it's considered downright antisocial to deny anybody sex. Or maybe it's just the women who can't refuse to have sex. You will of course recall that Captain Benson is controlling Hector...
Totally understand why.
Hector very shortly reveals his true nature by killing Sally, Adam and Alex's adorable little Cairn terrier (a scene I had to fast-forward through -- Sally looks very much like a dog I once had). He rapidly progresses to assaulting Alex in various humiliating ways, then turns on the Captain. Adam locks Hector up, but Hector is too strong to be held for long. They can't call for help, because Saturn is blocking transmissions, and keep this in mind. The next part of the movie is a confrontation between Hector and The Man. During a temporary setback for Hector, the Captain decides that Hector's out of action for good and he can now leave, but he also decides, without consulting either Alex or Adam, that Alex is coming with him. Adam takes violent exception to this, but Captain Benson comes out on top and is dragging Alex, fetchingly attired in white babydoll pajamas, toward his spaceship, when Hector steps in, ending the fight by snipping off the Captain's right hand and dragging him away somewhere.
It took them awhile, but they finally figured out Hector is a homicidal maniac who has mommy issues.
Well, you won't be surprised to hear that Adam and Alex are now somewhat perturbed. Hector has vanished to parts unknown, doing they know not what, and they decide that the smart thing to do is to skedaddle in the Captain's spaceship. We're now treated to an extended sequence of Adam and Alex sneaking through the improbably-enormous improbably-neon-lit space station, stalked by the headless Hector. This gives Kirk Douglas a chance to be heroic and Farrah Fawcett a chance to be wide-eyed and scared, although to give her some credit, she does seem to be able to run without clutching Adam's hand. They finally make it almost to the spaceship, when Hector beats them to the punch and blows it up! Nate, I'm biting my fingernails, what's going to happen to our brave if mismatched twosome?
Douglas probably only has 4 inches and maybe 25 pounds on Fawcett, I think she can hold her own here if it comes down to a mano-on-robot fight with Hector.
Thanks, Pam, I'll take us to the end. Well, predictably, our movie has become little more than an Alien rip-off, with a big beastie chasing our heroes around the confines of a futuristic base while dramatic music blasts us in stereo. It's up to our plucky duo to improvise weapons and outthink the robot's malfunctioning brain in order to survive (yawn). The problem is that Hector is just not that scary, and you really need it to be straight-up frightening for this third act to have the sort of emotional impact and immediacy of life-threatening danger that it needs. I'll admit, from the shoulders down, the Hector-bot is pretty impressive, certainly bulky enough across the torso and hips to give it some physical menace (admittedly this was done to have room for a stuntman inside, Godzilla-style). The pinching claws, while laughably simplistic by today's standards, are effective and could clearly crush some bone and the clanking early Terminator-style feet are well done. The problem is with Hector's "head", a dressed-up desk lamp, which does absolutely nothing to convey any sense of robotic rage or anger at all. In fact, the curious choice of an eyestalk/Wall-E type of head versus a more humanoid head (to go with the humanoid bipedal body) actually makes Hector downright amusing to watch. You can't help but giggle at the sight of that dinky little flashlight on top of that huge body and I'm pretty sure that's not what they were going for.
They could have at least put some fake eyelashes on it.
And don't tell me that Hollywood didn't have the technology to make scary robots in 1980. Just in 1979 we had Disney's The Black Hole with its ultra-scary amazingly-creepy Maximilian robot, 1973's Westworld showed us how terrifying a humanoid robot could be, and even the first Star Wars had its share of nightmare-inducing mechanical characters (I'll admit it, C3PO freaked me out as a kid). I'm not at all sure why Saturn 3's production team decided against a humanoid head design, but they really did the movie as a whole a disservice. Without that sense of terror and dread from your main baddie, your attention tends to wander to other things on screen, like the shoddy ADR dubbing and all that tedious forced prospective stuff to hide the fact that they only had one hallway set. The bra-less Fawcett does entertain in a bouncy way when she runs, I'll give the film points for that.
Hector takes some time to stop and catch up on some light reading on his color-coded screens.
They try to get to Benson's spaceship to escape the moon, but Hector blows it up remotely. Since this was apparently (huh?) Saturn 3's only means of transport off-world (sure) they are stuck here now. They then are shocked to hear Benson's voice on intercom! They think he's still somehow alive (and the voice agrees) so they go to meet him as he's says he's "come to an arrangement" with Hector. And now the Big Reveal. Benson is in fact quite dead, Hector was just faking his voice. And what's more, Hector cut off Benson's head and stuck it (how?) on top of his eyestalk! Don't worry too much, we never see it again, even though it would be ten-times awesome to have Hector roll around the rest of the movie with Benson's rotting, putrid skull stinking up the joint (missed opportunity, I say!).
Never even get a good close-up.
After a jarring snap-cut, the next scene shows us that Hector/Benson is now fully in charge. He's somehow (how?) managed to subdue (how?) Adam and Alex and is forcing them to do his repair work on the station (how?). To facilitate this, Hector has implanted them with those back-of-the-neck input jacks like Benson had (how Hector managed to do that surgery with those clumsy pincher fingers is not explained). This is supposed to suggest that Hector will be using their brains, combined with Benson's kept in the fridge, presumably to take over the world and crush it under his shambling metallic jackboots (MWWWAAAAHHH!!!). Or maybe Hector just wants, via Benson's transferred horniness and sexual frustration, to somehow get some metal-on-skin lovin' with Alex. How that's going to happen is best left to the imaginations of robot cosplayers, but perhaps it's planning on using Adam and Alex like mind-controlled anatomically-correct Ken/Barbie dolls for his own voyeuristic pleasure. Ick.
Alex is aghast that Adam now has a Matrix-style data jack, hope it's wireless because a coax cable would surely get in the way of their humping.
Anyway, that's all mute because Adam is still in control of his faculties enough to make one last desperate attempt to destroy Hector. This he does, tacking the robot brute into a pool of water with what might be an explosive device of some sort, but at the cost of his own life. Noble sacrifice, no doubt, but surely Adam could have found a way to do the exact same thing without the kamikaze aspect. Perhaps, though, Adam realized that he was close to that aforementioned "mandatory euthanasia time" and he'd never have a long life with Alex anyway. Still seems less like a grand, final gesture of love and more like the scriptwriters shrugged their shoulders as the production deadline dwindled down and said "Eh, what say maybe he just blows it up?".
The open pit of water was set up before, not that I'd be surprised if they just had open pools in the middle of the station for no good reason.
Anyway, the final scene is Alex, hair over-permed and styled like she's in some T&A cop show from the early 1970s, onboard a space liner headed back to Earth. Ominous music plays over this last shot, but why? Are they insinuating that Hector is still alive and still controlling things? Are they suggesting that Alex is somehow bringing something terrible to Earth with her? Is she a robot?!? I don't know, because nothing in that final scene (and I watched it three times) gives any hint of anything deceptive or devious on anyone's part. Maybe the original scrip had something different? Did something get cut out of the final print? Did not anyone connected with this movie's post-production process notice (or care to notice) that they have the typical droning foreshadowing music cue when there is nothing to back it up visually? Why do I care? Maybe I don't. Pam, any final thoughts on this one?
Alex wonders how Earth's high humidity will affect her hair. She's going to need a better conditioning rinse.
Yes, I've got a few: If there was ever a movie that was all show and no substance, it was this one. A worn-out predictable plot and a couple with no chemistry between them doomed this movie. Wikipedia says that the movie's production budget was cut back during filming to free up more money to finish another movie. That could explain why the plot was so thin, and it might also explain the mysterious closing scene where Alex is going back to Earth. The last part of the movie looked rushed, and if money was running short, it probably was necessary to complete the movie as quickly as possible. I don't know why Alex seemed so upset nor why she permed her hair into a Bride-of-Frankenstein 'do, but we did get hints through the movie that Earth was not a good place to be, and somebody mentioned near the beginning of the movie that Alex had never been to Earth. In addition to the lack of suspense, what I really didn't like was the pairing of Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett. There just seemed no reason, other than the obvious, for them to be together, and I would have thought Alex would be overjoyed to get away from Granddad and see something of the rest of the Solar System. And as Nate pointed out, they looked ludicrous side-by-side, since Kirk Douglas wasn't much bigger than Farrah Fawcett.
The sets are nice, although who designs an outer-space research station with all the sparkly lights and (most crucial) all that wasted space? But they're not enough to make this movie interesting. The movie-going segment of the population in 1980 must have shared my opinion, since this movie did very poorly at the box office. There's probably no reason to watch it, unless you want to see what Farrah Fawcett and Kirk Douglas look like undressed.
Written in June 2013 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
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