Saturn 3 (1979)
Star Wars has got a lot to answer for. I know that may seem like an obvious statement, after all, we're living in a world where jaded 30-somethings are still failing to come to terms with the fact that their beloved "greatest film of all time" has been royally shafted by its uniformly dreadful "prequels". What's more, we've been treated to a never-ending conveyor belt of Star Wars wannabes in the past few years - The Matrix being a prime example of this kind of soulless, boring, unfulfilling cinema.
But think back to the late 70s. Back then, the idea of a ponce wrapped in rolled gold bumming a whistling pepper pot was seen as "charming", no-one had noticed just how ugly and acne-ridden Luke "the supposed hero" Skywalker actually was, and a big model triangle zooming into shot from the top of the screen was enough to make some cretins in the audience actually duck. Simpler times, for simpler people
But even the morons of 1979 Can't have been impressed by the so-called "special" effects of Saturn 3, a film so uniformly dreadful in all departments (the space scenes, the acting, the dubbing, the apparently-very-expensive-but-a-bit-crap-looking robot monster), that it's gone beyond the term "cult" into new territory altogether. I'm not even convinced that anyone had actually sat through the entire turgid affair until I waded through it one recent Sunday afternoon.
The film even starts in a kind-of 2001-meets-Star Wars way, with the silent majesty of space being interrupted (silently) by a huge space ship flying in (from the top of the screen). Sadly, the scene is wrecked by the inclusion of an obviously painted planet in the background
But onwards, and downwards Captain James is late for the launch of his ship. Hurrying along he meets Vince, who failed the "mental test", apparently. Keen to pass it this time, Vince embarks on a bit of extra-curricular homework - ejecting the poor Captain out of the airlock, so that he explodes in deep space. Yup, mental.
James' shuttle takes off in a cloud of dry ice (wonder who's driving it?), and we're treated to yet more dire SFX as it navigates "the rings of Saturn". The ship is on its way to Saturn 3, an experimental food research station. "When they want to give the solar system an enema, this is where they stick the tube in," apparently. Good to see that even in the distant future, the art of vaudeville isn't quite dead. You know who wrote this? Martin Amis. His dad wrote Lucky Jim, you know.
Vince (or Captain James, as his hosts on the space station assume him to be) is Harvey Keitel (yes, that one), looking quite surprised that not only has he ended up in a Z-grade sci-fi/horror film, but that some bastard has dubbed his voice with a strange English accent. He's brought drugs (tut tut) and an enormous robot called Hector, which is in pieces at the moment, but when finished will have a human brain etc.
His hosts on Saturn 3 are none other than Kirk "I'll appear in anything as long as I get to show my arse" Douglas and Farrah "please don't, Kirk - I've just eaten" Fawcett. Films don't get much more British than this one
Keen to improve his mental rating, Keitel starts with some heavy-handed chat-up lines to the unimpressed Farrah ("You have a great body, may I use it?"), and continues by telling the pair that when Hector (the robot) is finished, one of them will be "obsolete" (cheers).
While Kirk and Farrah enjoy a "blue dreamer", a pill which gives you wet dreams (apparently we were to be treated to a steamy kinky sex scene at this point, but it got cut), Keitel gets Hector up-and-running. It's at this point the casual viewer might begin to get an inkling of just where the budget all went - the robot is actually almost impressive - until you get to its head. It hasn't got one, just a CCTV camera. Plastic tubes and chrome-plated shin guards don't come cheap, and they obviously built old Hector from the ground up, suddenly realising that all the money had gone when they got to his shoulders. Oops. Although having said that, the design allegedly comes from a drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci. Yes, I don't believe that either.
"He doesn't like to be laughed at " says Keitel. That's a shame, because he's bloody hilarious. Unlike what passes for jokes on Saturn 3.
For some reason that I really can't be bothered to go into, Keitel's lecherous thoughts about Fawcett are being transferred into the robot. In the film's one queasy scene, he demonstrates Hector's sensitivity by getting the robot to use its big clamp-hand-things to remove a speck of grit from Farrah's eye, but things are going from bad to worse. Hector is actually barking mad - he kills the dog (did I mention they had a dog? They had a dog), and even Keitel realises that when it comes to mentalism, he could learn a thing or two from the big silver guy with no head.
Things end in a welter of naked Kirk Douglas, sweaty chase scenes and some quite nasty gore effects (especially considering the film's rather tame A certificate). People get their hands chopped off, and robots (mentioning no names) decide to impress the girlies by ripping people's skin off and trying to wear it. Delightful.
I may have been a bit hard on Saturn 3 at the beginning of this review. Yes, it's crap. But the eye scene is very effective, and the horror at the end is quite well done. Hector, with his ability to perform intricate surgery or casually snip off a limb, could have been a terrifying foe. It's a shame the money ran out.
Last updated: February 27, 2010
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