The time is the future and Earth is so polluted and overcrowded that the survival of humanity is dependent on space stations that are located across the galaxy. On one of the moons of Saturn, Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) are researching and developing new ways to grow food. Alex is young and has never experienced life on Earth. Adam is in his 60s and says that Earth is the worst place in the universe. Alex and Adam are not just colleagues but lovers as well. Inside the tranquil facility, Adam, Alex, and Sally the Dog live a lifestyle that feels more like late 70s California than 21st century Saturn.
Adam is disturbed when a cargo ship arrives. The ship is piloted by Captain James (Harvey Keitel, giving the film’s only interesting performance despite having had all of his dialogue dubbed by Roy Dotrice), who immediately takes an unwelcome interest in Alex. (“You have a great body,” he says, “May I use it?”) Captain James starts telling Alex stories about life back on Earth and encouraging her to abandon Adam. Captain James also reveals that he’s accompanied by an 8-foot robot named Hector. Hector is designed to replace one of the scientists.
If that’s not bad enough, it also turns out that Captain James is not really Captain James but instead, he’s Captain Benson. Benson was originally assigned to fly the cargo ship but, after a psychological profile deemed him to be psychotic, Benson was replaced by James. So, Benson killed James by pushing him out of an airlock. Now, Benson is on Saturn 3 and he’s uploaded both his homicidal impulses and his lust for Alex into Hector’s programming. Soon, Hector is rampaging through the facility, determined to have Alex for himself.
For an ultimately forgettable film that plays like an Alien rip-off (even though the two films were actually shot at the same time), Saturn 3 has long been infamous for its troubled production. Martin Amis, who wrote an early draft of the script, even wrote a novel, Money, based on the filming of Saturn 3. (In the novel, Kirk Douglas is renamed Lorne Guyland and insists on getting naked as much as possible in order to prove that he’s still virile.) The film was originally meant to be the directorial debut of John Barry, the famed British production designer. However, Barry departed the film after two weeks, with reports differing on whether he left voluntarily or if he was fired. The film’s producer, Stanley Donen, took over as director. Stanley Donen, who also directed legitimate classics like Singin’ In The Rain, Charade, and Two For The Road, confessed to having no affinity for science fiction and it’s obvious from watching his one foray into the genre that he was not exaggerating.
The idea behind Saturn 3, with Hector taking on the personality of it creator, is an intriguing one but the film doesn’t do much with it and the film’s choppy pace indicates that there was extensive executive tinkering both during and after filming. Harvey Keitel is convincingly strange in his role but Farrah Fawcett is miscast as a scientist and Kirk Douglas does his usual grin and grimace routine, usually while naked. (It doesn’t seem that Martin Amis had to stretch the truth too far.) The 8-foot Hector looks impressive until he actually has to chase Fawcett through the facility. That’s when it becomes obvious that anyone with two functioning legs could easily outrun the lumbering robot.
In space, no one can hear you scream. But they might hear you laughing at Saturn 3.