What's worse than an eight foot tall robot with razor sharp pincer fingers and a penchant for beautiful women and murder? Nothing. Nothing is worse. Which is why Saturn 3 is so brilliant. There is a killer cast here: Kirk Douglas, Farrah Fawcett, Harvey Keitel and of course, the robot named Hector. The locale is incredible: somewhat claustrophobic halls and labs of a base carved into the surface of one of Saturn's moons. The atmosphere is creepy, silly and questionable, making this one of the most interesting films I've seen in the past few months.
Certainly, I expected something far worse, more in line with a b-movie than anything else. Saturn 3 delivers production value that would make those films jealous. Indeed, it may have had a small budget (I'm not sure if it did or not) but chose to wisely focus the film on three characters and good set design. Saturn 3 is a remote installation billions - yes billions - of kilometres away from Earth: it should feel a bit different. The base is occupied by two people (Douglas and Fawcett). They are a couple, which is a bit creepy simply because Douglas is at least twice her age. But it seems to work in this context, where the role of women has taken a big step backward into complete objectification. The fate of Earth is largely unknown, but we can infer that it's post-apocalyptic, perhaps in a recovery state. Alex has never even been there. Their relationship transcends this and seems more in line with "modern" times, but is questioned with the arrival of The Captain (played by Keitel). As he and Alex (Fawcett) are having a discussion about duties on the base, he finishes the conversation by telling her that her body is beautiful, and that he wants to use it. She is a bit shocked and declines, and he is highly offended. He tells Adam (Douglas) that he's being selfish and this goes against Earth's social norm. It's a bit odd to see, but it's important as the plot advances.
You see, the film opens with Benson killing the real Captain, taking his place on the flight to Saturn 3. So we know he's a bad guy, but what is the purpose of him going along? All the equipment is the same, he just wants to go. He arrives, seemingly on the mission of bringing new scientific equipment. The couple don't know why he's there, but accept that this happens from time to time. Benson builds the robot, then shows it to the couple, and explains the best part: the robot is controlled by real brain tissue, which is activated by his own. Of course, the robot is going to take on characteristics of the host. We've already established that Benson lusts after Alex, so it makes sense that the robot does as well. And the rest of the film plays out just like that. Benson has created a monster and not even he can't stop it. Just a few years before The Terminator, we have an unstoppable machine bent on human destruction (and love). There's not a lot of area to run, and only a few places to hide.
Saturn 3 is weird, mostly. The most jarring thing is the dubbing of Keitel's voice with another actors. Why? There's no real reason, it's just unsettling. Why did Benson want to go to Saturn 3, to the point of killing in order to get there? If he had more malicious plans then he definitely didn't count on the robot going off rail - and if so, makes this film even more brilliant. The music really stands out as well, perfectly accentuating the sci-fi / horror mix that this film is. Is it a rip off? Probably, but it's a product of the time where everything seemed to be. Saturn 3 stands above.