Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) are scientists seeking new forms of food deep beneath the surface of Saturn's moon Titan. Their laboratory is a space-age Eden and their life is idyllic until the arrival of Captain James (Harvey Keitel), a murderous psychopath, and his "helper" robot Hector. As Saturn goes into eclipse and cuts the station off from the rest of the universe, Captain James and Hector terrorize Adam and Alex. When the homicidal robot turns on its creator, James is torn apart trying to disassemble it and the scientists are forced to battle it out for themselves. With hector plugged into the station's control system, Adam and Alex must attempt to destroy everything they have built in order to save themselves.
Given the thousands of nightmare scenarios imagined by many creative people about advanced technologies turning against their makers, it's a wonder we are actually pursuing the possibilities in developing artificial intelligence, robots and androids. From Honda's ASIMO and Kokoro's Actoid to Boston Dynamics's designs for military use, what was once believed the wild fantasies of science-fiction are now slowly becoming a reality. The humanoid robots are always produced with the hopes of bettering and helping humanity, but the end result in most all sci-fi plots arrives at the same disastrous conclusion. When the machines, which only think in pure rational thought, realize humans are an irrational anomaly to existence, then extermination becomes the logical solution.
It's a story most moviegoers, I'm sure, are all too-familiar with; in the end, A.I. robots are scary because they tend to signify our extinction. For the most part, 1980's sci-fi thriller 'Saturn 3' follows a very similar outline, except for one rather interesting feature which makes the largely-forgotten low-budget production somewhat unique. From a story by production designer John Barry ('Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,' 'Superman') and the one-and-only screenplay by novelist Martin Amis, the robot doesn't decide to exterminate the three occupants of a hydroponics research station on Saturn's third moon from coldly calculated logic. Instead, the machine, which creepily resembles Boston Dynamics's Atlas robot, develops its murderous temper from human emotion.
Supposedly the first of its kind by an unnamed corporation from the "Demigod Series," the robot, which is named Hector after Homer's epic poem, has an eerie skeletal shape with a shiny rib cage and fluid-filled tubes that look like veins. Rather than using a central computing system, the thing comes with a real brain extracted from fetuses and grown to maturity. If that's not enough to whet a geek's appetite, then there's the fact that Hector's programming and intelligence is uploaded from a direct link to another human's adult brain. The person making the bond is a wonderfully menacing Harvey Keitel as the rather loathsome and disturbingly mechanical Captain Benson, who early on was seen killing a fellow astronaut in order to fly this particular mission. His exact motives are never explained, but all we really need to know is that he's cuckoo.
The only thing that matters is that Keitel's Benson is a maladjusted individual who can't seem stop vulgarly flirting with Farrah Fawcett's Alex, a naïve and voluptuous scientist who has never been on the overpopulated Earth. In fact, Keitel's crude and smarmy attempts to seduce Fawcett are worth the price alone; he hilariously acts offended by her refusal, as if she's the crazy one. Other than him being slimy and gross, she rebuffs his advances mostly from loyalty to her colleague and lover Adam, played with a surprising level of sophistication and intelligence by Kirk Douglas. Benson's feelings of rejection, frustration, obsession and of course, lunacy are transferred to Hector's programming and although he often shows compassion for others, those irrational emotions soon take over.
In the nightmare "rise of the machines" scenario of 'Saturn 3,' human emotions are essentially what lead to violence and death. Equally interesting are a few notions on Douglas's age and having to deal with a human workforce replaced by machines — or simply by younger, stronger men like Keitel. Produced and directed by Stanley Donen ('Funny Face,' 'Singin' in the Rain,' 'Charade'), the British cult favorite comes with a good deal of potential, some amusingly fascinating ideas, but fails to properly execute them in favor of simply capitalizing on the genre's sudden popularity. Although the design and special effects are top-notch for a limited production such as this, Donen sadly doesn't use them to great effect, failing to build suspense or any sense of danger for the characters. The nightmare quickly wanes by a rather lackluster finale.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Saturn 3' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside the normal blue case with a second DVD-9 disc on the opposing panel. At startup, the disc goes to a generic menu selection with a static photo of the cover art and music playing in the background.
The low-budget sci-fi thriller has received a surprisingly well-done upgrade, looking like a better version of itself. By all appearances, it would seem as if this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) was taken from a remaster of either the original negative or a print that's in really excellent condition. Fine lines and objects are very well-defined with close-ups being particularly revealing. Fans are able to fully appreciate the production design and the level of work that went into the costumes and construction of Hector. The entire color palette is full-bodied and cleanly rendered, with primaries appearing especially bold and animated. With spot-on contrast and deep, accurate black levels, the overall picture is notable and excellent.
Stanley Donen's largely-forgotten space adventure shoots for the stars with a pair of reasonably satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks: the first being a 5.1 upmix while the second comes in mono. The former is not half-bad, except there are times when the decibels jump slightly higher during action sequences. With bass that also feels a bit exaggerated, the track can seem a bit bright and extended beyond its limits. Not surprisingly, the latter is the preferred lossless mix, as it is closer to the original design. Vocals are crisp and intelligible in the center while dynamic range remains clean and decently broad. Then again, there's not much going on in the upper or lower frequencies. Nonetheless, it's a strong high-rez track and the better choice between the two.
'Saturn 3' is a largely forgotten, low-budget sci-fi thriller by Stanley Donen, John Barry, and Martin Amis. Starring Kirk Douglas, Farah Fawcett and a young Harvey Keitel, the film has some amusing moments and potential but mostly plays like an obvious attempt at capitalizing the genre's sudden popularity at the time. The Blu-ray arrives with an excellent high-def transfer and a reasonably good audio presentation. With decent set of supplements to boost, long-time fans and cult enthusiasts will enjoy having this in their collection.