Quality film news, reviews and features
25th November 2013 00:00:00
Posted by Geoff Dearth

Saturn 3

Blu-Ray Review: Shout! Factory has delivered an excellent package for Lord Grade's space oddity. Lovely picture quality and respectable sound are bolstered by a very nice array of extras, including the legendary 'Blue Dreamer' sequence, so this is a no-brainer for fans. You'll need a Region A player though!

The Movie

Saturn 3 is one of the bleaker science fiction movies of the 1980's, set in a future where the Earth is an over-populated, over-polluted hell, and a small outpost on one of Saturn's moons has been tasked with creating a solution to the Earth's food crisis. Designated as Saturn 3, its sole population is two loved-up hydroponic research scientists, Adam and Alex, whose efforts are falling behind schedule. Help is sent in the form of a Hector, a hulking 8-foot tall cyborg and his handler, Captain Benson. Unbeknownst to the couple, Benson has actually killed the original pilot intended for the mission, and his psychopathic lust for Alex is imprinted upon the hulking mechanoid via a mind link. Death, dismemberment and a little bit of disco ensues.

The film, from Lord Lew Grade's ITC company, had a troubled production, with original director John Barry making way for Stanley Donen (common consensus putting the interference down to the star power of Kirk Douglas) and there were lots of delays thanks to the mechanical breakdowns of the Hector robot. Harvey Keitel's voice was replaced in post production with the more refined tones of Roy Dotrice, and the budget was adversely affected by the overruns on ITC stablemate Raise The Titanic, which resulted in some less-than-stellar visual effects. It wasn't warmly received at the time, either critically or commercially, but the movie has garnered a small but devout following, due in no small part to Farrah Fawcett's charms (more on that later) and the distinctive production design.

The base is a sprawling nest of slick black tunnels, their smooth, rounded appearance giving the movie a more sensual feel than the industrial interiors seen in contemporaries like Alien, and the design of Hector is striking if only for its curiously unbalanced arrangement, the creature all thick legs and torso (the better to hide the performer inside the suit) with stick-thin mechanical arms and a discernable lack of a humanoid head. The legs and body are almost anatomical in their design, a feeling which is heightened by the myriad of tubing which pipes hydraulic fluid around Hector's body, making it look like metallic musculature without its skin. But it's the eyes on a stalk which add a creepy insect-like vibe to Hector's appearance, and because he doesn't have a face to betray his feelings you end up filling in the blanks yourself, which means that he's still a fascinating cinematic villain some 33 years later. The pulsing, probing sound design adds to the feeling of tension and unease, and although Elmer Bernstein's music is used sparingly it also provides a certain amount of electronic atmosphere.

The performances are good, Kirk Douglas bringing genuine movie star chops as the assured Adam, and even though Farrah Fawcett isn't called upon to do much more than disrobe and/or scream, her soft-focus beauty provides some much needed glamour. Harvey Keitel's Benson seems very cold and detached, as well he might, being a murdering loon, but Roy Dotrice's voice dubbing seems to remove all trace of humanity from him, delivering lines in a flat, humourless monotone. It's not a coincidence that when Hector assumes the identity of Benson the voice acting actually gets more emotional and exciteable, i.e. the robot is almost more human than the human.

Saturn 3 isn't as crude as you may remember it to be. Not having seen the film in years I had only retained certain images in my mind - mainly the gory/nudey bits, natch - yet like Hector there's a bit more going on underneath the surface. People often sneer at the age difference between Douglas and Fawcett (some 30-odd years) but the theme of obsolescence drives the story, with Hector being the replacement for Adam's mind and Benson for Adam's flesh, although neither possess what Adam does: a soul, which is what allows him to ultimately defeat Hector. Benson's permissive, almost blasé attitude towards sex and drugs highlights how morally degraded the Earth has become, and the final shot of a ship approaching what is an almost unrecognisable Earth, its surface criss-crossed with a spider's web of vast industrial developments, is scored with a deeply ominous music cue indicating that not all is well.

All in all, Saturn 3 is a slice of cult UK sci-fi that's worth another look.

The Disc

American Blu-ray label Shout! Factory recently inked a deal to distribute the ITV movie catalogue, and this new release of Saturn 3 is part of that wave. This Region A locked Blu-ray presents the film in 1.85 widescreen, encoded with AVC. The title sequence looks quite wobbly but the main body of the film is very stable. Grain and print damage are kept to a minimum, with only the optical effects presenting an increase in both. Detail is crisp, aside from the usual filtered close-ups of the leading lady, with no overt sharpening. Blacks are good and deep. Colour is nicely saturated, presenting the bold primaries with clean, vibrant hues, and skin tones are healthy without appearing too ruddy or too orange. The colour does seem to flicker for a few seconds during a couple of dissolves, but again the opticals are at fault there. There are no overt compression problems.

A sticker on the front cover of the Blu-ray proclaims this to be a new high definition transfer, and whether it was done by ITV and given to Shout!, or they did it themselves, someone deserves a pat on the back. Good stuff. (Keep an eye on the end credits though, as just after the 86 minute mark the image appears to literally shift in angle. Very odd.)

The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is heavily front oriented with very little bass to speak of, which comes as no surprise given the age of the movie and the relative youth of the Dolby Stereo system at that time. Dialogue is clear and there's some nice separation across the fronts when the characters converse over the intercom system (which could be a holdover from the 70mm 6-track mix). The music occasionally sounds a touch thin and strained, but overall, no major complaints.

While there's a lack of a genuine 'making of' in the extras, this selection should please most fans. The audio commentary from 'Saturn 3 expert' Greg Moss and Dave Bradley covers all the bases regarding the production, deleted scenes, thematic elements and so on. These two aren't the most engaging double-act so the track is a bit dry, and Moss's recording sounds slightly muffled, although their comments about the sex in the film are endearingly awkward. The two interviews, one with special effects director Colin Chilvers and the other with Roy Dotrice, provide some added insight into the production. There's also the trailer in HD, plus a couple of VHS-quality TV spots, as well as a stills gallery which features the usual mix of posters, lobby cards, character portraits and so on.

The biggest surprise comes in the partial form of the infamous deleted 'Blue Dreamer' fantasy sequence, where Adam and Alex drop one of Benson's blue pills and let their imaginations get a little bit freaky, Alex donning a kinky Barbarella-esque outfit and Adam murdering Benson by stabbing him in the neck with a broken glass. Even though the saucy image of Ms Fawcett was heavily used when promoting the film, the scene was cut after Lord Grade objected to the violence, and although the murder sequence no longer survives, the footage of Ms Fawcett in her space-hooker costume most certainly does. It previously appeared in the German VHS version of the film, but here it is presented in full 1080p quality with original audio (though there are gaps of silence) and it looks fantastic. The 10-minute selection of scene extensions from the TV version fares less well, having been derived from a very low quality tape source, but well done to Shout! for topping and tailing them with the appropriate footage from the movie itself so we get an idea of the context.

This release also comes with a DVD version that replicates the Blu-ray disc in terms of content. One little error to note is that the DVD menu says it has DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 when in fact it's Dolby Digital 5.1, the information having simply been copied from the menu of the Blu-ray version.

Overall

Shout! Factory has delivered an excellent package for Lord Grade's space oddity. Lovely picture quality and respectable sound are bolstered by a very nice array of extras, including the legendary 'Blue Dreamer' sequence, so this is a no-brainer for fans. You'll need a Region A player though!
Details and Specifications
Blu-Ray Review

Region: A

Certificate: R

Distributor:
Shout! Factory

Running Time:
87 mins approx
Soundtracks:
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 + 2.0

Subtitles:
English

Director:
Stanley Donen

Main cast:
Kirk Douglas, Farrah Fawcett, Harvey Keitel
-- more --
Ratings
Film
7
Video
8
Audio
7
Extras
8
7
About Geoff De'arth
Geoff has been a movie nut for about 25 years, working through all the major video formats and buying certain films more times than he's had hot dinners. He has a serious case of upgrade-itis, the most recent symptom being the purchase of a 4K TV. Poor fella.


More by this author...