A huge spaceship orbits the planet Saturn; within, it is planned that a mission to one of its moons should send a new experiment to the two person crew there. The craft is ready for launch, but it's not the right captain who takes his place inside, it's Benson (Harvey Keitel) who has just murdered the captain who was supposed to go to the moon by sending his body out into space. The craft sets out and journeys through Saturn's rings, eventually landing to be met by Major Adam (Kirk Douglas) and his partner Alex (Farrah Fawcett) who run the hydroponics system there. However, the imposter captain has other ideas that go beyond simple food production, ideas which involve the canister he has brought with him...
Have a look at that opening shot of Saturn 3. Does it look familiar? A vast spacehip soaring overhead on course for a massive planet? Well, get those thoughts of Star Wars out of your head right now, no this one is more lilke Alien with a robot. This glossy but underwhelming science fiction was scripted by Martin Amis of all people, and underwent its fair share of production troubles. Chief among those was the firing of its original director and story deviser John Barry, better known as the production designer on, yes, Star Wars and not to be mistaken with the composer; he had differences of opinion with producer Stanley Donen and it was Donen who took the reins when he left. Donen seems a strange choice for this type of thing, and there are no song and dance numbers for him to show off his talents.
Not that some singing and dancing wouldn't have brightened the film up because despite being filmed on expensive, shiny sets and boasting fairly impressive special effects it has pretentions to be taken seriously as adult science fiction. This means a little nudity - not only do we get to see Farrah starkers, but sadly Kirk also - and violence, along with an underdeveloped train of thought about machines taking on the personality of their inventors. What's in the canister? It's a big jar of human brain tissue, all the better for making a robot reason like a human, and the captain builds a very tall and gleaming android to house it.
We know this will end in tears because we've seen the captain is a psychopath, as is obvious by the way he talks in an emotionless drone (Keitel refused to dub his lines so is revoiced by another actor), demands to use Alex's body and greets the station's pet dog by picking it up and looking straight at its arse. He also has a little socket in the back of his neck, so when the robot, now named Hector, proves a slow learner he plugs himself into the machine and lets it share some of his knowledge. Bad idea: Hector may only have clumsily crushed a tumbler before, but now he is lusting after Alex in the same way that the captain does, and is a sore loser at chess. Predictably, Hector is about to gain the upper hand and start running the show the way he wants it to be run.
There's a lot to be ridiculed about Saturn 3. Marvel at the way Douglas is determined to show he's every bit the strutting action hero equivalent of a man half his age - how many times do we have to watch him exercise? Fawcett was just coming to the end of her phase as the next big thing in the movies, a phase sabotaged by some terrible films like this one where her role is pretty much decorative and not exactly a strain on her talents. After Star Wars and Alien were released, studios decided to cash in on making their own sci fi epics, but few really took off, and this effort must be regarded as one of the ones that refused to fly. It just about gets by as a standard thriller in space, but no more than that, and it is an undemanding watch at best. Music by Elmer Bernstein.