I was one of the few heterosexual teenagers of my generation who was never in love with Farrah Fawcett. Yes, I did watch "Charlie's Angels", but only for the lovely Jaclyn Smith. Farrah always struck me as the ultimate manufactured plastic bimbo- big hair, big teeth, big boobs, small talent. That supposedly iconic poster of her wearing a red swimsuit and a cheesy grin may have sold God-knows-how-many copies, but it never came anywhere near my bedroom wall.
By the end of seventies, however, Farrah had become a leading sex symbol and a well-known figure on television. There was just one world left for her to conquer, Hollywood, although the transition from big-name television actress to Hollywood goddess is not always an easy one. (It eluded, for example, most of Farrah's fellow-Angels as well as Pamela Anderson, who was to the nineties what Farrah was to the seventies). "Saturn 3" can be seen as Farrah's bid for big-screen stardom. It was, admittedly, made in Britain rather than in Hollywood, but had a legendary American director in Stanley Donen and a legendary American leading man in Kirk Douglas.
The immense success of the original "Star Wars" in 1977 had led to a vogue for science fiction, previously a little-regarded film genre associated with cheap fifties B-movie shockers. "Saturn 3" was one of a number of British attempts to cash in on this vogue. ("Flash Gordon", also from 1980, was another). The original idea for the film came from John Barry, better known as a composer, who was its original director before he was replaced by Donen at Douglas's insistence. (Like his friend Burt Lancaster, Douglas had a reputation for pulling rank to ensure he got the directors he wanted).
The film is set in an agricultural research station on the third moon of Saturn. For the purposes of the film we are asked to accept that, at the future date when it is set, useful agricultural research can indeed be done on an airless, lifeless lump of rock many millions of miles from Earth, although we are never given details of the science involved. We are also asked to accept that although the work done at this station is of immense value it can be run by a team of only two people, an ageing scientist named Adam and his younger colleague and lover, Alex. (Yeah, I know. "Eve" would have sounded a bit too obvious). Adam and Eve- sorry, Alex- live happily together in Eden- sorry, Saturn Three- until their idyll is interrupted by the arrival of a serpent. This particular serpent comes in the form of Captain Benson, a homicidally psychopathic astronaut sent by the authorities to check up on Saturn Three.
Let me clarify that a bit. The authorities have not knowingly sent a homicidal psychopath to Saturn Three. Benson was originally slated for the mission but was not allowed to fly when he failed a psychological assessment test. The enraged Benson reacted by murdering his replacement and then taking his place on board the spaceship, without anyone apparently noticing. Benson brings with him a robot named Hector who, having been programmed from Benson's brain patterns, has acquired his psychological instability. From this point on the film becomes an extra-terrestrial chase thriller, with first Benson and then Hector pursuing Adam and Alex with a view to killing the former and raping the latter.
Barry originally conceived the film on a much grander scale, but after the production company ITC Entertainment made a massive loss with "Raise the Titanic!", one of the biggest financial flops in the history of the British cinema, the budget for "Saturn 3" has to be pruned drastically. Barry had wanted to entice the young male audience by putting Farrah in revealing costumes throughout, but the more puritanical Donen vetoed this, and although there is the occasional glimpse of bare flesh (both from Farrah and from Douglas) her normal clothing is fairly modest. As a result, the young male audience stayed away in droves. Mind you, so did most of the population, meaning that "Saturn 3" was nearly as big a flop as "Raise the Titanic!" Its failure, however, cannot be wholly blamed upon Farrah's clothing. The screenplay was written by the prominent novelist Martin Amis, but one would hardly have guessed this from the finished film. The acting (apart from Sally the dog) is poor. This is by some distance the worst performance I have seen from Douglas. I assume that the sexagenarian actor was only induced to appear by the prospect of a love scene with an actress thirty years his junior, something which at 63 presumably did not come his way every day. Fawcett is even more wooden here than she was in "Charlie's Angels". Even the thought that she and her lover are in mortal peril from a murderous lunatic and a paranoid android cannot elicit much feeling from her. So emotionless is she that I was expecting a plot twist (which never actually came) whereby Alex is revealed to be a robot herself. As for poor Harvey Keitel, he was not even trusted to speak his own lines. (Apparently Donen objected to his New York accent and had his lines dubbed over by a British actor). The one thing you can say in the film's favour is that, despite the low budget, the special effects are reasonably good.
In the fifties Donen was regarded as a Hollywood whizz-kid, a specialist in musicals and the man responsible for films as good as "Singin' in the Rain". By 1980, however, the screen musical was largely dead and Donen was starting to look like yesterday's man. Although he is still alive, "Saturn 3" was to be his penultimate feature film. His last was to be "Blame It on Rio", a film every bit as dire as this one and a sad end to a once distinguished career.
Review by James Hitchcock from the Internet Movie Database.