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Friday, April 4, 2008

Saturn 3

Killing It Softly

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Stanley Donen's 1980 sci-fi flick Saturn 3 is a film to represent a rare, strangely delicate position a movie can end up at. Based on a story by John Barry, the installment exhibits an efficiently realized, exceptionally cold techno mood and its corresponding atmosphere, filled with nicely drawn characters that are ready to render their respective services unto the existentialist techno-drama that is about to entertain the viewer.

Saturn 3 starts off via a quite memorable sequence in which you witness a pilot boarding a spaceship in a definitely illegal manner, teaming up with some suspicious-secretive cargo unit he carries. The man shortly arrives at the Saturn 3 station, an artificial installment - sorry for the tautology - established to monitor possibilities of food production on the planet. The station is maintained and operated by two corporate employees, portrayed by Texan Beauty Farrah Fawcett and Kirk Douglas. The visitor - Harvey Keitel - arrives to offer the fifth and sixth extra hand for the small party, as their progress is considered unsatisfactory by the employers. This particular pair of extra hand needs serious work before it can be used though, as those hands belong to the first prototype of the Demigod android series, operated by pure brain tissue. Of which you can find a massive load of, if to open up the cargo unit the visitor brought to the station.

A healthy amount of narrative time is focused on the construction process of Hector, the android. Keitel and this mere, icy sci-fi mood he is surrounded in, both do a quite solid job of rendering prolonged sequences depicting the construction process of the robot from the parts, yet the period in question also is heavily characterized by cleverly created conflicts between the two male protagonists.

Keitel - the character's name hardly is mentioned, he is called: "Captain", but his name is "Benson" - probably had plans of leaving the station after the construction process, but the site falls under the influence of a Sun eclipse, dampening all radio communication around the complex. As result, Benson has no other choice than to stick around for a while and send his report when the eclipse is over. Controversy here, which shall be elaborated on later.

The Captain's character is of focal importance. Benson operates by totally improbable social registers. It seems as if all of his statements and actions depend on what is useful, efficient and fruity under the given circumstance, also he seems to be one to lack any insights or conceptions of what might be insulting, or even hurtful to hear for someone. Benson informs the woman on numerous occasions that he finds her very attractive, how nice of a body she possesses and how keen he would be to - use it. The Captain's character offers you a clever glimpse unto a future-mankind that operates solely on practical registers, emphasized further by the Captain's astonishment when he understands that the girl maintains an intimate relationship with her supervisor, Adam.

Benson considers Adam - Kirk Douglas - to be: obsolete. As soon as Hector is up and running, the Captain states that no further assistance will be required from one particular person. Either Adam or Alex will end up as redundant human resource. Now which one he might be referring to? Benson builds the robot up, and chooses to give instructions for it via direct input. This means brain to brain information transfer.

The sad facts are these, though: as the beginning of the film hints at, Benson does not exactly have a flawless reputation, thus little time is left prior to Hector's breakdown. Outburst? The android gets "compromised", arriving to the subtly suggested conclusion that the best solution would be to utilize all personnel as slaves, while taking the position of primal coordinator.

Among others, the peak moments of the film are the ones in which Benson and Adam collide in a multi-layered conflict to tread upon a subject MATTER which is quite hurtful for Kirk's character: aging. Aging is bad news, in fact, baddest of all bad news in a future that considers all aspects via practical registers. A superb, tiny scene is of primal importance in the film. The short sequence in which Adam stumbles upon a conversation taking place between Alex and Benson, while the supervisor checks the base via the surveillance cameras. Benson is in the process of approaching Alex on evidently intimate registers, stating how baffled he is by the girl's attraction to Adam, as he is old and he is incapable, he is even ...

Douglas chooses instead to mute the transmission's sound channel. It is too hurtful to hear. A very nice narrative moment of the movie.

Surely, explosion of the conflict is unavoidable. Benson steps over the line and does that by evident intention, too. A point does arrive Adam lacks the instruments to escape from, thus violence is the only solution he finds, if to keep his face. This moment consorts nicely with Hector's rampant emergence to claim position of primal director of future events. Some highly forgettable chase-around sequence do occur, in which Alex and Adam are trying to find means to leave the station. Question remains if they do succeed or must face a much different conclusion than they were hoping for.

As stated, one of the best aspects of Saturn 3 is Harvey Keitel's character. Yet, the character is not without concerns, from a narrative point of view. Benson might be: mad. In this case, all is OK. But Benson seems quite stable mentally, yet his decisions surely must face permanent consequences in a future so rigorous as hinted at. What is the agenda of the character? The station he left surely will take note of his absence, not to mention the mess - sic! - he left after himself. By going to the Saturn 3 station, he took a position simply not meant to be taken by him via sober considerations. It may be so that the station he left has no direct connection with the uppermost levels of the decision makers, yet these questions should have been answered, or at least, hinted at. Saturn 3 does not address Benson's future plans, does not hint at the original agenda of this central character, the agenda that made him do what he did.

An even more significant concern is the breakdown of Hector, which is presented in a relatively abrupt manner, though the film fortunately finds some memorable solutions to offer shivering insights at what really is going on during the neuro-level communication taking place between Benson and Hector.

- Spoiler starts. -

"I am NOT malfunctioning. YOU are."

- Spoiler ends. -

It seems safe to say that one minute Hector has no problem whatsoever, then the android goes mad in the consecutive one. This is an aspect that compromises the film a bit, as the breakdown process of the robot is essential to the whole movie, yet it is not thoroughly addressed, - though elegantly hinted at - leaving the viewer with scarce information to build a solid theory upon.

All in all, Saturn 3 possesses many elements to left definite retina stigmas on your eyes, and thus, in your memory. The scene in which Alex tears the hair of Adam to force him to regain his sobriety, the little-nifty "cyberplug" at the back of the head, the bug taken from the eye, Hector in some slimy mechanical fluid - hell, even Kirk's butt is is revealed, Ladies! - clever, icy moments the film constructs and presents with surprisingly efficient, cold elegance.

The compromised value system the robot is forced to face with due to Benson's reality, is evidently, and shamefully under-presented though, and one must think that this is the main reason Saturn 3 solidified as an acceptable sci-fi VHS gem. There is little if any doubt that Saturn 3 is a movie that kills itself softly via an unsatisfactory middle point, from which on the film spends a significant amount of time with escaping from the questions it posed earlier. Fails to address reasons, mechanics, causes as far as how, what, and why exactly went wrong. Saturn 3 easily could have been a true classic if to account these aspects as thoroughly as it does with the aging-obsoleteness components of the narrative.

If you did not see Saturn 3 yet, definitely give it a chance. It has a cold sci-fi charm which is unique to it, also, the acting is solid and easy to appreciate. If you did see it, then the effort must weigh in as a forgotten, true sci-fi gem worth loving and defending, otherwise you would not have bothered reading a review of it 28 years after its release, correct?

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