Saturn 3 Blu-ray Review
A fine and lusty, if occasionally goofy, example of star-powered exploitation
Saturn 3 Blu-ray Review
Wrongly scorned by critics and genre-fans alike, Stanley Donen’s 1980 slice of prime SF exploitation gets a well-earned and quite impressive Blu-ray release from Scream Factory.So now is the time to reappraise the thoroughly entertaining results of a famously troubled production and decide for yourself if it's the cosmic turkey it is often painted as. Kirk Douglas’ lusty romping with Farrah Fawcett on Saturn’s third moon is cut violently short when Harvey Keitel’s deranged space scientist arrives there with his imposing cyborg assistant, Hector. Soon, there is much running around endless corridors and screaming as the metal monster takes on his creator’s lecherous, obsessive and murderous tendencies and goes on the rampage. Everybody wants Farrah Fawcett, even the cyborg … and, let’s face it, who can blame them?The scene is set for bloody amputations, some impromptu eye-surgery, enslavement, drugs and sex. It is hardly the most original of plots, but with a strange and prevailing mood of desire and death on a distant world, fantastic production design, a truly menacing robot and Farrah Fawcett as her absolute sexiest, Saturn 3 is great fun and not at all the lethargic disaster that too many critics claim. Frequently goofy a tad erratic, occasionally even thought-provoking, but certainly atmospheric and suspenseful, this infamous misfire gets another chance to hit the target.
Personally, I love it.
Saturn 3 Blu-ray Picture Quality
After many ropy transfers of Stanley Donen’s metal monster rampage, it is great to see the film looking so clean, bright and vibrant. I still remember the lousy pan and scan versions that chopped characters off and mucked-up Donen’s and DOP Billy Williams’ fine compositions, but Scream deliver the film in its correct 1.85:1 aspect, and with an AVC encode that has clearly been the recipient of some restoration somewhere along the way. The print looks crisp and healthy except for some glaring wobble during the opening and closing credits and some understandable grain and small debris spikes during the optical FX shots. There are little pops and nicks and, if you look closely, some fine vertical scratches, but overall this looks quite fresh.
The image retains a fine layer of grain throughout, which looks authentic and film-like. Detail is very good. There is some softer lensmanship, which is very much of the period, but the texture and fine resolution of the film is not left wanting. Facial detail is extremely revealing – from the lines and crags on Douglas to the eyelashes and temple-scan on Farrah Fawcett, there is excellent definition and clarity. For those wanting to spy some of those flashes of flesh, the image is suitably sharper too. Detail for Hector is also impressive, allowing you to easily study his construction, as it is for the pipes and machinery and readouts that fill the sets. Backgrounds don’t lose definition
Black levels are strong, producing deep shadows and swathes of atmospheric murk
I think the colours stand out with pride. Whilst flesh tones are slightly off, and I would say that this was down to the source, the primaries are nice and bright - blood, readouts, shiny steel objects, costumes and their insignia are now bolder and better saturated than ever before. Blood on Adam’s forehead and the glistening viscera dripping from Hector’s metal claws when he reaches through the flooring to catch his human prey really gleam. Midnight blues and the lilac, pink or orange sheen to shadow-locked Saturn also look just fine. There is a small amount of noise to be seen on the green wall-covering in the quarters of Adam and Alex, but the palette is generally well presented and far more energized than I have ever seen it appear before. Just look at the red and blue piping in the corridors – warm and striking, and all quite comic-book.
Black levels are strong, producing deep shadows and swathes of atmospheric murk. There could well be some crushing going on in the inkier corners of the compound but, as I have always said, I prefer my shadows darker and more stygian, so I did not find this a problem at all. Contrast is mostly very good. There is that hazy soft lighting and photography that Williams uses on Farrah Fawcett, and some occasional fluctuation, though this is mainly relegated to optical shots, but the transfer copes with the many transitions superbly and the steam clouds contain detail and texture against the darker elements of the frame. One small section after Benson makes his first advances upon Alex in the lab fluctuates a fair bit, but this is clearly down to the source material.
The image also benefits from a wonderful depth of field. It keeps up with the fluid photography and embraces the wide and complex sets with some panache, inviting you to study them the work that has gone into them. This level of dimensionality genuinely gives the film room to breathe.
The transfer is not troubled by edge enhancement, noise reduction, banding or aliasing. It looks film-like and, quite honestly, splendid. Hats off to Scream/Shout!
Saturn 3 Blu-ray Sound QualityScream provide two choices for the audio. A 5.1 mix that stems from the film’s 70mm presentations, and a stereo alternative replicating the more mainstream Dolby source – both in fine DTS-HD MA. Both sound crisp and clear and solidly deliver the goods.
The surround mix is a sly beast. At first it doesn’t seem to be adding a great deal beyond the frontal array, but there are definitely some elements and effects that are allowed to bleed through to the rears. The result is a subtle, but insidious experience that widens the soundstage without sounding fake or embellished, and brings a fuller feel to the action and suspense. The big Star Wars flyover and the decontamination chamber have definite movement across the soundscape. The stereo spread across the front is wide and detailed with voices following the speakers and effective positioning of Benson’s voice over the tannoy.
The ominous male choir chanting “Murder!” and the insistent bass make the blood freeze
Dialogue is always clear and discernible. That looping provided by Roy Dotrice for Harvey Keitel is done extremely well. The one moment when the lip-synch doesn’t seem to match up still works extraordinarily well because it looks as though Benson is muttering something under his breath after just being belittled by Adam. The subs isn’t really tested, but bass levels are still very decently utilized. This helps with things like the grinding of metal, the clang of a canister on Adam’s head, the impacts of bodies both human and machine, and the odd explosion. Hector’s whirring shrieks and the dog’s distant cries also carry depth and clarity and range.
Even if it suffered the loss of several cues and others have been submerged by effects, the experimental score from Elmer Bernstein actually comes across with considerable vigour. By far the most impressive moments swirl and pound around Hector’s theme. The ominous male choir chanting “Murder!” and the insistent bass make the blood freeze. The little chimes and bells that Bernstein incorporates also come over with clarity. When the music is given the opportunity to exert its authority, both audio mixes allow plenty of instrumental separation and particularly show off Bernstein’s dazzling armada of percussion.
I tended to stick with the 5.1 option and, overall, this offer a good sonic experience that does bring the film to life.
Saturn 3 Blu-ray ExtrasThere is both BD and DVD versions of the film and extras in this combo package.
Although nobody from the production itself has been able to contribute to the commentary, Scream have brought in Saturn 3’s Net-devotee Greg Moss who runs the film’s celebrated Fan Page and fellow Australian, film critic David Bradley to discuss its troubled history. There are a few lulls here and there, and sometimes the thread of the conversation gets lost, but this still delivers some interesting anecdotes and trivia.
Special Effects Artist Colin Chilvers and Actor Roy Dotrice appear in a couple of Interviews. Chilvers modified Hector the robot once Barry’s concept had been constructed and delivered to the set, and he offers some trivia and memories of his tenure on Saturn 3, briefly alluding the tense mood on-set with three strong-willed actors. Interestingly, Chilvers sounds almost exactly like AVforums’ own reviewer and my mate, Cas Harlow! Dotrice is the man who supplied the voice for Captain Benson when Harvey Keitel played silly buggers and, perhaps still in-character, refused to return to loop his dangerous fruitcake’s dialogue. Funnily enough, Dotrice maintains that Stanley Donen requested him because Keitel’s vocal performance wasn’t good enough and sounded too American. With two other American leads who kept their own voices this is just preposterous. Hmmm… methinks that Donen was just furious Keitel wouldn’t come back.
Considering the low regard with which the film is usually held, this is a fine bunch of features that should really please fans
The infamous Blue Dreamers deleted scene is mostly here. A lengthy sequence in which Adam and Alex partake of the recreational drug that Benson has given them and have, well, a good time, as well as a fantasy of killing the Captain. Regarded mostly for Farrah Fawcett parading around in super sexy (and rather silly) space lingerie, this is a peculiar delight. Sadly, the sound drops out entirely towards the end.
Further additional scenes that were shown in US Network TV prints detail some great moments that provide answers to why Benson’s shuttle explodes and extend other character elements, such as Benson’s growing frustration with not being able to have Alex. These are in poor shape and 4:3, but still perfectly watchable.
There is also a Stills Gallery, TV Spots and the film’s Theatrical Trailer.
Considering the low regard with which the film is usually held, this is a fine bunch of features that should really please fans out there.
Is Saturn 3 Blu-ray Worth BuyingScream bring out another cult genre treasure and give it the treatment it deserves. Their transfer of Stanley Donen’s erroneously maligned SF chiller-thriller Saturn 3 is a strong one that looks and sounds quite dynamic and faithful. The extra features reveal the sort of affection from a label that fans should feel very appreciative of and thankful for. The commentary is a little faltering at times, but there is genuine passion there, the host of deleted scenes are a delight – especially the almost mythical Blue Dreamers sequence – and the two interviews shed some light on the film’s troubled production.
It’s Space 1999 meets The Terminator and makes for a successfully suspenseful SF thriller
With such a bad reputation preceding it, you would expect this to be a disaster. Now, if you read my comprehensive Article on the film, you will see that I am clearly biased. But, regardless of my affection for this mélange of Frankenstein, Alien and Forbidden Planet, Saturn 3 is fine and lusty, if occasionally goofy, example of star-powered exploitation. Considering that this wasn’t his forte at all, and the drastic slashing of the budget, I think Stanley Donen did a great job.
It’s Space 1999 meets The Terminator and, contrary to what you’ve probably heard or read elsewhere, it makes for a successfully suspenseful SF thriller.
There might not many others who will, but I definitely recommend it.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £16.73
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