Riddles answered – questions raised.
Directed by Stanley Donen. Screenplay by Martin Amis, from an original story by John Barry. Starring: Farrah Fawcett as Alex, Kirk Douglas as Adam and Harvey Keitel as Captain James. Original year of theatrical release: 1980. Running time: 96 mins.
There were a number of things I hoped would happen when I first conceived of my ‘Something Is Wrong On Saturn 3’ site. The first was that I would be offered the opportunity to be consulted in some capacity and have a degree of involvement in the official release of the movie on DVD/Blue-ray – which is currently happening. And the second was that I would connect with other fans of the film – some of whom, I hoped, may just happen to have the legendary US extended TV cut tucked away in a box in the basement somewhere – and finally get to see this lost version of the film – which (with enormous gratitude to Bob in Seattle) has also come to pass.
Erroneously referred to as the 103 minute version – this US television edit (originally aired on the NBC network in 1984 and again in 1985) is actually 96 minutes in length – which makes it approximately 8 minutes longer than the original US/UK theatrical cut released in 1980. The version I saw back in September of that year (here in Australia) included the notorious Blue Dreamers scene – featuring Farrah in her kinky Barbarella-style costume – but not the subsequent fantasy killing of Harvey Keitel’s character. None of this appears in this TV cut – but there is a hell of a lot of neat stuff which does – making the viewing of the film a whole new, and in some ways – more satisying experience.
For the unitiated – Saturn 3 is a sci-fi thriller in which the idylic lives of a scientist couple living in seclusion on a moon of Saturn – are thrown into disarray with the arrival of an eight-foot robot and its psychopathic handler meant to help them.
Naturally with this being a mid-eighties television version of an R-rated movie, much of the predatory psycho-sexual nature of Harvey Keitel’s character has been toned down and some of the explicit violence removed. However, for the sake of this review, I won’t be delving into what’s been cut by the network in any great detail – focussing instead on what’s been added (which is after all why you’re reading this – right?).
The first noticable addition occurs during the scene where Farrah shares with Kirk a Blue Dreamer pill given to her by Keitel. There is some new dialogue added here – where Kirk suggests he could come with her to Earth if she wants him to. The addition of this dialogue is interesting because it reveals that Adam is willing to return to the amoral society he sought refuge from for the sake of Alex’s curiousity – rather than ignoring it as an option. Although the infamous dream sequence where Farrah poses provocatively in her kinky Barbarella-style ‘coming out dress’ and the subsequent fantasy killing of Keitel’s character is still missing (as it was from the original US/UK theatrical release print) – a shot showing Kirk and Farrah passed out on the couch with Farrah’s scarf wrapped around Kirk’s neck has been extended – so we get to hear more of Elmer Bernstein’s disco tune playing on the soundtrack. The reason for this shot extension is because a reference to Adam wearing the scarf has been put back in later on.
Following this scene, and just prior to the chess scene in the theatrical cut, is an extension of the scene in the lab where Keitel and the now fully-assembled robot, Hector, are brain-linked – the so-called ‘Training Hector’ scene. This scene has been extended to include Kirk and Farrah appearing – with Farrah asking Keitel if Hector’s going to talk. There’s a great line here from Kirk – where Adam quips “Talk? It’ll take it a year to walk straight.”
Following the scene in the theatrical cut where Keitel quizzes Hector over his refusal to talk and Hector reveals his attraction to Alex, before accusing Keitel of being a killer – this is where things get really interesting. It’s the beginning of an extended deleted sequence which constitutes the bulk of the additional running time and is really the ramping up of tension leading into the second half of the movie. The sequence begins with Alex expressing her concern over Adam going outside with the robot alone. She urges him to take Captain James (Keitel) along with him – but Adam reassures her that he’ll be fine. As they join Keitel and Hector at the airlock, Adam suits up – continuing his antagonism towards the robot; mocking him when Keitel tells him he still isn’t talking – “He’s the strong silent type.” There is a nice character moment here too with the robot, which isn’t in the screenplay – where Hector turns back to see that Farrah has gone. We can clearly sense his disappointment at being separated from her and his pre-occupation with her is beautifully conveyed in the performance of the robot. In the next scene, which takes place inside the adjoining land buggy garage, Adam’s antagonism towards Hector intensifies. His constant put-downs clearly beginning to have a negative effect on the robot – to the point where Hector lashes out at him when Kirk attempts to coerce him into the buggy. We really begin to get a sense here of the robot’s growing resentment – that he is feeling victimized and it is in fact Adam who is behaving like a passive-aggressive asshole. In other words – our sympathies are beginning to shift towards the down-trodden Hector – who really has done nothing wrong to warrant such antagonism from Adam – other than to appear to be a threat to Adam’s authority and sense of control.
Once outside, Hector stops the land buggy next to the ship which brought him, climbs out and refuses to go any further. Adam continues on in the buggy, leaving Hector behind, as the robot heads back to the entrance, re-enters the garage and smashes the outer door control panel – effectively stranding Adam outside. What’s so great about this scene is that we get to see Hector working independantly of the rest of the cast – so that he comes across as a real character with a real agenda – as opposed to just a prop for the others to react to.
Meanwhile, back inside the complex (and with Adam and Hector off the base) – Keitel seizes the opportunity to attempt another move on Farrah. His behavior in this scene is quite bizarre – his awkwardness in demanding sex from Alex clearly re-enforcing what we already know about what is accepted behavior back on Earth – that it is ‘penally unsocial’ to refuse the sexual advances of another person. Keitel goes so far as to offer Alex a blanker pill so she would forget the whole thing – at which point she slaps him hard across the face and storms out. This is an important scene for Farrah’s character in that it demonstrates her determination not to conform to a societal norm she finds abhorrent – despite her perceived naivety. And it is a real shame this character moment was lost with its deletion from the theatrical release.
Of the three human performances, it is Farrah who has the most to gain from this version of the film. Her character is more well-rounded here and, indeed, it could be argued – it was always intended that Alex be the central protagonist in this story, as originally envisaged by Barry and Amis (hence Farrah’s top billing ahead of Douglas in the opening titles).
The continuation of the sequence; where Hector stalks and kills the couple’s pet dog and then attacks Alex, holding her aloft by her wrists – appears as in the theatrical cut – but is then followed by an additional scene where Adam (alerted by the base’s emergency alarm) attempts to re-enter the complex by blowing the outer door with an explosive drilling charge. When I first read Steve Gallagher’s excellent novelization of Saturn 3 back in 1980, I was under the impression that the entire ‘Adam and Hector go outside’ sequence was just something Gallagher had added on a creative whim in order to flesh out his book – and not something that was actually filmed. I wasn’t even aware it was in the script until I was able to acquire a copy of the screenplay a few years ago. As the layout of the base was unclear in both the novelization and the screenplay, and it appeared the garage and the airlock were one in the same, I could never quite figure out how having Adam blow the outer door could logistically work. After all, wouldn’t the act of breaching the outer door disallow him from re-entering the complex by causing a catastrophic decompression? I just figured it was a mere plot hole – the product of lazy writing. My original thinking was that these scenes were taken out because somebody realized the airlock needed to be functioning properly in order for Kirk and Farrah to be able to leave the complex (in a later scene) and attempt an escape in Keitel’s shuttle. But now, having finally seen this footage – and figuring the layout of the set, I have to say – it’s all so much clearer. It now appears the garage and the adjoining decontamination chamber are both airlocks in themselves, so when the outer door is breached, exposing the garage to the vacuum of space, the decontamination chamber can also be used as an airlock – protecting the complex from decompression.
But then solving this issue of potential decompression doesn’t actually solve the puzzle of why this entire sequence was mostly scrapped, as it does much to escalate the tension, embelish Hector’s descent into psychopathy – his disinterest in learning the day-to-day tasks he was created to perform and his growing preoccupation with Alex. It also demonstrates the manifestation of anti-social traits he has inherited from Keitel – his resentment of Adam’s rank and authority, for example.
From this point on, there are numerous minor changes and additions which, by themselves, don’t seem to make a great deal of difference – but when considered as a whole – do much to smooth out the somewhat choppy pacing of the theatrical cut’s second half. During the scene where Kirk and Keitel attempt to subdue Hector after shorting him out with an overload of electricity – it takes a greater effort for them to remove the robot’s brain case – as the droid puts up more of a struggle in this version. Also, Kirk seems more out of breath here after the ordeal is over (although I suspect his laboured breathing has more to do with being boosted in the sound mix – than alternate takes being substituted). By intensifying the difficulty in subduing Hector, this scene carries a lot more impact now and makes the robot’s eventual resurrection all the more fearsome and dramatic.
In addition to whole scenes and minor trims being added, there are also quite a few lines of dialogue put back into this version. During the scene where Keitel taunts Hector while dismantling him – he asks “What are you gonna do with her? What are you gonna do with her? Did you figure that one out?” With this line Keitel raises the question which many critics posed back in the day – just what exactly was the robot going to do with Farrah once he had her? At least Proteus in Demon Seed had the relatively noble agenda of procreation with Julie Christie in Donald Cammel’s 1977 Dean Koontz-penned cyber-shocker. But what were Hector’s intentions here exactly?
Aside from being less sympathetic in this version, the character of Adam is not nearly as unaffected by his violent tussle with Keitel. There is an additional moment here where a dazed and bloodied Kirk comforts Farrah after Hector has dragged Keitel’s body away. This is followed by an additional scene extension where Adam holds a wad of toweling to his head wound as he and Alex ponder how Hector was able to rebuild himself. They conclude that perhaps he wasn’t dismantled after all. It is unclear why these moments were cut – as they do much to rally sympathy for Adam. Perhaps this indication of his vulnerability was somehow perceived as weakness by showing Kirk in a less than heroic light?
The remainder of the most significant additions appear during the sequence where Adam and Alex attempt to flee in James’ shuttle. There is an extended opening shot of the two wearing space suits as they step out onto the surface through the hole in the outer door and run towards the ship. After the shuttle explodes – there is an additional shot of the two picking themselves up and Alex asks Adam what they should do – to which Adam replies that they have no choice – they have to go back. Back inside the complex, as they remove their suits, there are additional lines of dialogue: Alex says, “What does it want with us?” – to which Adam replies “Our company I suppose.”
Sure, the shot of Adam and Alex stepping out through the breached outer door was clearly cut to match continuity once the entire ‘Adam and Hector go outside’ sequence was removed from the theatrical cut – but cutting Adam and Alex’s reaction to the shuttle blowing up seems just a tad unnecessary.
In the scene which follows, in the communications room; where Adam attempts to locate Hector on the monitors – Alex suddenly giggles at the memory of Adam wearing her scarf when they were high on Blue Dreamers. It is possible this moment of levity was cut from the theatrical release as it was deemed an inappropriate response in light of the seriousness of the situation. I get that it was originally written to reaffirm the bond between Alex and Adam prior to the escalation of events in the final act – but its absence from the theatrical cut doesn’t necessarily hurt that particular version of the film – not in the way many of these other more drastic cuts and minor trims have done.
After viewing this extended version – it now appears more questions are raised than answered – in terms of the editorial decisions which were made upon the film’s theatrical release. Just why any of this footage was taken out in the first place is a complete and utter mystery to me now – as none of these (at times massive) cuts do anything to improve the movie. Perhaps it was a political decision – perhaps someone felt there was too much emphasis placed on Farrah’s character and the robot and not enough on Kirk. Kirk does after all come across as far less heroic and more of an asshole in this version – while Farrah is a much stronger character and Hector is way more sympathetic – although no less menacing.
While by no means a definitve version, this extended TV cut is certainly a lot more coherent and far less choppy than the theatrical cut. And hopefully an original negative or print of the complete 103 minute cut of Saturn 3 still exists somewhere in the world and one day fans will have the opportunity to see the film as originally intended. Until that day arrives, we’ll just have to be content with the 88 minute theatrical version and this 96 minute extended TV cut and fill in the blanks with our imaginations.
The theatrical cut of Saturn 3 will make its Blu-ray debut via specialist label Shout! Factory on December 3rd. Special features are yet to be announced. http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Saturn-3-Blu-ray/79202/
Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.
text copyright © 2013 Gregory Moss
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