It seemed to have everything … an Oscar-winning visionary at the helm, a hot young writer, astounding production design, a sex symbol who defined a decade and Harvey Keitel – not to mention Kirk Douglas’ butt. So what went wrong?
A Comprehensive Look At What Went Wrong With Saturn 3 And The Movie It Should Have Been
Article researched & written by Gregory Moss
1.38 (updated February 15, 2020. Last updated April 5, 2015)
In 1975, while working in Mexico on the movie Lucky Lady, acclaimed English production designer John Barry (A Clockwork Orange, Star Wars, Superman) told director Stanley Donen (whom he’d worked with previously on The Little Prince) of an idea he had for a possible low-budget movie he had been thinking of developing.
John Barry (1935 – 1979)
A Gothic sci-fi thriller set on Titan, third moon of Saturn, the story told of two food research scientists, whose idyllic lives are thrown into disarray with the arrival of a psychopath and his eight foot robot sent to help them.
Although Donen shied away from developing it as a vehicle for himself (as he had no affinity for sci-fi), he was impressed enough with Barry’s enthusiasm for the genre to suggest Barry write it up in the form of an outline, which he could then sell outright, or at the very least, option.
As Barry related to Cinemagic Magazine editor David Hutchinson in an unpublished interview, just prior to filming:
“I’d written other things in the past, none of which got off the ground, though I had sold some options on some. Always, they were very limited-budget subjects, because I figured that would be the only thing to attract somebody to an unknown. If they were to make a very expensive picture, then they might as well get a name writer.”
Barry revealed his intent with the story of Saturn 3 in an article in the March 1980 issue of Future Life Magazine:
“In Saturn 3 the science considerations are all responsible. People don’t do anything that isn’t possible. It’s very much about real people. It’s a love story, a story about contemporary relationships set two centuries ahead.”
After completing Lucky Lady, and prior to Star Wars, Barry wrote up his idea as an outline. He then wrote a first draft screenplay during the production of Star Wars and Superman: The Movie, at which point he showed the draft to Donen’s then wife, actress Yvette Mimieux, for her opinion.
Mimieux then gave the script to Donen himself.
Producer Stanley Donen
Donen was enthused enough with the draft to suggest Barry use it as the basis for his own directorial feature debut, with Donen as producer. Donen recognized more work was needed on the script in order to attract studio interest and put forward up-and-coming British author Martin Amis (The Rachel Papers, Dead Babies) as a possible writer – as the debauched and nihilistic nature of the characters in Dead Babies echoed the hedonistic psychology of the future society depicted in Barry’s original draft.
Dead Babies 1st edition 1975
Author Martin Amis in Paris 1980 (photo courtesy Angela Gorgas).
It has often been asked exactly what it was which attracted Martin Amis to Saturn 3.
According to Starburst Magazine contributor John Brosnan, Amis had been a regular reviewer of science fiction novels for various publications for a number of years prior to his being hired for the film and did indeed have an appreciation of the genre.
He had also been an avid reader of science fiction when he was young.
In 1978, Donen presented the Martin Amis draft to English movie mogul Lord Lew Grade for his consideration, as Grade was producing Donen’s Movie Movie in LA at the time. While on a flight from LA to New York, Grade found himself across the aisle from actress Farrah Fawcett and let her read the script (with the fairly uninspired working title of The Helper).
Lord Lew Grade (1906 – 1998)
As Donen related to journalist Alan Brender for an article in the April 1980 issue of Starlog Magazine: “Grade walked across the aisle and said, ‘How would you like to be in this picture?’ And then he handed her the script. Farrah’s representative was flying with her, and by the time they got off the plane, Grade had made a deal with her to make a movie he didn’t even own.” But Grade wasted no time in changing that circumstance. “He rang me up,” Donen continues, “and said, ‘How would you like Farrah Fawcett?’ I said, ‘Fine.’ He said, ‘Well, you have her.’ He then proceeded to make a deal for the rights.”
Farrah Fawcett (1947 – 2009)
A few years after the release of the film, Farrah was a guest on The Tonight Show during which Johnny Carson casually poked fun at her movie choices. “I remember you did a picture – I think it was called ‘Saturn 3’.” The audience laughed as Farrah squirmed, answering, “Originally they had a very good script, it was called ‘The Helper’, and it was a lot different from what we ended up shooting.”
A clip from Farrah’s appearance can be viewed here:
As Donen revealed to Starlog journalist Alan Brender, many script changes were made after Farrah was signed. “The script wasn’t thoroughly realized at the point we signed Farrah. We had a starting date when Lord Grade got off that airplane but no script. We went through all sorts of thoughts. There were times when we had a story where no one was the villian. But I think there was always an age difference between Farrah and the man with whom she is working. I think we were looking for an older rather than a younger man in every version of the story. ”
According to author Steve Gallagher, who was hired to pen the novelization in 1979, the screenplay had indeed gone through a number of rewrites after Amis had delivered his draft:
“The script was terrible. I thought it was bad then but in retrospect, and with experience, I can see how truly inept it was. That may not be Amis’ fault. Years later I met someone who’d worked on the production and she told me that every script doctor in town had taken an uncredited swing at it, so it’s impossible to say whether it was stillborn or had been gangbanged to death.”
With the star power of Farrah Fawcett attached to the project, the budget was set at $10 million. And all of a sudden, Barry’s idea of helming a small, low-budget production became something far more grandiose.
CASTING OF KIRK
Lew Grade had originally hoped to cast forty-nine year old Sean Connery as Adam, opposite Farrah’s much younger Alex (whose age is listed as ‘mid-twenties’ in the screenplay). However, Connery’s refusal to work in the UK (as he was residing in Spain as a tax exile at the time) soon put an end to that idea. Michael Caine, likewise, knocked back the role of Benson, as he was living abroad in the US for the same tax reasons. In retrospect, the casting of Caine would seem an odd choice, since the character of Benson/James is described in the screenplay as being ‘young, handsome, conceited, formidable’ – closer in age to Alex, than the much older Adam – unlike Caine who was forty-six at the time and only three years Connery’s junior!
As luck would have it (or maybe not) sixty-four year old Kirk Douglas had just completed work on Cactus Jack, a comedy-western co-starring a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, and was planning to take an extended vacation, when Donen approached him for the role of Adam. Douglas was so intrigued with the concept of Saturn 3 that he immediately agreed to do it:
“These days I only do movies that excite me. I’m looking for a challenge, something new. The idea behind this film is so fresh, so different to anything else I’ve been offered in the realm of science fiction that I didn’t want to miss out on it.”
If truth be told, the opportunity to romp around naked with Farrah Fawcett (a sexy starlet half his age) probably had a lot to do with Douglas accepting the role.
With the casting of rising star Harvey Keitel as the psychopathic Benson, production began in earnest.
Farrah celebrates her 32nd birthday with Douglas and Keitel while filming at Shepperton, February 2nd 1979.
As Donen described Saturn 3 at the time:
“It is both sensuous and sensual, full of chills, fright and horror. It’s science fiction, but not ‘comic strip’ SF. Not that I denigrate comic strips – Star Wars is one of my favourite movies. It’s something of a Frankenstein story, and meant to frighten audiences in a very unusual way.”
Stuart Craig, Barry’s assistant on Superman: The Movie, made his debut as a fully-fledged production designer on Saturn 3. Although his primary concern was the interior of the Titan research station, Craig also had a hand in designing the robot Hector (based on initial input from Barry himself).
Construction of the sprawling Saturn 3 set in Shepperton Studios, outside London, took 79 craftsmen four months to complete. The result was one of the largest self-contained sets ever constructed in England. It occupied the entire area of Shepperton’s enormous A and B stages, with the dividing doors between the two stages opened up to house the set, which ran a continuous 280 feet and stretched wall to wall across the 120-foot-wide stages.
Production designer Craig said of the set: “From the outside, it looked like an enormous beached whale, propped in place by miles of tubular scaffolding. Inside, it had two central areas – one for the workrooms and moonbuggy garage, the other for living and guest quarters. They were linked by serpentine connecting corridors resembling worm holes hewn from black lava rock. They were so winding and complex – some curved, some straight, some level and some sloping off to infinity.”
The set was so vast in fact, with its labyrinthine maze of connecting tunnels, the crew found themselves continually getting lost during the first few weeks of filming. To rectify this, a draftsman’s diagram of the set was posted at the sound stage entrance to help the crew plot their way to whatever area they were shooting in.
Oscar-winning mechanical effects supervisor Colin Chilvers, who had worked previously with Barry on Superman: The Movie, was hired to supervise the film’s many practical effects – most notably – the robot Hector himself. Based on the anatomical drawings of Leonardo DaVinci, the eight foot droid took two years to perfect at a cost of over a million dollars.
As Donen revealed to journalist Alan Brender:
“It was enormously expensive because of the number of man-hours that went into building the robot. Actually it wasn’t just one. We had many. It wore out, so we had many covers. We didn’t have many arms, but each arm was separate, and each arm had a team of men working on it. We had three teams working offstage – each with a set of radio controls. We had a crew of 20 working with this one robot. The robot was generally radio-controlled. Occasionally there was somebody inside of it.”
Hector – 1st of the Demi-God series.
There were however problems in getting Hector to perform on cue.
As Chilvers revealed in his entertainingly informative 2020 autobiography ‘Believing A Man Can Fly: Memories Of A Life In Special Effects And Film’ – “Before I even came aboard the film, the art department had designed Hector and an outside company was hired to build him. The remote-controlled head kept breaking down and needed continual repair. Unfortunately, the company that built Hector had little experience working in the motion picture industry and they built him in such a way that made it difficult to remove parts and access the guts inside. The people who constructed Hector also didn’t take into account that the robot’s head would take a real beating during the course of filming. Saturn 3 required the robot to be knocked about during various action sequences, often for numerous takes. Hector’s dainty head and thin neck were particularly vulnerable to damage and proved to be a pain in the ass to work with. Even though my effects department hadn’t built Hector, we kept finding ourselves in the uncomfortable position of having the entire cast and crew staring impatiently while we made repairs. The only solution was to rebuild the head and neck entirely so it could withstand the wear and tear of filming. Once we did that, Hector performed a lot more reliably and made for a much happier set.”
In a 1981 interview, Farrah said of the robot: “I was terrified. Harvey is menace enough but at least he’s human. Hector! I didn’t think anything mechanical could be so frightening. But Hector’s over eight feet tall, with electronic clamps for hands and laser-beam eyes waving around on stalks. When you see him grasping me by the wrists and lifting me off my feet, I wasn’t just acting scared – I was scared!”
Hangin’ with Hector.
Publicity photo montage – Farrah and friend 1979.
LET’S GET NAKED!
It is no secret that Kirk Douglas made life difficult for director John Barry as soon as production began. His preoccupation with maintaining the perception of youthful vigour has been well-documented and it all seemed to come to a head while making Saturn 3.
In his 1984 satirical novel Money, (which was in part drawn from Amis’ own experiences while working on Saturn 3), Amis concocted a character purportedly based on Douglas himself. The story follows a tyro film director, John Self, as he struggles to make his troubled feature debut, while dealing with the eccentricities of his cast; including aging past-his-prime movie star Lorne Guyland, who features in the following passage:
The script conference ended with Lorne shrugging his robe to the floor and asking me, with tears in his eyes, ‘Is this the body of an old man?’ I said nothing. The answer to Lorne’s question, incidentally, was yes. I just flourished an arm and clattered down the stairs. Thursday gave a tight smile as she opened the door. ‘Is he nude?’ she asked coldly.
‘Yeah he’s nude.’
‘Oh boy,’ said Thursday.
Whether this scene from the book is based on something which actually occurred during the making of Saturn 3 remains to be substantiated. However, during an interview Martin Amis gave in New York City in April 2012, Amis said of Douglas:
“When actors get old they get obsessed about wanting to be nude … and Kirk wanted to be naked.”
Amis revealed that Farrah didn’t want to disrobe and Douglas was adamant, saying, “What do you mean she won’t take her clothes off. She’s only a fucking TV actress. I’ll rip her clothes off!”
Kirk attempts to control his thoughts.
Farrah herself was facing professional and personal crises at the time, as the release of her previous movie Somebody Killed Her Husband (a remake of Donen’s own Charade) had failed to ignite the box office the year before and her marriage to TV actor Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man) was in the process of falling apart.
As a result, shooting on Saturn 3 ground to a halt on several occassions due to recurring “illness”.
On February 6th 1979, two weeks into filming, it was announced to a shocked cast and crew that John Barry had left the production and would be replaced by the film’s producer, Stanley Donen.
At the time of the film’s release, Lew Grade’s public relations machine did its best to shroud Barry’s sudden departure in a vale of mystery – citing that old standby ‘creative differences’ as the official reason.
It was only when a feature article promoting the film was published in the May 1980 issue of Fantastic Films Magazine that a more substantial reason was given.
According to Donen, soon after filming commenced, he realized things were going very badly, as he revealed in the article:
“It was my fault, not John’s. The truth is John had hardly ever been on a set, which I didn’t realize. He was such a terrific talent, but he’d spent most of his time in an office. He knew next to nothing about staging a scene, or handling actors. And since nature hates a vacuum, the actors jumped on him. The film started floundering. Finally I had to tell him: ‘It’s not working. I’ll have to be on the set with you.’ I had a moral commitment, after all; I’d make sure the film went all right. But when I did turn up on the set, John said he just couldn’t work like that, so he left. There was no question of his being fired.”
The assertion that Barry had hardly spent any time on a film set isn’t entirely true, as he had worked on Superman: The Movie in the capacity of second-unit director.
In a recent interview, Saturn 3’s cinematographer Billy Williams gave a different account of Barry’s on-set woes:
“There was nothing wrong with the first two weeks work, except that we were a little bit behind and we were behind because it was taking so long … any time we had to do something with the robot. And Kirk Douglas had complained that the director was spending too much time with the robot, but it was inevitable, in fact the picture went weeks and weeks over schedule because you couldn’t avoid the fact that the robot had to be in certain scenes.”
The scene where Hector and Adam play a game of chess is one of the few scenes Barry directed which remains in the finished film. According to Donen: “only a tiny bit of what Barry shot ended up in the finished film.”
Kirk Douglas reportedly stepped in to direct for a couple of days following Barry’s departure, before Donen arrived on set to take charge. It is unclear whether any of the footage supposedly shot by Douglas was ever used.
Paul M. Sammon, in his scathing review of Saturn 3 ( Cinefantastique Magazine, Summer 1980), suggests Douglas intentionally made waves with Barry in order to get him fired and take the director’s chair for himself.
Devastated at being forced to relinquish the helm of his feature debut, Barry rejoined the production of The Empire Strikes Back as second-unit director (having left during pre-production the year before) – filming inserts on the Hoth rebel base sets he designed at Elstree Studios.
Hoth ice hanger set from The Empire Strikes Back.
“We are getting atmospheric shots like newsreel material, which will be cut into the main action”, Barry related to unit publicist Alan Arnold in Arnold’s book: ‘Once Upon A Galaxy: A Journal Of The Making Of The Empire Strikes Back’. “It’s such an exciting set to work on and it’s wonderful being with old friends again”.
Sadly, after only two weeks filming on the Hoth set, on June 4th 1979, complaining of a severe headache, and with a temperature of 105 degrees, Barry collapsed whilst chatting with associate producer Robert Watts in his office. Immediately admitted to hospital, he was diagnosed with a rare form of infectious meningitis.
He died at 2 a.m. the following morning.
He was only 43 years old.
As no one else on the Empire set had been infected, it has been suggested that Barry’s depression, brought about by the loss of Saturn 3, affected his immune system, which in turn made him more susceptible to contracting the disease.
Alan Arnold remembers Barry fondly as being “very approachable. He could talk about his craft simply but interestingly. It must have been a terrible disappointment to have declined the opportunity to design The Empire Strikes Back in order to direct Saturn 3 and then be replaced in that capacity after internal disputes. The movie business can be very generous and sometimes very cruel.”
A week later, on June 11th, production on Empire shut down for the day (at a cost of $100,000) in order for the crew to pay their last respects at Barry’s funeral. The service was held in a little Victorian church in the London suburb of Chiswick. Among those in attendance were Stanley Donen, Empire director Irvin Kershner, producer Gary Kurtz and Stanley Kubrick.
Mechanical effects supervisor Colin Chilvers said of Barry:
“We all liked John. He was a very inventive man. He instilled people with a lot of enthusiasm from himself. It was his first kick-off as a director [on Saturn 3]. My attitude was that he’d always make a good director, so let’s give him a hand. If I can help him, I’ll help him. That was one of my reasons for doing the film.”
Actor Mark Hamill sums up best the Empire crew’s shock at Barry’s sudden passing, “He’d started working on Empire on the proviso that if he got the chance to direct Saturn 3 he would leave and do it. And then he did get the chance so he left, but then all that junk happened to him – he had such an awful time on Saturn 3 – and he came back to us. He was all excited at getting into directing the Second Unit and then suddenly we lost him. It was a horrible experience for all of us because he was such a nice guy.”
Back at Shepperton, Donen found himself plagued by the very same problems getting the robot to work which Barry had experienced.
“The hardest part is the reality. What our robot is asked to do is what a human can do, and more. It is supposed to remove something from Farrah’s eye and rip down a metal door. Our robot is expected to sit, walk, climb, regard, pick up chess pieces, break a metal flask in its hand, cut things with his fingers, drum his fingers. Just picking something up and putting it down again seems simple when you first think about it. But there is a great deal that happens. If I wanted this creature to pick up a table and bring it to you, well, he’ll probably walk over and hit you in the nose with it. We tried endlessly, and we had hilarious problems with it. When I wanted it to pick up a table, everything slid off onto the floor because it had no way to keep the table level.”
Mechanical effects supervisor Colin Chilvers said of Donen:
“Considering the stage at which Stanley came in, considering that the stars we had hadn’t the best reputation for co-operation – let’s put it like that – it went well. And Stanley, who I’d never worked with before as director or producer struck me as a very creative person.”
When quizzed about rumours of budget overruns (the budget eventually went over $10 million) Donen said:
“It’s a lot for a film with three characters, I know. The robot cost a lot more than we expected. It was slower to photograph than we thought it would be. And when John couldn’t finish directing the picture, that took time.”
“The building of the robot was a major concern. The limitations of the surroundings was another problem. It was like making a movie in a rowboat. To give the movie variety in that one complex where the characters live was very difficult.”
“I wasn’t going to direct it, so I can’t really relate to it as I did my other films. It was not for me to do, though I did end up directing it. I don’t know whether I would have chosen it for myself. It’s a different world. The story is very challenging to sustain. That was going to be someone else’s problem. It was worrisome, but that was the nature of the idea. We were off and running before anyone knew what was going on.”
Chilvers again reiterated his high praise for Donen in his 2020 autobiography; particularly with regard to the director being open to implementing other people’s worthwhile ideas. In the book, Chilvers reveals it was he who suggested the shooting of Hector’s explosive demise using a high frame rate (giving the sequence a super slow motion effect). “The screenplay called for the robot to ‘blow up.’ but I thought we could film it in a unique way to heighten the dramatic impact. I mentioned (to Donen) an incredible sequence from the film Zabriskie Point, in which a house explodes in slow motion. Shooting at such a high frame rate made the explosion beautiful and graceful, like a dance of flame and debris, and I suggested we try something similar with the ending of Saturn 3. Stanley liked my suggestion and we ended up shooting the destruction of Hector at something like 1,500 frames per second instead of the regular 24. The final effect is visually striking, like a ballet of robotic parts dancing in the air as Hector is blown sky high. The dramatic death of Hector caps off the story in memorable fashion.”
The real Captain James (Douglas Lambert) in a flight suit identical to Harvey Keitel’s.
Issues with the robot weren’t the only things slowing production. Harvey Keitel’s spacesuit costume (created by costume designer Anthony Mendelson) also presented its own unique problems. “I wanted to get away from the traditional spacesuits which we are all a bit bored with now, so I went for a contrast between old-fashioned, cumbersome suits which Kirk and Farrah would have to wear and a very practical, easy-to-wear suit for Harvey.” said Mendelson, “His suit is made from a form-fitting green vinyl fabric with a cloth backing. It’s remarkably supple and stretches when he moves. It springs back into shape without any belling or sagging at the elbows and knees. Funnily enough, it’s normally used as a furnishing fabric. The suit is zip-fronted and all air and heating lines are in black which matches the space helmet designed by the art department.”
“We went through endless torture,” Donen recounted at the time, “It has an incredible organic design of beautiful veins and then larger arteries which are actually air hoses and other apparatus. But we couldn’t find any way to keep these things on the suit. When the man moves, they would pop off. We didn’t want to sew them on. Finally, they found a supple wire and some sort of glue that kept them from springing off.”
Kirk Douglas, on the other hand, never had an issue with his own wardrobe (primarily a collection of quilted sleeveless overjackets with tops and slacks made from a washable suede cloth called Alcantra). So enamoured was he with his garb, he kept many of his outfits to wear around his home in Palm Springs:
“They’re the most comfortable clothes I ever had to wear in a film.”
One famous piece of costuming, though, never made it into most release versions of the film …
BLUE DREAMERS: FANTASY KILLINGS AND KINKY OUTFITS
At the time of the film’s release, much ballyhoo surrounded particular images of Farrah wearing a kinky outfit to promote the movie, although the scene which featured the get-up was cut prior to release. Many have pondered over the years how this scene played out and how it relates to the plot.
Well, now at last, I am pleased to say – the answer can be revealed:
Farrah in her kinky get-up (photo courtesy Tom Fury).
The following is a reconstruction of the deleted ‘Blue Dreamers’ fantasy/murder scene (which features Farrah in her kinky oufit) which I put together based on actual text from the shooting script (pages 32, 32A, 32B, 33), together with the dialog (as filmed) from a bootleg audio cassette recording I made during a screening of the Australian release print back in 1980. The print I recorded from included the reveal of Farrah’s get-up, but not the murder itself. The stills are taken from a You-tube clip from the German release print which was identical to the Australian release print (albeit in German). The black and white stills of Adam killing Benson were used as lobby cards, even though the murder never appeared in any print of the finished film.
To set the scene:
Adam and Alex have just shared a ‘blue dreamer’ – a pill given to Alex by the psychopathic Benson (masquerading as Captain James) in order to entice Alex to the ways of Earth – the forbidden fruit, so to speak. The pill begins to take effect and (under its influence) Adam concedes it might be in Alex’s best interest to go to Earth.
INT. ADAM AND ALEX’S QUARTERS
ADAM lowers the lights and puts on some music. ALEX throws her arms around him and kisses him, draping a scarf around his shoulders.
ALEX: What do I wear?
ADAM: Anything or nothing. They’re not choosy anymore.
ALEX: I’ve got just the thing – my coming out dress!
She hurries out. Adam goes to bar – fills a glass from a large bottle – sets the bottle down and then gulps the glass of amber juice.
Alex reappears, dressed in a provocative outfit.
Adam moves over to settee – lies down, obviously enjoying it.
ADAM: Well, you certainly come out in that alright.
Alex sits provocatively.
ALEX: You don’t think it’s too old-fashioned?
Adam grins, moves over to her.
ADAM: No, no, no. It’s just the thing to meet the president… she’ll love it.
Adam suddenly looks up and sees JAMES standing by the bar, looking on, smiling.
JAMES: And what are you gonna wear, Grandpa?
ADAM: What do you mean, busting into our room? Nobody invited you.
JAMES: Those are the parties I like.
ADAM: Will you get out!
JAMES: I just came by to water the plants.
Throughout all this, Alex is moving about seductively. Adam jumps up and advances on James.
ADAM: Get out!
James, still smiling, pours a bottle of amber over Adam’s head and face. Adam wrenches the bottle out of his hand, smashes the top off the bottle, leaving the jagged edges.
As James is drinking from his glass, Adam thrusts the jagged bottle into James’ stomach. Blood gushes as James doubles up and drops his glass.
Adam jabs the bottle into James’ neck, more blood gushes, splattering Adam, and Alex who is watching in fascination.
James topples off the platform onto the floor.
ADAM: Help me. We’ll flush him into space. That’s the end of him.
Adam grabs one leg, Alex the other, and they drag him to the door. Adam pushes the door button.
Previously unseen on-the-set still by Keith Hamshere (scan courtesy Kenny Caldwell).
The door zips back. Alex and Adam, now dressed in original clothes, turn as –
– the fully-assembled robot takes a massive stride forward. Alex shrinks back with a scream – causing a sonic whine from the robot – claw raised.
James appears from behind.
JAMES: Quiet please, you’re blocking him.
Alex flips a switch – kills the music.
The robot lowers its claw.
JAMES: I want you to meet Hector.
According to the date at the top of these particular pages (March 12th 1979), this scene was one of the last major changes to be made to the shooting script during principal photography.
And it’s interesting to note that the action of Benson/James pouring a drink over Adam, was actually shot with Adam throwing the drink over James – as evidenced by this black and white still used as a lobby card:
The opening of the sequence with Adam and Alex sharing the blue dreamer remains in the final cut, but the bulk of the scene with Farrah in her ‘coming out dress’ and James’ murder was discarded. It has been suggested the murder was removed by order of Lew Grade himself – as he was so appalled by the violence.
And Farrah demanded her appearance in the kinky get-up be taken out, as she felt embarrassed about being dressed so provocatively.
The deleted scene with Farrah in her coming out dress (dubbed in German) can be viewed here:
Despite the outfit being excised from US and UK release prints, it did nothing to stop Grade from using her image in the get-up to promote the movie throughout the rest of the world.
Thai release poster 1980.
FINAL CUTS, OVERDUBS AND ELMER’S LOST SCORE
Alex: “Haven’t you ever had a dog?” Benson: “No. Just something to eat.”
According to Starburst Magazine contributor John Brosnan (in his 1980 review of Saturn 3) – Harvey Keitel refused to post-synch his dialog and thus his entire performance was re-dubbed by English actor Roy Dotrice (father of Michelle Dotrice; who played the long-suffering Betty in the English Michael Crawford-starring TV sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em).
Roy Dotrice – 1987
Just why Keitel refused is unclear, although it has been suggested elsewhere that Lew Grade had a falling-out with the actor and demanded his Brooklyn accent be replaced with the more mid-Atlantic-sounding brogue of Dotrice. Whatever the reason, the resulting monotone curiously enhances the oddness of what is already a very strange character.
Aside from the aforementioned blue dreamers murder fantasy, several other scenes were also cut from the original print, reducing the film’s running time from 103 minutes to 88 minutes – a total of 15 minutes.
Two scenes stand out in particular:
In an extended ten minute sequence (following the scene where Hector reveals his attraction for Alex to Benson), Adam attempts to take Hector outside the complex in order to teach him some of the tasks he is meant to perform. Inside the airlock garage, a petulant Hector lashes out at Adam, when Adam tries to encourage him into the moonbuggy.
Once outside, Hector refuses to go any further and Adam leaves him near Benson’s shuttle, before continuing on in the buggy to collect rock samples.
It is puzzling as to why this sequence was mostly scrapped, as it does much to embelish Hector’s descent into madness – 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 Benson – his resentment of Adam’s rank and authority, for example.
Donen had hoped Hector would be seen as a sympathetic character – being a victim of circumstance (much like Frankenstein’s monster) – the product of a psychopathic society:
“The robot learns whatever it learns from the man who creates it. The son starts to resemble the father – a sort of Frankenstein. We had to show it had strong feelings. It is humiliated. It is angry. It is suspicious. It has these emotions because it has a brain – an organic brain. You feel it is caught in a situation. It is a villian because of its creator. The robot has inherited evil traits.”
Perhaps much of Hector’s character arc was stripped away in order to make him less sympathetic and more monstrous. Perhaps it was deemed he wasn’t scary enough.
The sequence continues as Hector re-enters the complex and sabotages the outer airlock door mechanism to prevent Adam from coming back inside.
With Adam still at work outside the complex, Benson (again) attempts to proposition Alex – at which point the sequence continues (as in the release print) with Alex discovering Hector has re-entered the complex and has killed the couple’s pet dog.
Hector attacks Alex, but not before she activates the station’s emergency alarm – alerting Adam – as the robot holds her aloft, dangling by her wrists. This is followed by another cut scene – as Adam attempts to re-enter the complex by blowing open the airlock’s outer door with an explosive charge.
It is possible the scenes of Hector sabotaging the airlock outer door and Adam blowing it were cut because the airlock needed to be functioning properly in order for Adam and Alex to be able to leave the complex (in a later scene) and attempt an escape in Benson’s shuttle.
The script clearly states it is the garage doors which Hector sabotages, but an on-set photo in the May 1980 issue of Fantastic Films Magazine shows that the garage (where the moonbuggy is parked) and the main airlock are one in the same – in which case, it makes no sense for Adam to blow the outer door.
The sequence does appear in Steve Gallagher’s novelization, but no mention is made of how Adam is able to re-enter the complex without causing catastrophic decompression.
Until footage of this sequence comes to light, one can really only guess as to why it ended up on the cutting room floor.
It’s a shame the scene with Benson again attempting to proposition Alex was cut – as it demonstartes the lengths he is willing to go in order to have his way with her.
He’s even prepared to have her drugged if neccessary:
“I don’t want to cut the Major out – he doesn’t have to know. Even you don’t have to know. I can give you a blanker pill afterwards – you’ll forget the whole thing.”
If this is accepted behaviour back on Earth, is it any wonder Adam and Alex have shunned society?
WARNING – THE FOLLOWING SECTION CONTAINS A MAJOR SPOILER!
The other significant scene which never made it into the release print is a rather grisly scene (which directly follows the scene where Keitel attempts to abduct Alex after attacking Adam. Hector appears, severs Keitel’s hand and drags his body away).
In the release print, we only discover Keitel’s fate later – when it is revealed the robot has impaled the man’s severed head on its eyestalk.
The big reveal …
“I’m alive. I haven’t died. I’m taking over.”
In the original work print however, we see what happens to Keitel prior to this reveal.
On pages 72 and 73 of the script, the deleted scene is described as follows:
JAMES’ body is laid out on a bench. The robot stands over him. We see the robot from the back as, in a parody of its own disassembly, it proceeds to take James apart. We hear wrenching noises as the robot methodically detaches each arm in turn. Then the unmistakable crack, an effortless tug and, in the shadows, James’ severed head is placed on the bench.
Rare production still from the deleted scene – Hector prepares to tear Keitel apart.
The deletion of this scene may have once again been at the order of Lew Grade, but it seems more likely it was cut due to the fact that it short-circuits the mystery surrounding Keitel’s fate in the lead-up to the big reveal – as the robot imitates Benson’s voice over the station’s public address system in order for Adam and Alex to believe he is still alive and thus entice them out of hiding.
Interestingly, when Saturn 3 was broadcast on US television in 1984, the complete 103 minute work print was the version which screened. So it’s entirely possible a complete cut of the film may well still be in existence somewhere.
There was a dvd release of the movie on the Magna Pacific label in Australia which, according to the cover, had a running time of 103 minutes. However, much to the diappointment of fans, this turned out to be incorrect and the disk was nothing more than the original 88 minute US/UK theatrical release cut – wrongly labelled.
(A comprehensive list of scenes cut from the film can be found on Wikipedia’s page for Saturn 3 at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_3)
Elmer Bernstein (1922 – 2004)
The loss of these scenes (and other minor trims) weren’t the only things missing from the theatrical release version of Saturn 3. Much of Elmer Bernstein’s eclectic score was also jettisoned, with very little of its sixty three minutes remaining.
The full score was finally released as a limited edition CD (2,500 copies) by specialty label Intrada in 2006. The most notable music cues missing from the release print were a funky guitar-based piece played over the seemingly choreographed launching pad scene which opens the movie and a lyrical theme meant to represent the wistful innocence of Farrah Fawcett’s character (played during Benson’s flight through the rings of Saturn, and elsewhere in the film).
Taarna from The Heavy Metal Movie (original animation cel).
Bernstein re-used this theme two years later for the ‘Taarna’ sequence in the animated anthology film The Heavy Metal Movie (1981) during the scene where Taarna bathes and dresses for battle against barbarian hordes.
Bernstein revealed his displeasure over the missing cues having subsequently worked on several sci-fi projects since Saturn 3:
“Composers are often artistically restricted by their employers, but not for SF and fantasy. Those are films on which I was given a pretty free reign. One wonderful thing is that you are given another world. In the Case of Saturn 3, I was so adventurous that I freaked the producer and director out. They got scared because I used rock music. I’m not opposed to rock & roll for scoring films. I am opposed to the fact that its use is so narrow. You never really hear it in dramatic scoring. So, in the main title, I started out with some strange scoring and in the middle went with a rock band, which I meant seriously. Well, the director got really frightened. He was afraid it sounded like a send-up and took it out. After so many scores, nobody ever says. ‘I trust you’. Nobody ever trusts you.”
The complete unused music cue from the opening of Saturn 3 can be listened to here:
Also cut was a cheesy piece of 70’s-style disco music Bernstein had composed, which played over the blue dreamers fantasy sequence, of which only a small snippet remains (as source music) at the end of the scene where Benson appears with the robot.
The CD cover art was based on the poster used to promote the movie upon its release.
CD back cover -track listing.
Saturn 3 is often criticised for its admittedly lack-lustre visual effects – especially during Benson’s flight through the rings of Saturn. The shuttle is clearly a miniature submerged in a tank of water, being (quite jerkily) pulled along.
And fuzzy matte lines are particularly prominant around model spacecraft in a few of the blue screen shots –
Oxford Scientific Films (best known for their innovative photography for natural history documentaries, as well as producing special effects for the movies Superman, Alien and Flash Gordon), were charged with providing the visual effects for Saturn 3. OSF’s Oscar-winning ‘genius-in-residence’ Peter Parks had been a pioneer of snorkel periscope photography which features prominantly during Benson’s low-level flight across the surface of Titan (actually a large plaster table-top model).
Titan surface – plaster model (screen cap courtesy Chris Brock).
Benson’s shuttle arrives on Titan.
With a team as accomplished as Oxford Scientific Films, it wasn’t a lack of talent which led to the less than spectacular effects, but more a lack of money – as a good portion of the film’s visual effects budget had been appropriated by Lew Grade’s other troubled production Raise The Titanic – the cost of which had blown out enormously, threatening to sink ITC.
(screen-cap courtesy catacombs.space1999.net)
As part of these cost-cutting measures, some of the visual effects shots of the planet Saturn which open the film (and a couple of backgrounds used during Benson’s flight through the rings) were appropriated from elsewhere – being pre-existing footage originally created four years earlier for ‘Breakaway’, the pilot episode of the sci-fi TV series, Space 1999 – but never used. They show the moon (having been blasted out of Earth orbit) travelling past Saturn on its trajectory out of the solar system. It makes sense that Lew Grade would resort to using this footage for Saturn 3 – as his company was also responsible for producing Gerry Anderson’s much-loved television show.
The following two pictures are the unused background images from ‘Breakaway’ which were reused during Benson’s flight through the rings. The first ended up with a tiny model of Benson’s shuttle composited over the top of it as it entered and became obscurred by the rings. The second wider view had a tiny white dot added to the image – representing the shuttle emerging from the rings and heading for the small moon just to the right of frame.
(screen-caps courtesy catacombs.space1999.net)
A rare image of the ITC pre-release teaser poster from 1979 (note how the robot’s presence is downplayed: with only its glowing eyes showing at the top).
RELEASE AND REACTION
The film opened in the US on February 15 1980 and its tagline ‘Something Is Wrong On Saturn 3’ – could not be more appropriate. It was given an MPAA rating of R, for scenes of violence and brief nudity and grossed a paltry $9 million in the US domestic market.
As could be expected, Saturn 3 received less than favourable reviews:
Roger Ebert described it as ‘awesomely stupid, totally implausible … and a shameful waste of money’.
Paul M. Sammon in Cinefantastique Magazine said ‘Saturn 3 is a gory, derivative thriller which attempts to mix the production style of Alien with the dubious charms of Farrah Fawcett. The result is one very limp noodle.”
Considering the extent of its troubled production history, it’s astounding there was even a movie to review at all.
And to be fair, Sammon was incorrect in implying Saturn 3 was produced to cash in on the success of Alien – as both films were developed concurrently and quite apart from one another. In fact it could be argued that Barry had the idea for Saturn 3 some years prior to Alien writer Dan O’Bannon putting pen to paper. It seems more likely both films were green-lit as a direct result of the success of Star Wars in 1977 and the sudden popularity of space movies in general.
So now, the question must be asked –
If the 15 minutes worth of deleted scenes and trims were to be restored (or the work print remastered and released) – would it make for a better movie?
Well if the shooting script is anything to go by … yes and no.
Sure, the film’s choppy pacing would be rectified. And the scene with Hector outside the compound would indeed help make the robot’s slide into psychopathy appear less abrupt.
Although the blue dreamers fantasy sequence may flesh out Adam’s desire to kill Benson (despite his inability to resort to murder in the real world) – it may also be merely confusing.
Reinstating Adam blowing the airlock to regain entry would create a major plot hole later on. And revealing Benson’s gory dismemberment at the hands of Hector would, it seems, dispel the mystery of Benson’s fate.
Until a complete 103 minute version becomes available, one can only speculate.
Despite its flaws, the 88 minute cut of Saturn 3 is not without merit and is an intriguing indication to what might have been.
Perhaps if Lew Grade hadn’t have been so impetuous to begin production without a polished script and if Douglas hadn’t been signed (forcing Barry to leave), then it’s possible Barry and Amis may have been given the opportunity to fine tune the screenplay together – allowing Barry to follow through with his vision and, who knows, the result may have been entirely different.
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.
With special thanks to my good friend Dan Gear for proof-reading. Hopefully I got it right this time.
Also thanks to Andrew Glazebrook for allowing me the use of his beautiful rendering of the Saturn Survey logo. You can see more of Andrew’s fantastic art and design work at:
And thanks to regular site contributor Chris Dalton for tracking down that previously unseen still from the deleted scene (showing Farrah and Douglas dragging Keitel’s body) – the most incredible find so far!
Also thanks to Kenny Caldwell, who supplied the still and kindly took the effort to scan it for me.
Kenny’s awesome movie memorabilia site can be found at:
And another big thanks to Chris Dalton for digging up that information on the VFX images of Saturn being used from the pilot episode of Space 1999. A nice bit of sleuthing! Also, I’d like to credit Chris with finding that terrific quote from Elmer Bernstein regarding the score.
Also thanks to Kai Clear for supplying me with the quote from Mark Hamill. The quote was taken from the 1995 book Primal Screen: A History Of Science Fiction Film by John Brosnan.
And an extra-special thanks of appreciation to Stacey E. Lemmon from Dr Theda’s Crypt, for providing crucial information for this article.
Stacey’s excellent and informative blog can be found at:
Research Sources Used In This Article:
Periodicals And Publications:
Cinefantastique Magazine, Vol 9 #1, Saturn 3 article by Patrick Hobby
Cinefantastique Magazine, Vol 10 #1, Summer 1980, Saturn 3 film review by Paul M. Sammon
Famous Monsters Of Filmland Magazine #164, June 1980, article ‘Saturn 3 Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry’ by Richard Meyers
Fangoria Magazine #5, April 1980, article ‘Saturn 3’ by Berthe Roegger
Fantastic Films Magazine #16, May 1980, article ‘Saturn III’ by Blake Mitchel & James Ferguson
Future Life Magazine #17, March 1980, article ‘Lust In Space’ by Sam Bisbee
Horror Movie Yearbook 1981 – The Best From Famous Monsters – February 1981, article ‘Saturn 3: A Sci-Fi Horror Spree!’ – senior editor Forrest J. Ackerman
Starburst Magazine #19, 1979, article ‘Saturn 3’ by Tony Crawley
Starburst Magazine #23, November 1980, article ‘Colin Chilvers – Part One: Hector And Me’ – interview by Tony Crawley
Starburst Magazine #23, November 1980, Saturn 3 film review by John Brosnan
Starlog Magazine #27, October 1979, article ‘Saturn 3 Wraps’
Starlog Magazine #35, April 1980, article ‘Saturn 3’ – interview with Stanley Donen by Alan Brender
Sunday Express Magazine, 10 October 1982, article ‘The Men Who Can Photograph Anything’ by Robert K. G. Temple (profiling the work of Oxford Scientific Films)
George Lucas: A Biography by John Baxter, Harper Collins 1999
Once Upon A Galaxy: A Journal Of The Making Of The Empire Strikes Back by Alan Arnold, Sphere Books 1980
Saturn 3 novelization by Steve Gallagher from the film screenplay, Sphere Books 1980
Believing A Man Can Fly: Memories Of A Life In Special Effects And Film by Colin Chilvers and Aaron Lam, BearManor Media 2020
Saturn 3 screenplay, uncredited shooting draft, dated January 19 1979
Saturn 3, bootleg audio recording of the Australian release print, recorded at the Marion Twin Drive-In in August 1980 by Gregory Moss
Liner notes written by Jeff Bond for the Saturn 3 original soundtrack CD, music composed and conducted by Elmer Bernstein, Intrada Special Collection, released 2006
‘The Unsung Heroes Of Star Wars: John Barry’, e-book written by Scott Weller
It can be found at:
Wikipedia: Saturn 3 page
It can be found at:
Wikipedia: Stanley Donen profile
It can be found at:
Excerpt from interview with Martin Amis on April 16, 2012 – as part of the Writers on Film series at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York City, hosted by Michael Marenas
It can be found at:
Billy Williams B.S.C. (cinematographer) video interview
It can be found at:
Quote from author Steve Gallagher
It can be found at:
Links to unused VFX images of Saturn from the ITV show Space 1999 can found here:
IMDB internet movie database: page on Saturn 3:
It can be found at:
Saturn Survey logo rendered by Andrew Glazebrook
article copyright © 2012 Gregory Moss