Produced and directed by Stanley Donen (although this was initially John Barry who got replaced after falling out with Kirk Douglas), Saturn 3 starred Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas, and Harvey Keitel and took place in a distant future where an overcrowded Earth relies on research conducted by scientists in remote stations across the solar system. Earth maintains contact via shuttle spaceships that move between the stations.
As the film opens Captain James (Douglas Lambert) is preparing to depart from one of these stations when he is murdered by Captain Benson (Keitel with his voice dubbed by Roy Dotrice). Benson, who was marked as “potentially unstable” on a mental exam, steals James’s cargo and ship, and departs the station for one of the remote stations, a small experimental hydroponics research station on Saturn’s third moon.
Upon arrival Benson discovers the station is run solely by Adam (Douglas) and his colleague and partner Alex (Fawcett). The couple have been on Saturn 3 for three years, but Alex has spent all her life in space, and knows little of the habits and mores of humans who live on Earth.
Benson reveals that he has come to replace at least one of the moon’s scientists with a robot. The robot – named Hector – is one of the first of its kind, a “Demigod Series”, relying on “pure brain tissue” extracted from human fetuses and programmed using a direct link to Benson’s brain. Adam tells Alex that he is the likely candidate for removal, being that he is close to “abort time” and will have to leave anyway.
Benson builds Hector and begins preparing him for work. As part of the preparation, Benson uses a neural link implanted into his spine to get Hector’s systems up and running. The problem is once he is connected to Benson, Hector quickly learns of Benson’s failure on the test of psychological stability, and also of his murder of James. With little barrier between the robot’s brain and Benson’s, Hector is soon imprinted with Benson’s homicidal nature and his lust for Alex. The robot rebels…
Whilst the replacement of Barry changed the film’s direction Stanley Donen notes: “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.”