Orca (1977)

One from the to watch pile…

Orca (1977)

Film: I just love cinema, I really do, and one of the things I love is when something becomes popular, or a blockbuster, smaller, not as well funded productions gear up to challenge whatever was the ‘hit’.

After 1975’s Jaws, killer sea life was all the rage: several Jaws sequels, Piranha, Humanoids from the Deep, The Deep, Mako, and this film, Orca (which, ironically, was the name of Quint’s ship in Jaws: the orca being a creature that can kill a great white shark). Orca was directed by Michael Anderson, legendary director of things like The Dambusters, Logan’s Run and Doc Savage, from a script by Luciano Vincenzoni, the writer responsible for The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Policewoman and Raw Deal.

I honestly don’t remember if I have ever seen this film before, but if I have it would have been on TV rather than any of the multiple forms of home video, as I don’t have any recollection of ever hiring the film, and I certainly have never owned it before.

Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) and his crew, Novak (Kennan Wynn), Paul (Peter Hooten) and Annie (Bo Derek, in her first released film… she had filmed one prior but it wasn’t released until after this) hunt sharks to sell, but when they witness a killer whale kill a great white they decide, against the wishes of marine biologist, Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling), turn turn their attention to capturing one of those instead.

So they make their merry way to sea and try to catch a male killer whale, but instead accidentally snag a female, who at first attempts to kill herself to avoid capture by pushing herself against the prop of the boat, but fails, and once slung up, we find that she was also pregnant and she spontaneously aborts the foetus. Her mate spends the whole time in the water freaking out and commits Nolan’s face to memory…

Soon, the boat is attacked by the male and Nolan decides to throw the female overboard, but the male kills Novak and the male pushes the body of his dead mate to shore as a warning to all that he wants his revenge! Even a local Native American, Umilak (Will Sampson) warns Nolan about the memory and capacity for revenge that orcas have.

The small town is attacked by the whale, but will Nolan face up to his responsibilities and clear out of town, leaving it in peace, or will he try to kill the male, and leave the town in pieces?

You have to love a film with an opening action scene that is a clear challenge to Jaws. The destruction, with ease, of the Great White in the beginning is clearly Anderson saying,’ you think Jaws was something, our Killer Whales will make mincemeat out of them!’

The film is made in an exquisite location of Petty Harbour in Canada and every scene makes me want to go their more and more. Upon a bit of research I discovered that ironically two of the tourist locations in this town are whale-watching and their aquarium!

The real winner here is the cast, who do their very best to make do with a story that is preposterous, for example, the orca knowing where to bust a fuel line and what part of the pier it can hit to cause a lot lantern to fall and ignite it: remembering a guy’s face from the water is one thing, but understanding chemistry and physics is something else. It is a horror movie though, so preposterous is to be expected.

Other than the silly idea of a vengeful sea-mammal, the cast don’t really get much of an opportunity to create characters that are sympathetic. The majority of the focus is of Harris’s character and the rest don’t get much of a look in, to the point I reckon that Harris could have performed this as a one-man live stage show! This unfortunately means that whenever something happens to another character, you don’t really care too much, and their deaths seem to be for the purpose of giving Harris some to grieve over and reflect on his character’s stupidity.

I will compliment the special effects crew on the fake orcas: they look amazing in the film and one can’t tell the difference between the real and fake ones except when their situation is out of the ordinary. This is apparently true as well as the trucks delivering the models during the shoot were stopped by anti-whaling protestors!

Orca is a well acted but ultimately silly film that doesn’t seem to have any reason to exist other than as a challenge to Jaws. The cast and the location is really the only reason to watch this film.

Score: ***

Format: This film was reviewed with the Umbrella Entertainment region B Bluray, which runs for approximately 92 minutes is presented in a surprisingly clear 2.35:1and an excellent 5.1 audio track.

Score: ****

Extras: There’s a couple of extras on this disc:

First there is a commentary by film historian Lee Gambin, anthropologists of Nope, Nothing Wrong Here: The Making of Cujo and Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film,

Moby Dick ala De Laurentiis: Martha De Laurentiis remembers Orca sees Dino De Laurentiis’s business partner, co-producer of his films and widow discuss briefly the making of Orca.

There is also a trailer for the film.

Score: ***

WISIA: If I felt like watching a movie about sea life gone wild, I’d probably watch any of the Jaws films, any of the Piranha films or Humanoids of the Deep before this one.


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