June 30, 2020


ORCA (Blu-ray Review)
Starring Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Sampson, Bo Derek, Keenen Wynn, Robert Carradine, Yaka & Nepo (as "Orca"). Directed by Michael Anderson. (1977/92 min)

Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

Orca is one of many angry animal flicks that immediately followed in Jaws' wake, even managing to snag a fairly respected director. Michael Anderson was responsible for such minor classics as The Dam Busters, Around the World in 80 Days and Logan's Run. In other words, he was Martin fucking Scorsese compared to the level of talent that usually called the shots for such "sea-sploitation" pictures. 

The film is also noteworthy for being the film debut of Bo Derek. Though her appearance was heavily hyped in later home video releases, Orca was made before 10 displayed her "raw" talent. But sorry, boys...the closest thing we come to seeing Bo's flesh is when her leg gets bitten off.

There's also some novelty in the fact that we root for the whale right from the get-go. Cheering for movie monsters to crunch on the cast is nothing new. That's why we pays our two bits. But Orca establishes the titular creature as an aquatic Charles Bronson, out to avenge the death of its family at the hands of the biggest asshole to sail the high seas since Captain Ahab.

"Right behind me, huh? I ain't falling for that again."
Richard Harris plays Nolan, an Irish sea captain who sees profit in capturing a live killer whale and selling it to an aquarium, to the consternation of Rachel (Charlotte Rampling), a marine biologist who's passionate about respecting the intelligence of the species. Nolan inadvertently harpoons a pregnant female, killing both her and her unborn calf. This scene is really fucking disturbing, especially today, since most of us now view killer whales as the pandas of the sea. It's so unnervingly graphic, drawn-out and difficult to watch that it renders later attempts to make Nolan sympathetic a waste of time.
Nolan's actions unleash the wrath of the whale's mate, who starts picking off his crew one-by-one. Nolan docks in a fishing village for repairs, but the whale follows him, sinking all the other boats as a challenge for Nolan to return to sea and settle their feud once and for all. The local villagers want Nolan to leave, as well - with the whale present, they are unable to fish - but he stubbornly refuses. The whale persists, wreaking havoc on the village itself. Eventually, Nolan feels he has no choice but to confront the vengeful mammal, partially due to the carnage the whale has inflicted, but mainly because he suddenly feels like a kindred spirit (don't ask).  

"Damn...missed. Looks like fish sticks again tonight, honey."
The performances in Orca ain't gonna make anyone forget Scheider, Dreyfuss & Shaw anytime soon, though Harris comes off best with a performance that wavers between low-key & introspective to overwrought & hysterical. The movie is technically competent, with adequate direction and special effects. Some of the early attack scenes, while far-fetched, hold the promise of more Jaws-like suspense. But Orca sometimes flounders because it bites off more than it can chew (no pun intended). We spend a lot of time listening to Harris and Rampling discuss the nature of intelligence, as well as the need for retribution and/or vengeance, when all we really want to do is watch this whale kill people (even if one of them is Bo Derek). 

Orca sometimes takes itself way too seriously for a movie about a marauding mammal. But while it's obviously clear why Jaws is a classic and this one decidedly isn't, there's enough chutzpah and goofy thrills to recommend it for fans of this kind of stuff. And if nothing else, there were a lot of far-worse sea-sploitation flicks from the same era (including a few of Jaws' sequels).

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Film Historian Lee Gambin
REVERSIBLE COVER - Including the original one-sheet poster art. 


No comments: