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Orca (1977)

DVD Cover (Paramount)
Genres / Traits:
Adventure, Horror, Natural Horror, Sea Adventure, Whales
Director:
Michael Anderson Michael Anderson
Starring:
Richard Harris Richard Harris
Charlotte Rampling Charlotte Rampling
Will Sampson Will Sampson
Bo Derek Bo Derek
Keenan Wynn Keenan Wynn

5.7 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Chad
Added: April 30, 2012
Since my fellow reviewers have been on a natural horror kick lately, I decided to jump into the game with one of the few movies dealing with killer, uh, killer whales. Orca has been called a Jaws rip-off, a horrible movie, a laughably inaccurate portrayal of killer whales, and a whole lot of other negative things... but it has also been called a cult classic, and rightfully so. I personally enjoyed the film, and while I won't say that it's the best that the natural horror genre has to offer, I will say that it's far from the worst.

The story begins with Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) cruising the open seas off the shore of Newfoundland in search of a great white shark so that he may capture it alive and sell it to a local aquarium. Things go horribly wrong, however, as his attempts to attract the shark endangers the life of a nearby scuba diver. Luckily for the diver, a killer whale is in the neighborhood and quickly tears the great white shark to pieces. Take THAT, Jaws!

Nolan, amazed by the sheer ferocity of this beast, enlists the help of orca expert Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling) in an attempt to learn all there is to know about these intelligent animals. She is happy to oblige, until she learns that he wants to know all of this stuff so that he can track down and capture one of the beasts. Rachel pleads with him to stop, but he will have none of that as he sees dollar signs on those whales.

So, the fateful hunting day rolls around, and Nolan takes his harpoon gun and his boat out onto the ocean. He soon spots a pod of killer whales, takes aim, and fires at one of them before hauling it aboard. Sadly, the whale was a female, and a pregnant one at that - a fact that we discover as the unborn fetus falls out of the gaping wound and onto the deck of the ship. Making this situation even more unnerving is the fact that this whale's mate is watching all of this unfold, and in case you didn't know, killer whales are very smart, very loyal to their significant others, and very vengeful when they have been wronged.

What follows is Nolan's realization that he has done a horrible thing, but his guilt doesn't matter much to the killer whale who has lost its mate and its unborn baby, so the whale terrorizes the town until Nolan does what it wants him to do - go back on the ocean and engaged in a battle to the death. Accompanying him is Rachel, who has began to fall for him, and the obligatory Indian wise-man Umilak (Will Sampson) whose ancestors dealt with similar situations. Oh, and watch for Bo Derek in a minor role.

Disclaimer: yeah, there are some corny and unbelievable moments to be found in the film. A whale causing a huge explosion in the town made me laugh, and granted, the whole idea of a whale taunting a man to come fight him seems a little absurd. However, if you can just roll with it and accept it for what it is, it is actually an entertaining film.

For starters, it's actually a rather sad tale all around. On the one hand, the murder of that whale was brutal to watch, and even though the other whale is "just an animal", we can plainly understand why it would be so upset. Therefore, we can totally root for the animal to win here; however, the human also has a bit of story behind him, and thus, we see that it isn't as cut and dry as "poor whale versus evil man." You can really see both sides of the coin with these characters, and when the final showdown inevitably happens, you're not quite sure who to root for. I like that.

I also enjoyed Richard Harris in the leading role, and I felt that he handled all aspects of his character with ease. He goes from an arrogant son of a bitch to a tortured soul over the course of the running time, and he is incredibly believable throughout the transition. The rest of the cast isn't nearly as good and suffers from a few downright bad performances, but the lead role was in capable hands and that goes a long way.

Additionally, all of the animal footage looked great. The film was shot using a combination of whales in captivity and animatronics, but never for a moment do you get sucked out of the moment by an obviously staged shot or a creature that looks too much like a robot. Everything in here looks incredibly real aside from a single attack that lasts for about two seconds, and for a film that is over thirty years old and featured no CGI, that is a huge accomplishment.

Orca was panned by critics and written off as just another Jaws rip-off upon its release, and while I can see some similarities between the two films, I think that it was unfairly slammed. Yes, the decision to make this film was based off of another film's success with the genre, but so what? It's still an enjoyable movie, and at the end of the day, that is what matters. Orca is by no means a perfect movie and it does require some suspension of disbelief, but fans of the natural horror genre will surely get some thrills out of this underrated cult classic. 8/10.
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