Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Orca (1977, Michael Anderson)
Orca...just another Jaws ripoff, right? It would definitely appear so based on the poster. When I was a young kid I loved the Jaws movies. I would watch them every time they were on TV. I remember seeing the VHS box for this film Orca about a killer whale at Fast Forward Video on Cochituate Rd. in Wayland, MA (R.I.P.). It looked very Jaws-like and eventually I decided I would give it a go. I remember being bored and disappointed by it and shutting it off half way through. It wasn't until years later that I caught it on TV that I watched the whole thing, but was still disappointed that it wasn't just like Jaws.
Orca is the story of a salty sea dog named Nolan (Richard Harris) and his crew. After a run in with a male killer whale, he and his crew decide to capture it to sell to a zoo. Things don't go as planned and Nolan accidentally kills a pregnant female Orca and its fetus. Little does he know that killer whales are one of the most intelligent animals in the world, maybe more so than humans (definitely smarter than some humans I know). They are monogamous and will go to any extreme to get revenge if something happens to their mate. Soon, Nolan and his crew find themselves terrorized by the whale and must figure out the right thing to do.
Orca is unfortunately labeled as a Jaws ripoff though it is much more than that. I wouldn't be surprised if it was inspired by Jaws or if the film was green lighted after the success of Jaws. Other than the whole killer fish (or mammal in this case) thing, the films are completely different. Jaws is really just a killing machine while Orca is an intelligent animal that is actually the victim. Richard Harris does an excellent job in this film and it is amazing how deep his character is. You'd think he'd be just a money hungry fisherman but he is completely aware of his situation and actually feels sorry for the animal. The real point of the film is actually Nolan trying to find peace with himself and right the wrongs he has caused. Like I said, very far from a Jaws ripoff. The other actors all do a great job, especially Charlotte Rampling as the whale expert trying to help Nolan do what's right. Orca is also notable for being among the first films for both Bo Derek and Robert Carradine. The film itself is excellent, the special effects are great as is the cinematography. The arctic climax is a real treat on the eyes and Ennio Morricone's score is both beautiful and haunting, about as opposite as you c0uld get from John William's terrifying Jaws score. Just a really great, misunderstood film.