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Orca

a/k/a Orca: The Killer Whale

     "There's only one creature in the world that could do that: a killer whale."

-- Dr. Rachel Bedford    

 

     

Reviews:

Gonzoid Cinema

 

 

Buzzkillers!

"There's a long fly ball! ...Deep to left field ...The Orcas win the pennant! The Orcas win the pennant..!"

 

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Sights &
Sounds:
Orca
(1977)
 Director:
  Michael Anderson
 Screenplay:
  Luciano Vincenzoni
  Sergio Donati
  Robert Towne
 Producer:
  Dino de Laurentiis
 Paramount
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Up from the Depths

 

Does anyone else remember those great ads for Orca that appeared on the back covers of your favorite comic books back in the late '70s? You remember: the monster-sized killer whale jumping out of the water, destroying a boat, knocking that dude airborne while he tries to harpoon it as the whole village in the background burns? Yeah, that was another fine effort by artist John Berkey, who also did the conceptual artwork and posters for the 1976 remake of King Kong. And unfortunately, as most of us found out, neither movie quite matched-up- nor lived-up to the action depicted on those posters. Not all that surprising once you realize the same culprits and suspects were responsible for both films. Don't believe me? Pop it in, press play, and read on...

We open at sea with a pleasing tune by the always welcome Ennio Morricone. And while his haunted music paints a picture almost as pretty as the glorious blood-red sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean, they then had to go and ruin it by starting the movie. *sigh* (And how does that old sailor tale go: Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red Sky in the morning, sailor take warning. Uh-oh...) Just off the coast of Newfoundland, two orcas, better known as killer whales, frolic and sing to their hearts content. Apparently a happily married couple, they take turns jumping out of the water and splash down to celebrate life, as whales are want to do, I guess. But this couple is especially delirious because they're expecting their first baby -- but weíre getting ahead of ourselves here. 

Orcas mate for life, you know. That tidbit, and more orca information then youíll ever want to know, will be beaten into your head over the next half-hour. Consider yourself warned. Back to the review...

On shore, we find some recording equipment that is taping the whale's song. Following the microphone cord into the water, it leads to a diver, tending to the underwater sound receiver. All very serene. But things start to get a little sticky when from out of the murky depths swims the scourge of the sea, a great white shark! When the diver spots the huge fish, she tries to hide along the sea bottom. We hear a motor from above and switch perspectives to the good ship Bumpo, tracking the great white. On board, Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) and his crew are hunting the shark so they can make a ton of money selling it to Sea World. When Annie (Bo Derek) spots the shark's dorsal fin, Nolan orders Paul (Peter Hooten) to circle the boat around, grabs his harpoon gun and takes aim at the shark.

Nearby on a pontoon, the diver's assistant -- who I think was named Carl (David Carradine), but Iíll be referring to him as Idiot Boy, and you'll find out why in a couple seconds -- cranks up the motor and sets an intercept course with the Bumpo, not wanting them to fire and accidentally hit his partner. To avoid him, Paul has to radically change course, causing Nolan to misfire. When the diver surfaces, Idiot Boy hauls her onto the raft just as the Bumpo pulls up beside them. Ready to rip them both a new asshole, Dolan pauses when he sees the diver is a woman: a Dr. Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling), a marine mammal specialist. When Annie warns that the shark is coming back, Nolan orders Rachel to come aboard, where itís safer, and though she complies, Idiot Boy guns the motor on the raft but barely goes ten feet before it starts sputtering to a stop and then the moron promptly falls over the side, meaning we can all agree that he deserves to be eaten. But as he swims for the raft, and the shark closes in for the kill, suddenly, and very violently, the shark is attacked, knocked clean out of the water, and torn to pieces! Flummoxed, when Nolan asks what could have done such a thing, Rachel answers only one creature in the world could have done that: a killer whale.

We jump ahead and watch Rachel give a series of lectures on our friend, the killer whale. According to her, the orca is the smartest, and most greatest, animal on the face of the planet. Seems a single whale song contains over 50 million pieces of information, so she postulates that whales also have ESP, making language meaningless, redundant, and, in a whaleís case, retarded. Theyíre also exemplary parents, their brains are more developed than humans, and -- write this down and note it for later -- have a profound instinct for vengeance. Having noticed that Nolan has attended several of her seminars, and curious as to what heís up to, Rachel isnít all that surprised when she finds him building a holding pool. Yeah, Nolan has switched targets: he now wants an orca to sell to Sea World. A disgusted Rachel doesnít think he can actually catch one, but fears he'll probably butcher several specimens while trying. And if he'll call the whole thing off, sheíll even go out for a drink with the old salt. (Yeah, theyíll be in the sack together before this thing is over.) But drink or no drink, Nolan refuses to listen, and along with Paul, Annie, and his first mate, Novak (Keenan Wynn), soon sets sail to bag themselves a whale.

Meanwhile, unaware that the Bumpo is closing in on them, our two whales are still singing and squealing to their hearts content. Taking the tranquilizer-tipped harpoon from a reluctant Annie, who fears they're breaking up a family, Nolan aims at the male but misses, harpooning the female instead. And everyone on board, even Nolan, is made uneasy by the whale's almost human cries of pain as they reel her in -- until the wounded mammal goes berserk, ramming the Bumpoís propeller. As the prop tears her apart, lude-fueled Annie fears itís trying to kill itself before they can get their catch hoisted up and out of the water. But succeed they do, and while hanging from the boom by her tail, the animal continues to scream and thrash and (-- in the most disgusting scene in the whole film --) aborts the fetus of her unborn calf. When it falls to the deck with a fatal splat, the male squeals with rage. But Nolan goes a little nuts, too, screaming for someone to get the thing off the deck. Grabbing a hose, he washes it over the side, but keeps on spraying at the afterbirth until Novak stops him.

The dirty deed done, when they head back for shore, the male starts attacking the boat from below. With the Bumpo unable to take much more of the whale's grief, Nolan orders Novak to cut the female loose, hoping that will stop the attack. Since the winch was busted reeling her in, Novak has to crawl out on the boom to cut the cable with a machete, and after the mortally wounded female falls back into the water, the male orca jumps out of the water, jaws wide, and snatches him off the boom. Searching the roiling water for his friend, Nolan only sees the orca surface, and as the two rivals stare at each other for a pregnant moment, long enough for the orca to burn Nolanís image into itís high-falutiní brain pan, it then disappears, allowing the Bumpo to makes it to shore without further incident.

Eventually, the female orca dies and we are left to interpret that the her mate is so maddened with grief that he leaves his herd behind and pushes the corpse of his wife toward shore and runs it aground -- right beside the anchored Bumpo, at the fishing hamlet of New Haven. The next morning, Nolan finds the carcass beside his boat. (We also note that the whale carcass is amazingly stiff already. You could almost argue that it was over-inflated.) He also finds Rachel and Umilak (Will Simpson), a Native American, waiting for him. Strangely, Nolan seems genuinely contrite about killing the whale, and is amazed the wounded animal swam to shore, against the tide, before it died. Rachel disagrees, saying it was the mate that pushed it here, following Nolan back to shore. E'yup, the whale has dropped the gauntlet, so to speak. Umilak backs her up, saying the native legends are filled with stories of vengeful orcas hunting and killing those who tried to kill them, and he warns Nolan to stay out of the orcaís territory.

Thinking their tales and theories are nothing but a big load of whale poop, Nolan heads to Novak's funeral service. But afterwards, Nolan asks the preacher if itís possible to sin against an animal. When the preacher says it is, he reminds him that most sins of that nature are really committed against oneself. Outside the church, the local fishermen confront Nolan and want to know how long he plans to stay. Nolanís not sure, probably until Annieís foot heals up, having been broken during the orca attack, and his boat's repaired. Seems these surly fishermen are concerned because itís bad luck to kill a whale, and worse yet, to piss another one off. And since that usually means the aggrieved whale sticks around and scares all the fish away, the others less-than-subtly suggest that Nolan leave their village as soon as possible -- and almost on cue, the orca surfaces in the bay and sinks two fishing boats to punctuate that threat.

Still feeling contrite, Nolan tries to make things right. First, he pays to have the whale carcass buried as a token gesture. (Something tells me, though, that the orca just isnít going to get it.) Second, he invites Rachel to a wake for all the deceased, but she declines, giving him a book about whales instead. And when Swain (Scott Walker), the harbormaster, informs Nolan that the Bumpo has been given priority at the repair shop, so he can "take care" of the problem heís caused, Nolan says forget it; heís through hunting whales. Besides, Nolan adds, the whale is long gone by now. Well, no. It isn't. In fact, Swain says the orca has been spotted around the point all day. Walking to the edge of said point, Nolan watches as the orca surfaces and has a quick flashback to the whale aborting the fetus -- mixed and mingled with images of a car wreck. 

So either the plot has taken a curious turn, or the editor is drunk and spliced in the wrong footage. Back to the review...

The next morning, since neither Nolan nor the government will do anything about the whale, with their nets empty, the natives of New Haven are growing impatient. Warning Nolan of the sentiments brewing against him, Umilak, strangely, now encourages him to go and hunt down this devil -- but it seems Nolan has his own, rather screwy ideas on how to deal with the whale. Making a scarecrow of himself, Nolan sets the dummy out on the point, a small walkway that extends over the water, hoping to lure the whale in so he can shoot it. Of course, Rachel thinks his plan is foolish but Nolan confesses that he wouldnít have shot the beast anyway. Seems he feels a kinship with the orca, for he, too, lost his wife and unborn child in accident, killed by a drunk driver. (So thatís what that flashback was all about.) Hoping that the whale is as smart as Rachel says, when it does surface, he hopes to apologize and try to make peace.

Okay, pardon me for this quick aside:

"Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh!" Where in the hell is this movie going? Wherever it is, it canít get there soon enough! Sweet monkey bajeezus!! @%&*!

Sorry. Had to be done. We now continue our review already in progress...

Meanwhile, the orca is on the prowl again, attacking the refueling docks and rupturing several fuel lines, and when the fuel ignites, the fire follows the pipeline up to a refinery that promptly explodes. As the fire spreads, engulfing most of the dock, the orca squeals in delight and jumps out of the water, reveling in the mayhem and carnage itís inflicting. Later that night, Nolan receives a phone call from Swain, who informs him theyíll be working on the Bumpo all night and that Nolan WILL set sail at daybreak and kill the orca, or else. With that, Nolan finally gives in but plans to fight the whale alone, as it should be, or how Nolan thinks the whale thinks is should be or -- whatever. When Nolan calls Rachel and tells of his plan to fight the whale alone, having fallen for the big lug, she talks him out of it. Agreeing to skip town with the rest of his crew by land, when the gas station owner refuses to sell them any gas for their truck, Umilak confirms our suspicions that the only way any of Nolanís crew will leave New Haven is by boat. The boat's in the water. Whale's in the water. Farewell and adieu and all that. 

After Umilak volunteers to go with them to help out, back at the docks,  the orca is currently circling under Nolan's house. (So we're clear, his house is built over the bay, supported by several mooring posts.) Sensing something is wrong, Annie calls out to Nolan but it's too late; the orca strikes and starts knocking out the support poles. And as the house starts to crumble and fall into the water, with the cast on her leg, Annie canít crawl to safety. When Nolan tries to come to her rescue, the whale continues the assault, and dangling precariously close to the waterís edge now, Annie stretches as Nolan finally reaches her -- but the orca attacks again and bites off one of her legs before she's pulled clear!

As the emergency crews arrive, the orca breaks off the attack and returns to the bay. Provided the last straw, that was apparently bitten off, Nolan defiantly screams after his antagonists, and if it's a fight to the finish the orca wants, then he will happily oblige him.

Come the dawn, the Bumpo sets sail with a crew that consists of Nolan, Paul, Umilak, Rachel and Idiot Boy -- who asks if someone should be up in the crowís nest. Nolan says not to bother, the orca isnít ready to fight yet. Feeling responsible for putting all those romantic notions into Nolanís head about the whale and itís thirst for revenge (-- but I think it's because the two haven't jumped in the sack yet), Rachel also sees a few holes in her theories of the Łber-whale; it may be more intelligent than us hu-mans, but it has the same fallibilityís of vengeance, rage, and bloodlust. The rest of the crew is worried about Nolan, too, as he's obviously lost a few fish-sticks from his mental platter when he keeps mumbling that he wants this to be a fair fight. Eventually, and thankfully, for the frazzled viewer, the orca makes the first move and attacks the boat. And then Nolanís notions of a fair fight are kind of chucked over the side when he heads out on deck with a depth charge! Consisting of three sticks of dynamite, he lights the fuse but Rachel wonít let him use it. (What the hell is her problem? Whose side are you on lady?) In their struggle, the dynamite is dropped over the side where it explodes, harmlessly. For her stupid actions, Rachel becomes nauseous and sticks her head over the side and makes with the Technicolor yawn. Seeing this, the orca makes a wide turn, under the boat, and rushes up to (hopefully) bite her head off -- but Nolan pulls her back just in the nick of time. (Okay, okay the orca surfaces and was no where near her.) Then, during the next sequence, our already taxed suspension-of-disbelief-o-meter redlines, careens out of control, and augurs itself deep into the ground when the orca doesnít pursue the attack but waves his flippers and tail in the air in a "come this way" gesture instead! Smarter than he looks, Nolan realizes the whale wants them to follow it, and being the genius that he is, orders Paul to follow it. And speaking of geniuses, since its been a while since anyone got munched, Idiot Boy decides to lean over the side of the boat and instantly becomes whale kibble. (So long Idiot Boy. You will be missed.)

Lead in a northerly direction, later that night, as they listen to the orcas mournful singing, Rachel asks Nolan what he thinks the whale is saying. (Asking what a whale who wants to kill you is saying? Is this foreplay?) After that "romantic interlude" sputters and dies the horrible death it deserves, still further north they venture, and as the Bumpo starts to encounter some ice, mercurial Umilak now thinks theyíre crazy to follow the orca into the ice fields. Yes, the icebergs could easily crush the boat but this gets Nolan to thinking: if they get far enough north, the water will be iced over completely and the whale will need to break through it to breathe, making it a sitting duck. Determined, now more than ever, Nolan says theyíll continue north where he will either kill the whale -- or watch it drown.

As the icebergs start to get bigger, when Umilak and Paul calculate that they wonít have enough fuel to make it back to the mainland, Nolan says not to worry; after they run out of fuel, they, meaning them, can radio the weather research station and get airlifted out. When Rachel asks what about him, Nolan has no answer. Night falls and as the sea of ice grows more treacherous, Paul mans a spotlight, trying to find a path through the narrowing maze, but itís too treacherous to continue in the dark. When they stop, this pisses the orca off, triggering another attack on the boat from underneath. In a panic, Paul swings the lifeboat over the side and tries to board as the orca destroys it, knocking him into the water. Only half of him bobs to the surface.

Again! the orca withdraws and doesnít finish them off, giving Rachel and Nolan a chance to talk some more. *Groan* Here, Nolan confesses his sins of the past few days. All he wanted to do was make some money, pay off his boat, and return to Ireland. (So that explains the accent.) As he grows more morose, knowing tomorrow is the final day of the fight (-- If only you had brought more dynamite), Nolan declares the orca loved his family more than he loved his -- and that declaration of guilt finally gets him in the sack with Rachel.

As dawn breaks, Nolan takes up his gun but then grabs an old harpoon instead. Taking the gun, Umilak mutinies, saying they will head back. But before anything can happen, Rachel spots an iceberg heading toward them -- against the current! Ignoring the mutineer, Nolan heads on deck with the harpoon and waits for the orca to surface. When it does, their eyes meet again before Nolan hurls the harpoon, and when it strikes home, the enraged orca submerges and continues pushing the iceberg toward them. On board, Umilak gets on the radio and calls in their location for a rescue before the iceberg strikes the Bumpo, broadside, and scuttles it. This violent collision also causes the iceberg to break apart, triggering large chunks of ice to fall onto the cabin, crushing Umilak. And as the Bumpo starts to capsize and sink, the two survivors bail off onto the ice cap. Nolan managed to get his rifle, and as they slip and scurry toward a larger iceberg, to climb up to safety and out of the orcas reach, he fires at the circling predator whenever it breaks through the sheath to get at them. Rachel makes it but the assaulted ice breaks apart, separating them, and the chunk Nolan is stranded on quickly floats away. Too far to jump, Nolan rides it out and continues to fire, and when the orca sticks its head out and fixes him with an icy stare, we see them both reflected in each other's eyes. 

Then, after they defiantly bellow epitaphs at each other, the orca belly-flops onto the ice sheet; it's weight tipping the end out of the water, flipping his prey into the freezing water. Nolan treads to the surface as the orca slowly circles him... Closer and closer... Does it finally eat him? No. Does it drown him? No. Does it use itís tail like a baseball bat and do a Dave Kingman number on his ass, battering him into the air, sending him flying into the iceberg, crushing him to death? *Ding*Ding*Ding*...

Completely smushed, Nolan's body slides into the sea, and in the film's final insult, assumes a crucifixion pose as he slowly sinks below the waves. As Rachel watches all of this, her expression never changing, we hear the approaching helicopter, leaving just us, the whale and Morricone, who cranks up the "Love Theme from Orca" as the whale swims further north under the ice cap. His wife and child dead, and his enemy vanquished, Iím assuming the whale is committing suicide. And the haunting instrumental is really kind of touching and tugs on the old heartstrings -- until someone starts warbling some hilariously bad lyrics to the music, and whoever wrote and sung it obviously uses English as a second language. Wow.

 

Yay. Everybodyís dead.

The End

Spring has sprung and that, for those of us who are cursed with large yards, means itís time to head to the garage with a muttered prayer that the old Briggs and Stratton two-banger on your mower will fire up and hold together for just one more season. I tackled and reclaimed my yard today. What a mess. Yeah, I probably should have mowed it at least one more time last fall but I absolutely detest yard work. Anyway, Iíd banged out the synopsis for Orca the night before and all that was left was to add production notes and my snarky comments on what I thought about the film but I wasnít sure where to start. Stick with me, this will be relevant in a second. See, I was almost done with the backyard when something tragic happened. I swear I didnít see it, but when the engine bogged down for a brief moment, I knew what probably had happened, and when my mulcher belched out the remnants of a foot-long garter snake my notion was confirmed. 

Unlike most people, I have a live and let live policy on snakes and I felt really bad about killing the poor thing. (Honestly, I didnít see him.) But then it hit me: Maybe garter snakes mate for life, too? And maybe its mate was now circling in the shrubs, waiting for me to go inside the house, so it could set my garage on fire to lure me back out and claim it's bloody revenge by flipping my car over on top of me and then slither onto Blaine St. and get flattened by a truck. 

So what's the point of this story? Simple. Substitute the word garter snake in the above synopsis whenever I say orca, or killer whale, and you might get an inkling as to how damn ridiculous this movie really is.

So whoís responsible for this? Let me give you a hint.

"When the shark die, nobody cry. When the monkey die, everybody gonna cry."

These infamous words (-- spoken in broken English with a thick Italian accent --) were muttered by the even more infamous film producer, Dino de Laurentiis. For those of you unfamiliar with this Italian treasure, Laurentiis was a very successful film producer who in the late 1970's, for some inexplicable reason, became hell-bent on trying to outdo JAWS at the box-office and create his very own blockbuster, and that infamous quote came out when Laurentiisí much ballyhooed remake of King Kong was due to the hit the theaters in the summer of 1976. His promise of incredible special-effects, including a giant robot Kong, came back to bite him the ass because we all know how that turned out. Most of Kongís scenes were played by Rick Baker in a monkey suit, and the giant prop-robot only appeared, static and rather clumsily, if memory serves, in only two scenes: when Kong is first revealed in New York, and after he fell off the World Trade Center. And in the end, the movie was a critical disaster and a shambles at the box office.

Undaunted by this colossal blunder, Laurentiis tried again the very next year with his own horror from the deep, Orca the Killer Whale, and the producerís motives are made perfectly clear when in the first 10 minutes of the film, his predator easily kills a great white shark -- knocking it clean out of the water! And then the next 30 minutes are spent browbeating the viewer with killer whale facts, insisting that the orca, not the great white, is the deadliest of all sea creatures.

Starting out as another chapter in the 1970's genre of ecological revenge flicks, where man is portrayed as the real monster, Orca then, for some unfathomable reason, pulls a 180-degree turn on us and clumsily tries to make Nolan the injured party and the whale a passive/aggressive psycho. If a whale can be psychotic. I mean, they are the most intelligent creatures on the planet, right? Itís maddening, really, how many times the movie, personified by Rampling, switches sides. I know I was ready to strangle her. Speaking honestly, the film would be much better served if it could settle on who really is supposed to be the bad guy. I know I was rooting for the whale. Michael Anderson, the filmís director, was just coming off another sci-fi misfire, Logan's Run. And youíll scratch your head wondering how much booze it took to get Richard Harris into this dreck. Also, Bo Derek makes her screen debut here, but she's remembered better for when she hit it big the next year, running along the beach to "Bolero" in "10". With that scene, she was Americaís newest sex symbol -- until her career was torpedoed when her husband, John Derek, teamed her up with Harris again, and Miles-n-Miles OíKeefe, in the horrendous Tarzan the Apeman.

Though it is way too long and overstays its welcome, I find Orca to be a real hoot. The action is goofy, and the dialogue clichťd, with a ham-fisted delivery that will have you howling. And prepare to plug your ears for the rest of the film after hearing the orcaís "war squeal" only once. Beyond that, it might be the greatest movie ever made.

Hah!

This film was a bigger train-wreck, critically, and at the box office, than Kong -- so much so that Laurentiis kinda gave up on JAWS knock-offs and spent the next few years making less than stellar adaptations of Stephen King novels. 

I know Iím not helping the cause, here, but Laurentiis has been unjustly tagged as one of the kings of schlock moviemaking. That really isnít fair because the guy has been making movies since the '50s. People forget that he produced the epic War and Peace, and The Bible for heavenís sake. And for every piece of crap he made, remember, Laurentiis also backed Sam Raimi for Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. He also gave Arnold Schwarzenneger his big break in Conan the Barbarian, and took Jane Fonda to outer space in Barbarella -- and I know I will always be eternally grateful for the equally gonzoidal space epic when he remade Flash Gordon.

So join me now in cutting the guy a little slack.

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Okay, thatís enough.

Originally Posted: 04/13/02 :: Rehashed: 04/20/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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