Dino De Laurentiis & Luciano Vincenzoni
Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati & Robert Towne
& Robert Carradine
Paramount Pictures &
Dino De Laurentiis Company
July 22, 1977
Jaws is a one of a kind film. A horror movie that had such a mystique that it couldn’t be equalled or replicated well. But that wouldn’t stop producer Dino De Laurentiis from pursuing an easy buck. Orca tried to keep the same esthetic that Jaws had introduced in ‘75 while taking a few more risks. It had a brutal side that Jaws kind of lacked. But it wasn’t done well. Cheaply done scenes are what made Orca worse. It may have looked great on paper but the picture lacked any passion, creativity and thoughtfulness. Jaws created an entire world for it’s characters and the shark. Orca merely placed us into a story with weak plot that made us tread water the entire way. It’s grueling.
Orca is based on the story by Arthur Herzog III. It is the story of Captain Nolan. A harsh bastard searching for a killer whale or great white shark that he can transport to an aquarium. Nolan runs a fishing vessel out of Ireland and goes out whaling against just about everyone’s wishes. He catches a female Orca and brings it aboard his ship. It suffers and dies but not before giving birth in a very hard to watch scene. This prompts the male Orca that had been circling the boat to vow revenge. It begins following the captain with an apparent vendetta. We focus on the struggle here between Captain and Whale. Both torment each other in some really outlandish ways. This whale actually destroys an entire piece of the town! The movie tends to play out more like a mucked up version of Moby Dick than Jaws.
Richard Harris is passable. He comes off as dickish and egotistical. His character Captain Nolan is definitely suffering with a case of Ahabism. But you have to give it up to Harris. He performed his own stunts and made the most out of it. He had too. Harris had passed up working with Ingmar Bergman on The Serpent’s Egg for this picture. Something he would no doubt regret for years to come. This movie also served as the first feature for seventies sex idol, Bo Derek. Derek does alright for such a minimal role. The highlight is when she gets her leg ripped off by the Orca in a clear example of those risks I had talked about. There is a great shot of the whale swimming off with Bo Derek’s leg in it’s mouth.
The Whale itself was pretty neat. The shots that they had gotten of the Orca surfacing and jumping out of the water were great. I love watching the harbor burning to the water and the whale just gleefully breaching. They had used an animatronic whale for the closeup shots and when Nolan is tossed by the whales tale. I thought it looked alright. I didn’t have too many complaints about that. The effects overall were forgettable though. The blood seemed frivolous at times and a lot of scenes looked cheap.
The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone was good. It seemed like kind of a waste on this movie though. Morricone is responsible for the backing tracks of movies like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Thing and most recently The Hateful Eight in 2015. Not a bad pickup for a low-budget cult adventure flick. The end theme could have used some work.
Orca proved to be more than just a ripoff of Jaws. This movie showcased an uber-intelligent Orca that has the ability to set an entire harbor on fire. Unfortunately, the movie lacked class and tact. I appreciated the feud between Nolan and the Orca. But I thought it could have been done much better. It’s not very scary. In fact it’s so unbelievable that it’s hard to find anything scary about it. I found the Killer Whales more adorable than anything. The effects were alright but nothing to write home about. Overall, this was an overblown feature that could have given a lot more. I suggest it to fans of seventies horror. Instead of the obvious suggestion of Jaws. I would suggest more nature versus human films like Prophecy and even the PG feature, Grizzly.