Saturday, January 3, 2015
ORCA - THE KILLER WHALE
(July 1977, U.S.)
For those of us who remember the Summer of 1977 well enough, when we weren't concerning ourselves with the infamous fears of the "Son of Sam" serial killer or the equally infamous New York City blackout, it was quite simply the summer of STAR WARS, as if no other movie in America existed at all...and really, they didn't. At the tender age of ten, I was a late bloomer to George Lucas' new sci-fi thriller, not seeing it until August of that year (and only one damn time, to boot!). So up until that time, my parents deemed it fitting and proper to take me and my younger brother to safe family films that included FOR THE LOVE OF BENJI (yeah, seriously!) and THE BAD NEWS BEARS IN BREAKING TRAINING (still not a bad movie, actually). Taking us to see ORCA-THE KILLER WHALE was an interesting decision in itself. Though not exactly a wholesome family film by any nature, it wasn't exactly filled with the same terror as JAWS two years prior. And speaking of JAWS, seeing ORCA was about as close to seeing Steven Spielberg's killer shark classic as my parents were ever going to let me get at the time. Like I said, I was only ten years-old and my parents were conservative drags when it came to movies (darn them!)!
Continuing with my citing of JAWS, it should be noted that ORCA was released during a time when Hollywood was quick and eager to capitalize on the new monster-in-the-water genre as much as possible with silly rip-offs like TENTACLES, UP FROM THE DEPTHS, PIRANHA and even something called GRIZZLY which was in a sense, "Jaws with paws". ORCA, for whatever faults it may posses as a film produced by Dino De Laurentiis in a long line of critical bombs, does have to its credit the concept of Herman Melville's MOBY DICK told in reverse and noteworthy performances by credible actors such as Richard Harris and Charlotte Rampling. And hey, it also features sexy Bo Derek in her pre-"10" glamour and glory. I suppose also, for those who support world bans on whaling, it sends the proper message to leave those beautiful mammals of the world to themselves. Captain Nolan (Harris) is not an evil man who seeks to harm creatures of the sea for sport or greed. He only seeks to harmlessly capture a killer whale in order to sell to an aquarium in order to get just enough money to pay off the mortgage on his fishing boat. Good intentions, however, can still lead to tragic results. During his sea hunt for a killer whale, he unintentionally winds up killing a pregnant female in a rather horrific manner. The scene where the unborn fetus fall to the deck of his boat during its mother's capture is particularly disturbing, even to a ten year-old boy watching a PG-rated movie. While Nolan and his crew appear to deeply regret their actions against the whale and the family she leaves behind, they seem determined enough to stay away from the sea in order to avoid conflict with the whale's surviving mate, who managed to get his fin nicked by the fatal dart that killed his wife. This is where vengeance, an ugly emotion that had long been reserved for human beings, takes over in the whale's mentality, as he's determined to make Nolan pay for what he's done to his family.
This is also where the debate of fact versus fantasy may come into play here. I know nothing about whales except what I may hear on TV or the movies. By the accounts of this film through Rampling's character of Rachel Bedford, the whale's intelligence is described as superior to man's, possessing also the instinct for profound vengeance. Is the vengeance element fact or fiction? I know not such matters without further research, and were I here to discuss the practices of mammals, I might actually look it up. But since my purpose here is films and fiction, I must suspend my disbelief and takes the whale's action into account as something that's very possible. Still, I can't help but wonder just how far the whale's intelligence is taken for the purpose of a thrilling story. In the film, Rachel speaks of the whale saying, "We know very little about the whale's intelligence except that it exists and is powerful." I accept that, but to what limit? Consider the reality and questions of some of these scenes from the film...
- Is the whale really smart enough to know that when terrorizing Nolan's village (somewhere in Canada), he's intentionally severing a gasoline pipe to purposefully cause several massive explosions?
- How exactly does the whale ascertain which specific house Nolan and his crew are occupying before slamming into the underwater supports that will inevitably bring it crashing down just before he chews up Bo Derek's broken leg?
- Why does the whale choose to lead Nolan and his crew all the way to the icy regions of the North Pole before striking when he could have just as easily sunk their boat and killed them as soon as they were put to sea?
- Why does the whale choose to spare Rachel in the end? We presume it's because she was not on the boat when Nolan attacked and killed his spouse and therefore he doesn't recognize her. But by that account, why does he choose to kill Rachel's lab assistant Ken (played by Robert Carradine, before he had his own revenge as a nerd) when he was not aboard Nolan's boat at that fateful time, either?
Honestly, am I asking too many pointless serious questions about a film that's only meant to be pure entertainment?? Perhaps, but hey - that's what I and many of us do!
ORCA-THE KILLER WHALE is not a perfect film, by any means, especially when it's initially labeled as nothing more than a JAWS rip-off. It is, though, by its own accounts, a haunting story that depicts the love of family and the act of vengeance in the name of that family through the eyes and the emotions of a killer whale, whom most people will only get to know at a close-up distance when they choose to visit Sea World or an equally engaging theme park. And let's be honest here - my precious childhood memories as a ten year-old boy who was finally getting a small big screen taste of the JAWS mania nearly three years before he'd see the actual movie carries a lot of weight in my appreciation for this film (I actually saw ORCA twice on screen!). A film, by the way, made by English director Michael Anderson. However, look carefully at the rest of the film makers and you'll see that ORCA is practically an Italian film; from its producer to it's screenwriter to it's musical composer. Really, all it needs is Federico Fellini and Italian subtitles and you've got the perfect underwater JAWS rip-off foreign film! Ciao bella!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Captain Nolan (to the whale): "You revengeful son-of-a-bitch! You win! You want revenge? Well, you'll have it! I'll come out and fight you! I'll fight you! You revengeful son-of-a-bitch! You win! Do you hear me? You win!"