Not content to just destroy King Kong in 1976, a year later Dino De Laurentiis decided the success of Jaws was enough to warrant Orca. This “killer whale gone mad” flick might have had some merit if it’s obvious the release wasn’t so obviously a cash-in. There’s a fantastic performance by Richard Harris, and Bo Derek takes her first role in a movie that’s just not worth watching.
That comes from the sheer absurdity of it all. Apparently, if you kill a whale’s mate, he’ll strike back at you (and you alone) with sheer brutality. That sea mammal will also gain 50 intelligence points, understand where a gas line is located, know enough to break it, then hit the exact spot necessary to knock over a lamp to blow up a town. That’s the type of logic all the way through, and it’s obvious the viewer is simply supposed to accept it all as possible.
Richard Harris is wonderful here, slowly descending into madness as the whale pushes him deeper into insanity with each passing day. His character is written in a way that he seems like a completely different person, at one moment cold blooded in his assault on the whale, understand their right to life, and then into murderous rage. Bo Derek also seems to go through this illogical transformation. It’s almost as aggravating as the special effects.
Truthfully, there are some wonderful shots involved here. The real whale footage, though obviously shot in a pool (you can see the bottom multiple times even when they’re clearly out in the ocean), captures the grace these animals have. Interspersed are some sporadic shots of a miniature whale destroying things with his snout, including a well-done house that remains the most believable effects shot in the film. The rest of the time, the rubber creature remains immobile and cheap.
As if a cheap shot to Jaws, Orca opens with a shark being ripped to pieces as Bo Derek gives a monologue about what brutal killers they are. It’s enough to discredit the entire movie right there (excluding the poor, unbelievable editing, and obviously rubber shark). Even after that, there’s still almost 90-minutes left. Fast forward to the final 10-minutes to see the single exciting sequence in the entire film. You’ll know exactly what happened, and you will have saved yourself the agony of sitting through the rest of it. (* out of *****)
This is an excellent 2.35:1 transfer from Paramount, showing little grain or excessive dirt. Clarity is stunning at times, giving the film a newer look. Print damage is slight, but tolerable. A few of the shots in the final moments are extremely grainy, almost watchable. They go by quick, and don’t detract from the excellence of the transfer. (****)
This 1.0 mono track is meager, scratchy, and washed out. When the whale rams something, it sounds as if the speakers are being pushed as far as they can go, even if the volume is down. Dialogue is understandable, though mixed low and not consistently. You’ll need to constantly struggle with the volume. (**)
There are no extras here, not even a trailer. (No stars)
Though it’s blatantly obvious everyone involved here has seen Jaws at some point or another, they didn’t understand why or how it worked. The idea is not to show the shark. That way not only are the special effects less likely to be picked apart, you don’t need to fill running time with the same footage of the whale jumping out of the water triumphantly. Almost as is fate wanted it to happen, the Jaws series would hit its own rut, and then blatantly steal the premise from Orca in Jaws: The Revenge.