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Orca - The Killer Whale (1977)
Director: Michael Anderson

review by Tony Lee

One of the greatest and most neglected monster movies of its era, Orca is better than Jaws. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis, and referencing Herman Melville's classic novel of doomed obsession - Moby Dick - rather more astutely than Steven Spielberg's iconic shark-attack blockbuster did, Michael Anderson's agreeably stately drama starts with the scene of a deadly Great White shark (the infamous villain of Jaws) being trounced by a giant mammal. It's a magnificent entrance, saying... move aside, genre cinema's grey terror of the sea, because Orca is a killer whale, not a mere fish!

The always fascinating Charlotte Rampling (great as the femme fatale in noir thriller I, Anna) portrays marine biologist Rachel Benford. With such a formidable woman on the side of oceanic life, you might well believe that the whales would be completely safe from harm. But then reckless hunter Captain Nolan (Richard Harris, best known for The Wild Geese, and Juggernaut) foolishly kills a male orca's pregnant mate, in a sequence followed by a rather horrific birth, as the wounded whale is hauled up onto Nolan's fishing boat. The vengeful Orca damages Nolan's boat. Later, the whale sinks a couple of other small vessels in the Newfoundland harbour where Nolan retreats to.

This powerful four-ton creature that leaps out of the water is more photogenic than a dull shark. The giant mammal is given a character role in the movie, and Orca is seen and heard as a beast with a human-relative personality trapped in grief-stricken rage. The animal-cunning and strategic intelligence of the whale is wholly underestimated, even by scientific expert Rachel. With the precision of a commando strike force, Orca attacks the fishing town, and manages to burn part of the harbour down, before Nolan finally sails northwards, ready to confront his wayward life's nemesis in its own environment.

Character-actor Will Sampson portrays Eskimo mystic Umilak, adding shades of dark folklore and superstition to what appears, initially, to be a sci-fi horror story. Director Anderson skilfully avoids the narrative perils of ecological-message pretentiousness, to ensure that Orca is clearly a man versus beast adventure of mythical dimensions. So, it's all a bit pointless to deride the movie for being 'nonsensical' or 'preposterous'. Essentially, Orca is just as much a fantasy drama as The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953).

This DVD is a bare-bones release, without even any subtitle options. If only there had been a retrospective featurette, or some contemporary interviews, I would have given this disc four stars. As it is, Orca deserves a solid 7/10 rating.

Orca - The Killer Whale



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