Paramount // 1977 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 21st, 2004
Terror just beneath the surface.
It's man versus whale in a movie that will fill you with all the terror left over from Jaws. It seems that Captain Nolan (the late Richard Harris, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) has made himself a bit of an enemy out of Orca, a giant killer whale who once had a mate that was pregnant with a baby whale...until Nolan slaughtered both of them! Now Orca wants revenge in the worst way, and he'll do anything to get it. Nolan's ship hand (the late Will Sampson, Poltergeist II: The Other Side) and a sexy biologist (Charlotte Rampling, D.O.A.) both try to give Nolan advice and steer him clear of the vengeful Orca. But after the whale begins to kill Nolan's friends and destroy boats and houses, Nolan knows that Orca wants one thing and one thing only: Nolan. This leads the resolute Nolan on a quest by boat into the sea that will conclude with a final battle between man and beast with only one of them as the victor.
What do you picture when you think of true, unrelenting, visceral horror? Dr. Hannibal Lecter? Michael Myers? Martha Stewart?
How about Shamu?
Yes, in the 1977 cheesefest Orca: The Killer Whale, it's a giant SeaWorld creature that wreaks havoc on a coastal New England town. No doubt producers watched Steven Spielberg's blockbuster Jaws and thought to themselves, "Man, we gotta make that exact same movie...only with a cuddly aquatic mammal!" They've done just that, and boy is it a mess.
Let me start by saying that Orca: The Killer Whale is, shockingly, entertaining. How the makers of the film pulled off that feat, I'll never know. The fact is that Orca is unabashedly silly stuff that features the single smartest whale, backed by the most ridiculous screenwriters, known to man. Orca's calculated revenge against Richard Harris includes (but is by no means limited to): dismantling the town's boats, chomping off his friend's leg cast, running Richard's character straight into an iceberg trap, and -- my personal favorite -- completely dismantling his oceanic home while he and Bo Derek are inside. Yes, not only does this whale know how to destroy buildings, it also knows when you're home, who your friends are, and conceivably your Social Security number. This animal ended up being so smart, I'm surprised that at the end of the movie they didn't decide to just have him run for town mayor.
Richard Harris runs around the movie apparently oblivious to the fact that the whole thing is ludicrous. Or, maybe he does know it's ludicrous and is playing it with a wink to the audience. Either way, his performance is Oscar worthy, and by Oscar worthy, I'm sure we're all hip to the fact that I mean "Razzie" worthy. Harris charms the ladies, is a master with the one-liner, and just for good measure he actually believes that the whale is hunting him personally. His exasperated Irish accent is as much a character as Orca is. When the two men -- err, man and beast -- finally meet, it's pretty gosh darn hysterical. As for Orca, his scenes consist of him doing one of three things: 1.) leaping triumphantly out of the water and chirping loudly, B.) slamming his noggin onto large objects and dismantling them, and C.) eating people. It's all quite exciting, and by exciting I mean stupid and illogical.
Throw in Bo Derek as a fresh faced coed and Charlotte Rampling as one of those smoldering '80s chicks who likes to smoke a lot and act very scholastic, and you've got yourself one humdinger of a movie. Orca: The Killer Whale may not go down in history as one of the best killer fish movies (it ranks right up there with Piranha II: The Spawning), but it doesn't disappoint when it comes to silly whale theatrics and Harris's accent.
Orca: The Killer Whale is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen. Paramount's presentation of the film is just okay -- there are many scenes that sport dirt, grain, and other imperfections. However, fans of the film will still be thrilled to get this transfer -- the old VHS copy was pan and scan, something true film buffs (should) loathe. The colors and black levels are generally well saturated, bright, and crisp when needed, though some fuzziness comes through in the picture. While this isn't a perfect picture, it's eons better than anything you've seen before.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English. There isn't much to write about when it comes to this mono mix -- overall it's in so-so shape with a minimal of hiss and distortion. Ennio Morricone's music is the bright spot of the mix, and that ain't saying much. Also included are English subtitles.
Once again, Paramount has left viewers with nothing but a bucket of chum in the way of extra features -- not even a theatrical trailer has been included on this disc.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Rated PG