Orca

tn_orcaIn honor of the fresh new summer movie season I thought it might be a good idea to go all the way back to the beginning, the one that started it all, the granddaddy of summer movies, JAWS. And then skip forward two years to ORCA.

Now, I don’t want to rattle any cages or nothing, but in my opinion – and it’s a free country, so I’m allowed to believe whatever I want to believe – ORCA is not as good as JAWS. To be fair, the makers of ORCA most likely had no idea about JAWS, they hadn’t heard of it, it’s probaly a coincidence. Just two completely unrelated summer movies about men in boats going to battle against deadly aquatic mammals. So it’s probaly not cool to compare them. And that’s good because as its own thing I think ORCA is topnotch.

mp_orca1Richard Harris plays Nolan, lifelong fisherman with his own small crew on a boat called the Bumpo. When we first see him he’s trying to save Bo Derek from a shark attack. But an orca shows up – a good samaritan orca – and fuckin headbutts the shark, sending it flying into the air and bloodied. So it’s not a killer whale, it’s a saver whale, or a protector whale. If these filmatists had known about JAWS this would’ve been their way of saying “fuck sharks, man, an orca could totally ram a shark and make it fly through the air, that is why it is so much more terrifying than a shark, because of its ramming.” But like I said, they didn’t know.

Next we see Charlotte Rampling giving a college lecture about orcas. This is basically the “just how badass is he?” scene where she hypes up the intelligence of the orcas so we know who we’re dealing with. She says they’re good parents, better than most humans. She talks about a recording of their language, how it was analyzed and found to contain 50 million pieces of information, ten million more than the Bible. She talks about their sonar, and how it helps them to know things about each other without words. “A human phrase like ‘how are you’ would be meaningless. What we call language they might call unnecessary, or redundant. Or– retarded.”

She also makes a claim that arguably is more relevant for us, the viewing audience, than for her students: “Like human beings they have a great instinct for vengeance.” Hmm, that’s odd. Probaly won’t ever come up in this movie, because the orcas in this one just go around defending people, they wouldn’t do something like that. But good to know, could be handy some day for a crossword puzzle or Jeopardy answer or something.

Nolan decides he should catch on orca and sell it to a zoo for a quick buck. But the one he catches doesn’t go peacefully. She tries to kill herself on the outboard motor, then when she’s hanging upside down on the deck bleeding she pops out a baby. And her husband/boyfriend/sea life partner watches the whole thing, so he’s  probaly upset. What was that trivia I heard one time about orcas and vengeance? Can’t remember anymore.

Okay, so this is a movie about a killer killer whale. It has plenty of enjoyable absurdity to go around. But I also like its humanity. You can see Nolan start to feel bad about his whole plan as soon as he hears the sound the whale makes when he shoots her with a tranquilizer dart. He quickly sees that he has alot in common with the papa orca. For example, he lost a pregnant wife too. But the orca comes after him, starts smashing everybody else’s boats until the townspeople start demanding he go out there and kill it. Trying to force a showdown. But Nolan knows he’s the bad guy here. He doesn’t want a fight. he even considers a plan of apologizing to the orca.

But this is the Charles Bronson of orcas. He’s not looking for “I’m sorry.” Try to see it from his perspective. Remember what we learned from that lecture? To orcas we seem like retards. They literally believe that we are retarded. They also think we’re bad parents. So he already thinks badly of us, then one day we just show up and attack his pod, murder his pregnant wife. To him we’re the fuckin HILLS HAVE EYES, savage inbred hicks attacking him for no reason. Why do we still have fingers? Why didn’t they grow into fins like an orca’s do? We’re monsters.

So he devises a systematic revenge plan. This is the first (but hopefully not last) movie I’ve seen where an orca commits arson. He knocks over  a lantern that burns down the entire dock and causes a bunch of explosions. And he can’t really run away in slow motion so instead he does a bunch of jumps like he’s at Sea World or doing stunts for FREE WILLY.

Also he takes out a whole house and 1 human leg. I won’t give away the details except to say that the same orca who saves your life may one day bite off your leg. That’s how tenuous the bonds between man and orca are. It’s the tension that’s boiling just beneath the surface. Surprised they didn’t cover that one in CRASH.

mp_orca2By the way, don’t believe this movie poster here. The orca is not giant like in that painting. Also, the orca is not happy like in that logo.
One thing that’s clever is that Nolan is the anti-Ahab. Instead of obsessing over an act of vengeance against an animal, the animal obsesses over vengeance against him. He tries to get out of it but decides their destinies are intertwined. He goes out to face the orca, and wants it to be an honorable fight. We see them staring each other down face-to-face. Nolan reflected in the orca’s eye, the orca reflected in Nolan’s eye. And now that I’m writing this down it sounds pretty goofy, but in the movie I swear it seems kind of deep. I blame Ennio Morricone. They got more than one beautifully photographed scene of orcas swimming around in front of beautiful sunsets, and the Morricone music is as emotional as the peaks of his spaghetti westerns. He makes it seem profound.

The director is Michael Anderson, who it turns out directed alot of movies, including 1984, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM, DOC SAVAGE: MAN OF BRONZE, LOGAN’S RUN and SWORD OF GIDEON (that one that’s about the same thing as MUNICH). The story is credited to an Italian named Luciano Vincenzoni – can you believe the same dude wrote THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, ORCA and RAW DEAL? The other guy, Sergio Donati, did DUCK YOU SUCKER, and they both worked on FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. (IMDb also says Robert Towne did an uncredited rewrite.)

This is just a real good movie of its type. It’s the JAWS of JAWS ripoffs. It’s not Spielberg-level but it is well directed and acted, with a lean and fun story. It delivers with characters and emotions but also with mayhem. On land and on sea. I hope that some day – perhaps in some Big Brother program – man and orca can watch this movie together and laugh.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 21st, 2009 at 2:48 am and is filed under Monster, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

32 Responses to “Orca”

  1. For any reason I’m seriously scared of whales. Don’t know why. They just creep me out. Especially with the sounds they make.
    I remember when I was 13, I was lying in hospital and they just took my appendix. And then one afternoon I turned on the TV in my room and caught the scene where the dead whale mother gives birth. This moment didn’t cause my fear of whales, but it wasn’t a pleasant memory either.
    Just some useless trivia.

  2. One Guy From Andromeda

    May 21st, 2009 at 6:34 am

    Saw this one when i was a kid, should give it another go. Very funny review btw. Love your insights…

  3. It sounds like a fun movie, I’ll watch it sometime. Good review Vern.

  4. The scene where the Orca mommy gives life to the baby orca while hanging upside down(if my memory serves me right) on Harrises boat is fucking hardcore. I was really scared watching that back in the day, but I have no idea how it holds up.

  5. I love the bottom Film Poster there Vern. Reminds me of Airport ’77.

  6. Not to quibble, but actually only one of those two films is about battling deadly aquatic mammals.

    Otherwise, another great review. But doesn’t it seem kind of Texan to hunt for revenge against an animal you believe to be retarded? Even “I Spit on Your Grave” kinda had doubts about that. Those Orcas may be smart but they can be pretty mean fuckers, I guess.

  7. Orca scared the fuck out of me when I was, like, 5 years old, and I’m sure a big reason why whales scare the crap out of me, too. Another big reason is that whales are huge and could eat me in one slurp. blue whales especially. we need a blue whale based monster movie. killer whales are good enough for now.

  8. i’m seeing this one.

  9. I agree with Chris. Blue Whales are scarier than sharks and we need a Blue-Whale-rampage-movie. Do you remember the time before Cloverfield came out and you could find “leaked” concept art (which of course turned out to be fake or fan made) everywhere on the net? One of them made the monster look like a whale and holy crap, this one scared me shitless!

  10. It’s funny how Orca ripped off Jaws but then Jaws the Revenge ripped off Orca when they made the Great White all Paul Kersey and whatnot.

  11. GREAT review vern. Love the HILLS HAVE EYES analogy.

  12. “It’s the JAWS of JAWS ripoffs.”

    Very well put. I was just thinking about this movie the other day and now I want to see it again.

    And I like the subtle inversion of the usual “another movie with a guy battling a giant fish” line. That’s funny on so many levels that I’m not sure it’s actually even supposed to be funny.

  13. The poster clearly says that the whale’s vengeance will cross seas, all obstacles, and TIME! Someone really ought to make Orca 2 and put some time traveling whale vengeance in there.

  14. Morricone’s score is really beautiful for this film. While were talking about sea type things, I’d totally rather swim with an orca or a manatee than a dolphin, who are too good looking and cocky. Swimming with dolphins would be like taking a dip with the cast of The Hills.

  15. Swenson – I didn’t notice that, but that is important, that is an aspect of the movie that sailed right over my head. The sequel should be called TIMEWHALE.

  16. Blue whales only eat plankton, so getting eaten by one wouldn’t really be a problem. It could crush the shit out of you with its enormous tail, though.

  17. Chris , CJ Holden:I agree with you , and even more : I’m scared shitless by big aquatic animals. Whales , Orcas and , yes , even fucking dolphins are pretty fucking creepy . They laugh at you , they flip in the air , they hypnotize you like a cobra , ready to strike! If dolphins were able to walk I can imagine them stealing your food , pissing in the streets and shitting on your car! But the scariest ones by far are sharks.Man I hate those bastards .I don’t know if it’s something psychological , the idea of this big mouth in the water , but I’ve never seen a shark movie in my life , including Jaws.I even hate the Hammerhead , the one who looks like a jackass. I mean crocodiles , spiders , snakes , bugs are OK , but don’t talk to me about sharks!

  18. Glad I’m not alone in the fear of generally large aquatic creatures. And a time traveling whale of vengeance of movie? Dear god, where do I sign up? Directed by Werner Herzog, too, he’ll insist on working with real blue whales or something similarly impossible.

  19. There IS a time traveling movie with apocalyptic whales or something , and I think it is a Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica movie , I don’t know , those movies are always boring for me.I know it’s not a Star Wars movie , because Star Wars is more about plastic puppets than whales. I think in this movie they needed to travel back in time to kill all the whales , because the whales were in contact with the invading aliens , the bastards.Honestly , that’s all I remember.

  20. CallMeKermiT: I also have the shark fear. I’m not afraid of getting eaten by one, I just can’t look at the toothy fuckers without wincing. There’s no reason for it, unless maybe I got eaten by one in a former life. For my money, the scariest shark movie is The Last Shark, an Italian Jaws rip-off that got sued into oblivion by Universal. The reason it’s scary is that, unlike Jaws, which was all animatronic except for maybe two shots, the Italians supplement their cheesy full-size and 1/250th scale models with real great white footage, so you never know from shot to shot whether it’s gonna be a hilarious rubber puppet or an actual shark chomping the fuck out of a side of beef in horrifying slow-mo. It keeps you on edge for the whole fucking movie. Still, horror movies are supposed to be scary, so all us sharkophobes have a duty to cowboy up and watch it.

  21. And you’re thinking of Star Trek IV, in which Kirk & Co. must travel back to the eighties to bring two humpbacks back to the whale-less 24th Century, where their song is needed to call off a deadly space turd that is destroying the earth with its sound waves. It’s also known as “The one where Spock wears a bathrobe for the whole movie.”

  22. The Star Trek-future must be a scary place for us whale haters. First everything was fine, because whales were extinct, but then a giant space whale almost destroys the planet and then the Enterprise crew brings the whales back to earth. But only two of them, which means THE FUTURE MUST BE FULL OF HORRIBLE DEGENERATED, MALFORMED AND MAYBE EVEN BLOOD THIRSTY INCEST WHALES! (Who is the ‘Hills Have Eyes’-mutant now?)
    Y’know, they could have easily topped ‘First Contact’ if they had Picard and his crew go against the plague of horror whales, that Kirk & Co. accidently unleashed on earth. (But on the other hand, I think Patrick Stewart killed this possible plot when he decided to play Captain Ahab in the TV movie.)

  23. caruso_stalker217

    May 22nd, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Well, Vern, you had me at “Charlotte Rampling.” And the rest of this sounds ridiculously awesome.

    Killer whales are the shit. When I was a kid my parents used to take me to the Oregon Coast Aquarium a lot so I saw that Keiko fuck quite a bit.

  24. Fletcher Hanks

    May 22nd, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Vern, you should review DOC SAVAGE. There are no whales, but he does catch fish up in the Arctic Circle using a rocket-powered fish hook. No horseshit, man.

  25. Mr. Majestyk : Yes , occasionally when I have time, I try to “cowboy up’” and confront my fear of sharks.One of the examples is “Zombie Flesh Eaters” , another Italian movie.I knew of the shark vs zombie scene , but I watched the movie anyway , because I love zombies and , of course , Fulci(plus EVERYTHING in that scene is real , the zombie is the shark trainer , talk about iron balls…).Then I went even further with my determination and I played “Shark! Hunting the Great White” , a first person shark hunting videogame : you play as a nutcase who hunts sharks with an harpoon gun , and it’s well done , very realistic ( you even hunt a Megalodon , a prehistoric monstrosity as big as a boat!).So , yeah , I too think is a good idea to face your fears, but I generally avoid shark-only movies.

    Also : sharkophobes , finally a word that summarizes this particular phobia!

    And , also :Star Trek , killer whales , Kirk , SPACE TURDS? Man , I need to track that shit down!!!

  26. Almost forgot: strangely , I love the 1956 “Moby Dick” with Gregory Peck.Now , that’s a big scary bastard fish!!!

  27. A time traveling Jonah & The Whale movie would settle everyone’s hash.

  28. Vern, only you could convince me to put ORCA at the top of my Netflix queue.

  29. I watched this movie at my grandparents’ house some holiday years and years ago. I still can’t forget the awesome face-off at the end on all the ice.

    The real question is, though, why was my whole extended family watching “Orca” on Christmas Eve/Thanksgiving? (It had to be one of the two.)

  30. Vern. You’re a cool guy, and I love your sight. I wish you all the success in the world and I wish nothing but the best for you. Which is why it pains me to say, YOU HAVE TO REVIEW MEGA SHARK VERSUS GIANT OCTOPUSS!

    I’ve seen hell and it stars Debbie Gibson and Lorenzo Lamas. I can’t even put into words how much I don’t want you to endure this movie, but the reward of a brilliant review from the Outlaw himself is too much to pass up.

    The bright side is that you’ll be able to witness a badly CGI’ed shark attacking a commercial airplane mid-filght and LOTS of stock footage and reversed shot reused. They also utilize Avid farts as lightning.

    This movie is terrible, and again I wouldn’t recommend my worst enemy watch this, but just as Jesus had decended into Hell, Vern must review Mega Shark versus Giant Octopuss. It is written, it must be done.

    I sincerely apologize.

  31. I watched this yesterday and it’s pretty great. After about 30 minutes or so it had me thinking more about Kill Bill than Jaws.

  32. Its pitiful when compared to Jaws but is in a different league and playing a different sport when it comes to the dozens of giant crocodile movies like Lake Placid and the Jaws rip offs. Killer Whales don’t threaten me and this movie wasn’t able to do Jaws justice but it is so much better the the crocodile movies and other shark jaws rip offs that it is a great second place.

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