In Review: Orca – The Killer Whale (1977) on DVD

by Martyn Conterio on 08/04/2014


Exploiting the popularity of Steven Spielberg’s landmark summer blockbuster, Jaws (1975), Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis delivered his own knockoff rendition of the monster fish movie with a lunatic effort about a male orca whale exacting revenge against an unthinking human that done him wrong.

The film’s remit, to provide the audience with a creature that could knock seven bells out of a great white shark, is problematic. Orcas might be labelled ‘killer whales’ and therefore hold a certain cache of fear, but Michael Anderson’s film was made in the age when the anti-whaling movement was gathering pace. So, to go and make a picture that featured a whale killing humans is what you call going against the grain.

A gruff Irish boat captain, played with typical charisma by Richard Harris, hunting a great white shark off the coast of Canada accidentally kills a pregnant female orca whale. One of the film’s most grisly scenes involves a half-dead whale miscarrying on the deck of Nolan’s boat. It’s grotesque and arguably one of the most unpleasant and bizarre scenes ever committed to celluloid. A moment where upon a corny thriller narrative (a shark attack) is interrupted by zoological realism (and connotations of the distasteful world of commercial whaling). After this incident, a duel is fought on the coast and out in the big blue sea, as the doomed pair play out an increasingly deadly game of, er, seadog versus whale. Can Nolan atone for his sins and will the determined orca have his revenge served cold?

Orca – The Killer Whale is not entirely without merit. For a movie so conflicting, indeed passive-aggressive, towards the Orcinus orca species, it’s an enjoyable pulpy romp. Ennio Morricone’s melodic score, too, is really one of the maestro composer’s most unsung accompaniments.

Whale lovers will want to stick to the likes of Free Willy (1993) and the more recent Drew Barrymore drama, Big Miracle (2012), because you’ll likely be aghast at Orca – The Killer Whale. The DVD transfer looks reasonable enough for what is a no-frills release, but the grain is highly noticeable in the later scenes, where Nolan meets his mortal enemy on a Maltese set dressed as icy Greenland.



Martyn has awarded Orca: The Killer Whale two Torches of Truth


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