Orca (1977) poster

Orca (1977)


aka Orca – Killer Whale

USA. 1977.


Director – Michael Anderson, Screenplay – Sergio Donati & Luciano Vincenzoni, Producer – Luciano Vincenzoni, Underwater Scenes Directed by Folco Quilici, Photography – Ted Moore, Whale Sequences Photographed by J. Barry Herron, Shark Sequences Photographed by Ron Tayler, Underwater Photography – Vittorio Dragonetti, Music – Ennio Morricone, Photographic Effects – Frank Van Der Veer, Special Effects Supervisor – Alex C. Weldon, Mechanical Effects – Guiseppe Carozza & Jim Hole, Makeup – Neville Smallwood, Production Design – Mario Garbuglia. Production Company – Famous Films.


Richard Harris (Captain Nolan), Charlotte Rampling (Professor Rachel Bedford), Will Sampson (Umilak), Peter Hooten (Paul), Bo Derek (Annie Nolan), Keenan Wynn (Gus Novak), Scott Walker (Swain), Robert Carradine (Ken)


Captain Nolan takes up a challenge of capturing a great white shark for prize money. However, as Nolan sets out to sea, he sees his intended quarry effortlessly massacred by a killer whale. He is then taken with the idea of being the first person to capture a killer whale. He and his crew succeed in harpooning and killing a pregnant female whale but are forced to release it when it aborts on the deck and its mate batters the boat. Upon their return to the small Newfoundland harbour, the whale’s mate conducts a series of spectacular attacks on the town, trying to drive Nolan out into the open sea again for a final confrontation.

In the early 1980s, Dino De Laurentiis became the archetype of the crass Hollywood producer. Chief among De Laurentiis’s crimes was King Kong (1976), the crassly conceived remake of the classic monster movie. The No 2 exhibit was seen as Orca, which The Golden Turkey Awards (1980) nominated for ‘Most Blatant Ripoff’.

Almost every person who sees Orca hates it. I contrarily liked it. It is a transparently obvious attempt to rip off Jaws (1975). It has the potentially ludicrous but in actuality quite ingenious idea of conducting a role-reversed retelling of Moby Dick (1851) – here it is the whale who plays the Ahab role and obsessively pursues the sea captain in revenge for the slaughter of its mate. This works quite a bit better than it sounds and there is a nicely doom-laden sense to the exercise. The photography has a stunning beauty – there is one gorgeous scene as the whale pushes its dead mate off into the sunset.

Richard Harris against the whale in Orca (1977)
Sensational climactic scene with Richard Harris against the Orca on a sheet of ice

Michael Anderson, director of films like Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Logan’s Run (1976) and Millennium (1989), conducts some wildly fantastique visions – there is an amazing apparition of the whale flipping in mid-air while triumphantly outlined against the burning refinery. There is also an extraordinary climax set in the Arctic with the whale attempting to crush the ship with icebergs, prowling beneath translucent ice-sheets and then leaping up to tip the sheet into the air and send Richard Harris flying. On the minus side, the human element is lacking with there being zero screen ignition between Richard Harris of wavering Irish brogue and the perpetually glacial Charlotte Rampling.

In the mid-80s, Dino De Laurentiis was at one point purported to be toying with the idea of making a King Kong sequel that would have teamed Kong up against Orca.

Michael Anderson’s other genre films include an adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 (1956); The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968), a political thriller concerning a near-future Pope; Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze (1975), based on the pulp hero; the dystopian sf film Logan’s Run (1976); the psycho-thriller Dominique (1978); the tv mini-series adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (1980); the thriller Bells/Murder by Phone/The Calling (1981) about killer telephone calls; the excruciating Adam and Eve softcore comedy Second Time Lucky (1984); the John Varley time travel film Millennium (1989); the tv movie remake of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997); and The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1999).

Trailer here

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