Orca: Killer Whale (1977)

This weekend I got a letter from someone who said she liked my reviews over at the IMDb. I’d considered never posting there again because of their new system where you can vote whether you think a comment is useful or not.
I don’t mind criticism, but that system is so stupid… I’ve already complained about my experience with Ta****ino fans (they didn’t like my mocking their deity, so surfed to my other reviews and clicked the ‘not useful’ button on those because someone who doesn’t like Ta****ino couldn’t write good reviews… they even mailed me to tell me this).
Secondly, apparently the IMDb is visited by lots of people who only think a comment is useful if you share their ideas about the film. (In my opinion – call me foolish – a comment is useful when it says something, whether you agree with the reviewer or not.) Anyway, some teen saying he liked the movie because it’s fun and the actress is so hot got 10 out of 12 people to say the review was useful. My post where I said what I liked and didn’t like about the film was deemed useful by 2 out of 4 people.

So I decided not to post there anymore, until this weekend when I read that mail… surely if someone bothers to read your review and then follows the link to read your other reviews, that means something. I could describe the feeling or post an emoticon that would explain it all, but I’ll leave it to your imagination.
So I posted my most recent review on my website. Over there I’ve created a Vault for 30 movies which either deserve extra attention or which are unfairly given a bad reputation.

I knew that Orca had a bad reputation and I don’t think it’s a bad film. I knew lots of people hated the film, I knew I wrote a good review (it clearly states why I like it) and I posted it last night… within 12 hours it was read and deemed not useful.

So before we go on, let me rewrite the review for any IMDb voters out here:
Orca is a film about a big animal. It also has Charlotte Rampling and Bo Derek in it. They are hotties. I liked the scene where one of them took her clothes off. There was also a plot, but I didn’t notice that. Too busy staring at Charlotte’s titties, huh huh huh.


(Discerning enthusiasts can read the review over at the Vault to see pictures and other films)

Movie poster (image copyright: cinemotions.net)Depending on where you live, Orca is either shown all the time or never it all. The film has an incredibly bad reputation and in fact this does not really come as a surprise: this is a film by Michael Anderson, the director of Logan’s Run (another film with a bad reputation). I’ll try and explain why I think Orca worked for me.

It is very hard (or even impossible) to label Orca (also known as Orca: Killer Whale). What exactly is this film? It’s a drama, a love story, an odyssey, a revenge film and then you haven’t thrown in the scientific bits and its flirting with exploitation. Films that can’t be labelled are often not very good. Compare it to the proverb “Too many cooks spoil the broth”. If you try to flavour your film with ingredients of many genres, you often end up with a dinner that doesn’t taste good at all. But just like there are cooks which are able to mingle the weirdest ingredients and end up with a yummy dish, some directors are talented enough to make a film that goes beyond genre conventions. Anderson is such a director. “Logan’s Run” and “Orca” are both examples of genreless films. Logan’s Run never decides whether it’s a sci-fi adventure story or a love drama. Orca, as I mentioned above, has no clue whatsoever of what sort of a film it is. That is what makes the film so fragile. You’re not supposed to expect anything when watching the film or you might end up bitterly disappointed.

The first images of Orca are extremely beautiful. We see a couple of orcas making out in the middle of the ocean. The sky is beautifully photographed and it gives you a fuzzy feeling. The first human being we see is Charlotte Rampling, diving and trying to avoid a shark. The sight of Charlotte Rampling is virtually always a sign you’re watching a cult movie. In a filmography of over 65 films Rampling has starred in dozens of essential cult films (including the highly controversial The Night Porter). Furthermore, she’s a good actress. Rampling’s character blocks Richard Harris’s attempt to kill the shark. He is a hunter, she is a biologist. Both are intrigued by each other: she would like to know how someone who’s always at sea knows so little about his surroundings, he wants to know more about the orca they’ve seen. Harris ends up catching the female orca and (in one of the most painful scenes of the seventies) it turns out she was pregnant. The male orca is the perfect example of the lover who swears a pitiless revenge.

Though a lot of the scientific mumbojumbo in the film is apparently nonsense that just sounded good, the film’s tagline gives you a good sense of what to expect: “The killer whale is one of the most intelligent creatures in the universe. Incredibly, he is the only animal other than man who kills for revenge. He has one mate, and if she is harmed by man, he will hunt down that person with a relentless, terrible vengeance – across seas, across time, across all obstacles.”

Though Orca is mainly a revenge film and an almost mythical clash between two heavyweights (Harris and the orca), Anderson’s film doesn’t just show orca revenging his wife plus man hunting orca. I fear such a film would end up either boring or a rip-off of Jaws. Some have already dismissed Orca as a rip-off, but those viewers obviously didn’t pick up on everything else in the film. The characters (even the orca) are not one-dimensional and so their personas are explored. That does stand in the way of a revenge tale, but Orca doesn’t care. The film shows how characters cope with being in such a situation and therefore takes time to explore other parts of the characters. If you must, label it as a mythical drama.

The film is also helped by a wonderful soundtrack of Ennio Morricone. Richard Harris and Charlotte Rampling are great in their roles and alongside them you have Bo Derek in her debut role (a few years before she’d become a sex symbol with films as 10 and Bolero). Bo Derek turned down the leading role in the King Kong remake, going for a mythical orca rather than a giant ape.

I hope I warmed you up for Orca. When you see it, do not forget this most important advice: do not expect anything. Just sit down and follow the myth. And who knows, you might enjoy it.


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