|Orca the Killer Whale|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Anderson|
|Produced by||Dino De Laurentiis
|Written by||Luciano Vincenzoni
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
|Cinematography||J. Barry Herron
|Edited by||John Bloom
Ralph E. Winters
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures
Dino De Laurentiis Company
Orca (also called Orca: The Killer Whale) is an American 1977 supernatural horror drama film director by Michael Anderson and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, starring Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, and Will Sampson. It is based on Arthur Herzog's novel of the same name. The film was poorly received by critics and audiences alike due in part to its similarities to the film Jaws released two years prior. Upon release the film received only minor theatrical success, but in recent years the film has achieved a cult following among fans of the natural horror subgenre.
The movie revolves around the exploits of Captain Nolan (Richard Harris), an Irish Canadian who catches marine animals to pay off the mortgage of his boat, and return to Ireland. Nolan's crew is looking for a great white shark for a local aquarium, but a scientist named Ken (Robert Carradine) is targeted by the shark. An orca comes and kills the shark, saving Ken. This switches Nolan's target to the orca. While Nolan is on the journey with his crew, he tries to capture what he believes to be a bull orca, but mistakenly harpoons a pregnant female. Nolan and his crew get the orca on board, where she subsequently miscarries. The captain hoses the dead fetus overboard as the male orca looks on screaming.
Seeking release of his near-dead mate, the male orca tries to sink the ship. One of Nolan's crew members, Novak (Keenan Wynn), cuts the female off the ship, but the male leaps up and drags him into the sea, too. The following day, the orca pushes his now dead mate onto shore. Alan Swain (Scott Walker) berates Nolan on his actions after finding the dead whale. Nolan denies responsibility, but Swain and the villagers eventually find out his involvement. The villagers insist that he kill the orca, as his presence is causing the fish vital to the village's economy to migrate. The orca then terrorises the village by sinking fishing boats in broad daylight and then breaking fuel lines, thus destroying the village's fuel reserves.
Dr. Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling), a colleague of Ken and a whale expert, shows him how similar whales are to humans and tells Nolan that, "If he [the orca] is like a human, what he wants isn't necessarily what he should have." Nolan confesses to Bedford that he empathises with the whale, as his own wife and unborn child had previously been killed in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. Nolan promises Bedford not to fight the whale, but the orca attacks his sea-front house, containing an injured crew member of Nolan's, Annie (Bo Derek) within it. The house starts slipping into the sea and the whale bites Annie's leg off. Nolan decides to fight the orca, although with Novak dead and Annie maimed for life, Nolan and Paul (Peter Hooten) are now the only crew members left. Bedford and Ken join the pursuit, along with a Native American man, Jacob Umilak (Will Sampson), enlisted for his orca knowledge.
The crew begins to follow the whale after he signals Nolan to follow him. Ken is leaning over the side when the whale surfaces and grabs him, killing him in the process. They follow the whale until they reach the Strait of Belle Isle, though when Paul starts to get into a lifeboat, the maddened orca knocks Paul out of the boat and drowns him. The next day, the whale shoves an iceberg into the boat and starts to sink it. Nolan manages to harpoon the whale just before he and Bedford escape from the boat, while Umilak is crushed beneath an avalanche of ice just after sending out an SOS.
Nolan and Bedford hide in an iceberg, although Nolan slips onto another. The orca separates the icebergs, trapping Nolan. The whale jumps onto the ice, causing it to tilt and sending Nolan into the water. The whale lifts Nolan up with his tail and throws him onto another iceberg, killing him. Bedford looks on as Nolan slips into the water in a cross shape. With his revenge complete, the whale swims southward under the ice, while a helicopter is seen rescuing Bedford.
As the credits begin to roll, the Orca is shown swimming away beneath the thick arctic ice, trying in vain to surface. Unable to break through the ice flow, the fate of the Orca remains uncertain.
- Richard Harris as Captain Nolan
- Charlotte Rampling as Rachel Bedford
- Will Sampson as Umilak
- Bo Derek as Annie
- Keenan Wynn as Novak
- Robert Carradine as Ken
- Peter Hooten as Paul
- Scott Walker as Al Swain
- Don "Red" Barry as Dock Worker
- Yaka and Nepo as Orca
Producer Luciano Vincenzoni was first assigned to give the film a head start after being called by Dino de Laurentiis in the middle of the night in 1975. Upon admitting that he had watched Jaws, Vincenzoni was instructed by de Laurentiis to "find a fish tougher and more terrible than the great white". Having had little interest in sea life beforehand, Vincenzoni was directed to killer whales by his brother Adriano, who had a personal interest in zoology. Filming took place largely in Newfoundland during the fishing season. Most filming took place in the town of Petty Harbour, about 15 kilometres south of the capital city, St. John's.
The main orcas used for filming were trained animals from Marineland of the Pacific and Marine World Africa (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom), though artificial whales of rubber were used also. These models were so lifelike that several animal rights activists blocked the trucks transporting them, confusing them for real orcas. The shark used early in the film was captured by noted shark hunter Ron Taylor. The scenery meant to represent a remote polar region of Labrador was fabricated in Malta by designer Mario Garbuglia. The 46-year-old Richard Harris insisted on performing his own stunts in the polar sequences, and was nearly killed on several occasions.
Today the film's reception is mixed. Many love the haunting, beautiful soundtrack by renowned composer Ennio Morricone, while others dismiss the film as a Jaws ripoff. A jab is taken at this film in Jaws 2, when an Orca corpse is discovered on a small sandbar island off the coast of Amity. A marine biologist investigating the corpse remarks to Chief Brody that there are far greater predators in the deep, which is of course a reference to the shark, although orcas have been known to attack and kill great white sharks in the wild.
Richard Harris enjoyed his experiences during filming, and took offence at any comparison between Orca and Jaws.
- Callan, Michael Feeney Richard Harris: Sex, Death & the Movies, Robson, 2004 ISBN 1-86105-766-0]
- "Remembering the Horror of Orca, The Killer Whale!". BloodyDisgusting.
- (Italian) Vincenzoni, Luciano Pane e cinema: il racconto di una vita straordinaria consacrata al mondo del cinema, Gremese Editore, 2005, ISBN 88-8440-391-X