For the inaugural installment of “The Dumpster Dive” I randomly searched for weird titles to dive into and 1977’s Orca (also known as Orca: The Killer Whale) stood out to me during my search. It’s didn’t seem so trashy, but very odd. It peeked my curiosity enough to go in and give it a shot, completely blind to how it was or what it was about. I added a bunch of titles to the list of films to watch for this column, plenty of interesting stuff, but this one kept sticking with me in my head as something potentially so crazy bad, but in the best way possible. So, did this killer whale flick turn out as terribly awesome as it sounds? Let’s take a look at 1977’s Orca.
Wow, this is going to be an interesting first installment for “The Dumpster Dive” because I did not get what I expected. I was expecting some Italian knockoff of Jaws, or some schlock like that. I was so wrong.
This is easily one of the best revenge films I’ve ever seen. The film revolves around Captain Nolan (played by Richard Harris) who kills a female killer whale. Actually, let me clarify. Nolan SEVERELY hurts the female whale, so much so that she is driven to kill herself. Then once they string her up, her unborn baby falls out.
At this point, this is not Free Willy.
The killer whale’s husband witnesses the act and is bent on vengeance for his family. He’ll kill Captain Nolan and anyone else who gets in his way.
To me, that’s the films biggest asset. All things aside, it’s just a tense, badass revenge film. The whole film is driven by pure vengeance. Shockingly, throughout this whole film I kept thinking about Stephen Spielberg’s Duel and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The antagonists of both films were driven by pure rage and vengeance. They had a special kind of conviction, the kind that made you almost want to root for them. Although that’s more Khan than Duel, the antagonist from Duel still had that drive and constant persistence. The whole time you don’t know who you’re supposed to be rooting for in Orca. That’s what makes it such a different kind of killer animal film. The movie moves fast and uses its time wisely.
Not only are you sucked in by the driving force of the story, but the action itself is impressive. From the whale blowing up a factory to the Orca ripping apart a Great White Shark, all of the whale action is exciting and fun. It helps that the film also has an impressive production budget, with convincing miniatures and large, dynamic sets creating exciting action set pieces. For a movie that I had never heard of, this really felt like an exciting blockbuster with the fast pace and large scale action. Let me stress this; I thought I was in for a really cheap killer animal flick, but ended up being blown away by the scale of the sets and action sequences.
Like, believe me when I tell you that this Orca fucks shit up. This dude ain’t playing around. The only other thing that I thought this whale was going to do was walk on land with an M60 like Schwarzenegger at the end of Commando. Every time this thing was on the screen, I was cheering.
Not only are the sets impressive and the movie exciting, the film also has beeeeeautiful cinematography. The cinematographers J. Barry Herron and Ted Moore provide the film with striking shots of the water with whales splashing through them, the sunlight shimmering off of the surface. It’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous to look at.
Another technical aspect that is fantastic here is the score by Ennio Morricone, who provides the film with such a tense atmosphere, as well as a variety of different moods through the dynamic music he put together.
As you can see, this film nails all of the technical aspects, but it doesn’t only do that. The actors are actually all great too. Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Bo Derek and the whole cast play off of each other very well. No one is half-assing it, which isn’t surprising when you have a director like Michael Anderson. You may not recognize that name, but he put out quite a number of films from the 40’s to the 90’s such as the original Around the World in Eighty Days and Logan’s Run. Nowadays, if Orca was made it would’ve been by some music video director and produced by Blumhouse. Anderson walked on set with almost 30 years of filmmaking experience beforehand, so you can tell that there is much more thought and artistry put into it than you’d expect from anyone else.
The only problem I have with this film was that in the last 30-20 minutes, the pace really slows down. It feels like 10-minutes could have been cut out to keep that fast pace that was so present throughout the bulk of the film. It doesn’t ruin the film by any means, but whereas I was so pumped for the showdown between Nolan and Orca, I eventually started to get a bit bored and care less. It doesn’t help that the final showdown is pretty lame anyways.
So, is this film a hidden gem or can it be thrown back into the dump?
I think that it’s pretty obvious that I love this film. This was far from what I was expecting, it delivers on exciting action, a fast pace, great cast, incredible music, just about everything you’d want out of a film like this, and then some. Is it a shame that the film slows down in the last third? Yeah, it kills the incredible build up that it had going, but the build is SO GOOD that I’d still recommend sitting through it regardless.
I may have hit a Homerun with ORCA, but I don’t know how long my good luck streak will last. Later this week, I’ll be releasing a new installment of “The Dumpster Dive” where I discuss the 1984 film MONSTER DOG, starring Alice Cooper. Once again, it’s a film that I know absolutely nothing about the film, so hopefully it’s another pleasant surprise, but this series is called “The Dumpster Dive” for a reason…..