In this Adventure/ Drama, set in Newfoundland in the 1970’s, Michael Anderson’s Orca The Killer Whale is about a Killer Whale’s vengeance towards a fisherman who accidentally butchers his mate (wife) and unborn calf. Starring Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling and the two Orca’s Nepo (Male) and Yaka (Female).
After being impressed by Orcas (Killer Whales to me and you) particularly by how much money he can get if he catches one and sells it to an aquarium, struggling fisherman Nolan (Richard Harris) attempts to do just that despite warnings from Lecturer and Orca enthusiast Dr. Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling), but ends up killing a pregnant Orca and her unborn calf instead. After giving her a send off with the rest of the pod(very funeral styled), her mate follows Nolan back to where he has docked his boat, which is in a little village that thrives off fishing and forces him back in to the ocean to settle the score.
With the help of actual stock footage taken at Marine World in Redwood City, California and an animatronic whale, Orca is very believable as the intelligent, family oriented, loving but powerful vengeful Killer Whale who will not be bound by boat or land in order to carry out an almost apocalyptic type of justice on he that has done him wrong (e.g. Watch as Orca weakens the village his enemy has taken up residence in ). Richard Harris delivers a natural performance as the naive near broke fisherman, who even though a little sympathetic towards the beast in question, still brushes off his threats, chooses instead to think of recent disasters as mere coincidences, rubbishes folk lore talk and refuses to believe an animal is capable of revenge. As both Orca and Nolan play non traditional hero and villain roles, meaning one could either be deemed a good guy as easily as a bad guy based on their actions; they flirt interestingly along these lines creating sometimes a divide amongst audience members (e.g. Watch how they take turns in harming each other). In the midst of all that and probably because of it, they do manage to inspire some amount of audience identification, which was what made them decent characters and help to move them away from the simple “Man vs. Beast” tag so often given in such films.
Full time Psychologist/Magician/ Genius and part time Composer Ennio Morricone’s score added as usual all the right appropriate tones for each occasion with remarkably eerie brilliance; starting from Orca’s 1st introduction of his power to his undeniably, empathetic emotional depth all the way to his ferocious, frightening, knows no bounds anger. Dr. Rachel at a lecture in this film stated that an Orca’s communication level was so advanced that questions such as “How are you?” need not be asked and if so would be redundant. This then would mean our communication skills as human beings to Orcas would be useless and theirs to us incomprehensible. However with the help of Ennio Morricone’s music, there is never a question about neither the feeling nor the mood of the characters, or is there ever a question about how they feel about each other regardless of communication levels. It was with this style accompanied with Whale sounds (Interestingly enough most of the Whale sounds are that of Humpback Whales and not Orcas) that reminded us that dialogue too is just a style and what a character does has far more of an impact.
Alot has been said about this film in times gone by, dismissing it as either an answer to Steven Spielberg’s JAWS (1975) or accusing it of riding on the coat tail of its success. While this may or may not be true and undoubtedly Jaws was the much better told story, it must be pointed out that besides both films having genuinely deadly predators as characters from the deep, these two films are nothing alike, whether it be plot, structure, style or reason. Michael Anderson’s Orca has a legitimate reason for revenge and tries to drag Nolan out of his comfort zone; the Great White Shark in Jaws terrorizes a small beach community for no apparent reason, apart from the fact that ‘he felt like it.’ Audiences may be sympathetic towards Orca because they are able to identify with his plight and may root for him; audiences are scared to death of Jaws as they would any super serial killer and hope someone gets rid of him. Based on these two main reasons alone, it is clear that even though they are both beasts of the sea, one is more clearly a monster. In conclusion concerning ORCA, while some of the characters aren’t that useful, or are very underdeveloped especially those of Nolan’s crew, the film is quite good and an interesting watch. There are also some religious elements to it as well that isn’t very obvious but makes this film even more interesting on a psychological, spiritual level. Therefore don’t dismiss this film, have a good watch to those who haven’t seen it yet and to those who have, try watching it again.