Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Orca (1977) ***

PG, 92 min.
Director: Michael Anderson
Writers: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati
Starring: Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Keenan Wynn, Peter Hooten, Bo Dereck, Will Sampson, Robert Carradine, Scott Walker

Certainly in many ways “Orca” is a ridiculous movie. It’s a shameless attempt by Hollywood to capitalize on the success of Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” from two years prior. It’s taken from an Italian script—cleaned up for Hollywood by an uncredited Robert Towne—stars two British actors who were known to American audiences but far from the A-list, and it grossly misrepresents the behaviors of killer whales and the terrible practices of the industry involved in hunting them. However, it’s a surprisingly good revenge story.

The story follows a fisherman who catches big deadly fish for aquariums. His primary catches are sharks until he discovers a pod of killer whales in the area he’s fishing. Despite warnings against hunting the whales by a local scientist, he pursues the pod and botches a live capture of the female, who miscarries while on the boat as the bull whale looks on. The whale then sets out a plot of revenge against the captain and his entire crew. Complicating matters is the fact that the local fishermen blame the captain’s quest for a killer whale for driving their fish away.

The movie has a basic Dead Teenager horror movie set up as the whale picks off crewmembers one by one in increasingly unique ways, especially considering that the whale is confined to the water, while the crew is not. The final act finds the captain and a small crew chasing the whale north into the polar ice cap. The sequence has echoes of the final chapters of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. In many ways the captain created the monster the killer whale became, and creator and creation have the final showdown in the frozen north just as in the Shelley classic.

While not a great movie in any way, it earns the cult status it has gained throughout the years as an example of the horror subgenre involving beasts of nature. Its unlikely stars, Richard Harris and Charlotte Rampling, do a great deal to elevate the material with deep thinking characters. And it feels original in the way it reverses the Moby Dick-style obsession from the sea captain to the whale.

No comments: