As I get older in life, I start to realize just how many random movies that I had seen portions of, but not the entire film. Today’s movie is just another example of this. (Brief spoiler alert) I remember seeing part of this movie years ago as a kid, specifically the part where they capture a pregnant female orca and as they haul it onto their boat, it miscarries and a stillborn whale fetus emerges from it and falls onto the ships deck. For some reason, that scene freaked out seven year old me more than any other movie that I had seen, and I had already been sneaking and staying up late to watch horror movies on late night television. Years later, I wound up buying the novelization for the movie at a used bookstore (unfortunately I lost the book so I might have to buy a new copy) and decided to try and watch the whole movie, as I had only seen the one scene before. Of course, even more years would pass before I would actually get the chance to see it again and that was because I bought a copy of today’s movie, Orca.
The plot: Dr. Rachel Bedford and her partner Ken are studying killer whales off of the coast of Newfoundland but when Rachel is diving to check their equipment, she attracts the attention of a great white shark. The shark is lured away by a boat captained by a man named Nolan, who is hunting for a great white to sell to an aquarium. Ken causes him to miss his first shot and Nolan goes to yell at Rachel and Ken but when the shark returns, He tells Rachel to climb aboard his boat while Ken follows them. When the motor in his dingy quits, Ken tries to get it started again and ends up falling in the water. The shark starts heading for Ken but before it can attack him, the shark is suddenly struck and killed by an orca. Some time later, Rachel is teaching her class about killer whales and notices that Nolan has started attending her class and asking her about killer whales. When she realizes that Nolan plans on trying to capture one, she goes to see him and tries to convince him to stop but he refuses to do so. Nolan and his crew head out and when they see a pod of killer whales, Nolan fires his harpoon at one of the males but he only nicks the dorsal fin and hits it’s mate instead. The female cries out in pain and after thrashing around for a bit, it rushes towards the boat and tries to kill itself on the propeller. Nolan cuts the engines and hauls the whale onto the ship but as it is suspended over the boat, it has a miscarriage and a whale fetus falls onto the deck. The male orca sees this and roars out in anger while Nolan is horrified and uses a hose to wash the fetus off the deck. Making their way back to dock, Nolan’s ship is attacked by the male orca and Nolan and his first mate, Novak, work on cutting the female free to get the male to stop attacking them but as the female drops into the water, Novak slips and as he clings to the boom, the male leaps out of the water and grabs him in it’s mouth and drags him down into the water, then surfaces and locks eyes with Nolan. Later, the male pushes the now dead female onto shore, close to where Nolan anchored his boat. The next day, Nolan sees the whale on the beach with Rachel sitting next to it and he goes to talk with her. Nolan expresses amazement that the whale made it there and Rachel tells him that the male pushed it here. They are joined by Jacob Umilak, a Native American, that tells Nolan about what happened when some of his people tried hunting a killer whale and wound up being killed themselves and warns Nolan to stay out of the water. After attending to a funeral for Novak, Nolan heads out to the harbor and speaks with Alan Swain, the harbormaster but as he starts to walk away, the orca suddenly begins sinking some of the boats in the harbor. That night as people begin burying the dead whale, Swain approaches Nolan and says the repairs on his boat will be finished in the morning, then blames Nolan for what the whale sinking the boats and chasing off the fish. Despite Rachel telling him not too, Nolan heads to a cove that the whale was last spotted in and sees the whale surface and stare at him before it ducks back down in the water. The next day, Umilak goes to Nolan’s house to warn him about the townsfolk, saying they will want him to kill the whale. That night, Nolan places a dummy in the spot he stood the night before, hoping to lure the orca in so he can shoot it. Rachel comes down there and the two argue about his plan and Nolan tells Rachel he understands how the whale feels because his own wife and unborn son were killed by a drunk driver. While they are waiting for the orca to show, the orca actually heads to the harbor and causes an explosion there, with the fire heading up the pipes and causing an explosion at the nearby refinery, which Nolan and Rachel see from where they are sitting. The next day, Swain tells Nolan his boat is ready to go but Nolan decides that he should leave along with the rest of his crew. One of his crew, Paul, goes to try and get gas but Umilak meets him at the gas station and says that the town will not let them leave except by boat. Meanwhile, Annie, another crew member who was injured, is sitting at Nolan’s house when the whale starts attacking the foundation, causing the house to start falling into the sea and it bites Annie’s leg off as Nolan and Paul try to save her. Realizing that there was no out, Nolan agrees to head after the whale, with Paul, Rachel, Ken, and Umilak joining him. Heading to where they killed the female, Nolan’s ship is attacked by the orca and Nolan tries to use some dynamite to kill it but Rachel stops him. Nolan sees the whale and realizes it wants him to follow it so he has Umilak change course to follow it but as Nolan goes to check on Rachel, the whale leaps up, snags Ken, and drags him underwater. The whale leads them north towards the Strait of Belle Isles, but they start running low on fuel and Paul and Umilak grow concerned about their running out of fuel. When they hit an iceberg during the night, Paul starts to put one of the lifeboats out in the water but the orca knocks him overboard and kills him. The next day, Umilak tells Nolan he is assuming command when Rachel tells them an iceberg is heading towards them. Umilak calls for help on the radio while Rachel and Nolan head onto the deck. When the whale surfaces to take a breath, Nolan manages to hit it with a harpoon but the iceberg hits the ship and Nolan is killed by some falling ice and snow. Nolan and Rachel manage to get to safety on another iceberg but the whale starts striking the ice from beneath them and manages to separate Nolan and Rachel. Pushing the ice that Nolan is on out away from Rachel, the orca knocks Nolan into the water and circles him before it flings Nolan into the air and he is killed when he strikes the iceberg Rachel is on, then sinks into the sea. The whale surfaces and looks at Rachel before it swims under the ice as a helicopter is seen on it’s way to rescue Rachel.
Orca met with heavy criticism from the critics, as shown by the 15% rating it has on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, some critics felt it was merely a ripoff of Jaws. Jaws was actually somewhat of an inspiration for the movie as producer Dino de Laurentiis had seen Jaws and contacted Luciano Vincenzoni to find a fish tougher and more terrible than a great white. While some of the orca scenes used live killer whales, others used models that were so life-like, some animal rights activist blocked the trucks transporting them, believing them to be real orcas. The movie was a modest success at the box office, earning over $14 million off of a $6 million budget.
For all the criticism about this being a Jaws ripoff, this wasn’t that bad of a movie. The acting was ok, with Richard Harris doing a good job playing Nolan but everyone else honestly didn’t really stand out and the various roles could have been played by anybody. The story was good but while I know that animals have been shown to be capable of remembering people that hurt them and go after them days, months, and sometimes years later, I honestly felt that they were projecting to much humanity onto the male orca in this movie. The special effects were good and the models did do there job in looking like real whales. Not my favorite killer sea animal movie but it’s one I will watch if it is on.
Rating: 3 out of 5