Release Date(s)1977 (December 15, 2017)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures/Dino De Laurentiis Company (Umbrella Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C-
Arrows have been slung back and forth about whether or not Orca (aka Orca: The Killer Whale) is indeed a blatant rip-off of Jaws, which was released two years prior. At the time, anybody and everybody was taking the formula of that success and juxtaposing it against every kind of wild animal imaginable. Producer Dino De Laurentiis saw the potential in this as well and decided to take a crack at it. Featuring a story about a fisherman who tragically kills a female orca and the baby growing inside of it (in a horrible scene that many people who saw it at the time were horrified by), the male orca begins exacting unexpected revenge upon the boat’s captain.
Despite the comparisons, Orca is much more of “Moby Dick” tale about a man (Richard Harris) who is ultimately forced to deal not just with the animal itself, but his own tragic past. While offshore townspeople see him and his crew as a threat to the community because of the whale’s presence, he is filled with internal strife about the whole ordeal, constantly denying it at every turn until he no longer can. On the flipside is his potential love interest (Charlotte Rampling), a whale expert whose theories about the intelligence of whales, as well as a local Native American man (Will Sampson), eventually convinces him to take the orca head on, facing his fears in the process. As such, the comparisons to Jaws are merely surface level.
However, Orca isn’t a film without flaws. While the aforementioned whale miscarriage scene at the beginning is shocking, even by today’s standards, most of the film’s running time is devoted to humdrum self-reflection on Harris’ character’s part. With a cast that includes also Bo Derek, Keenan Wynn, and Robert Carradine, it’s surprising how ineffective the performances actually are at any given time. Any scene involving the killer whale taking some kind of revenge, whether he’s snatching crewmen off of boats or intentionally ramming his snout through pipes filled with gasoline which leads to eventual fires and explosions, are far more entertaining than his human counterparts (the exact opposite of Jaws actually). Although the film did well upon release, for some folks, it couldn’t hold a handle to its predecessor. But for others, it stands on its own.
Umbrella Entertainment debuts the film on Blu-ray with a transfer that looks to be sourced from an older master, but thankfully a good one. While there’s a little bit of print damage and discoloration during the film’s climax, it’s an otherwise clean and stable presentation with decent saturation, good brightness and contrast, and deep black levels (albeit occasionally crushed). Some flicker is evident due to uneven grain levels, as well as occasional density fluctuations, but the overall appearance of the transfer is quite film-like. For the audio selection, English 5.1 and 2.0 mono DTS-HD tracks are included with optional English subtitles (the latter two selections inaccessible through the main menu). The 5.1 mix is a more front-heavy presentation while the 2.0 mix is much fuller and more ideal. Dialogue is clear and audible, while Ennio Morricone’s highly-praised musical score has plenty of breathing room amidst booming sound effects and ambient activity. Both tracks exhibit dated qualities, but the 2.0 is the much more preferred method of viewing the film.
The extras are brief, but they include an excellent audio commentary with film historian Lee Gambin, in which he provides an enormous amount of background information on the film, the oceanic monster movie genre as a whole, and Dino De Laurentiis’ career; the 5-minute Moby Dick ala De Laurentiis: Martha De Laurentiis Remembers Orca chat, which offers very little insight as she didn’t actually work on the film; and the film’s original theatrical trailer presented in HD, but from a low-grade source.
It’s safe to say that Orca has long-been forgotten by most audiences, but those who remember it have a particular fondness for it. It’s also a title that’s been in need of a Blu-ray presentation for some time now, Umbrella’s release is definitely a welcome addition to your library of animal attack films, if indeed you’re a fan.
- Tim Salmons