• Orca

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: December 6th, 2017.
    Director: Michael Anderson
    Cast: Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Simpson, Bo Derek, Keenan Wynn, Robert Carradine
    Year: 1977
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    The Movie:

    Ken (Robert Carradine) is scuba diving off the coast of Newfoundland when a great white shark approaches him. With no time to lose, he hides on the floor while up on the surface his cohort Dr. Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling) sits in their dinghy. Nearby, Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) and his crew – Paul (Peter Hooten), Novak (Keenan Wynn) and Annie (Bo Derek in her feature film debut) try to warn them of the danger. Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, a killer whale shows up and makes short work of that shark, allowing Ken and Rachel to make it safely to Nolan’s ship, the Bumpo.

    Nolan and his team make a living hunting sharks and delivering them to aquariums. When he sees what this orca has done to the shark he was following, however, he decides to learn more about the creature. Figuring he can make a nice profit by capturing a killer whale and bringing it in, he sets out to do just that – despite Rachel’s protests. Soon enough, they capture a female orca that, in the film’s craziest scene, shoots out a calf on deck. The female orca is too injured to make it and so it and its newborn are dumped back into the cold waters of the Atlantic… much to the dismay of the male orca whose fin was nicked trying to protect its family.

    Shortly after all of this occurs, a local native named Umilak (Will Sampson) warns Nolan about his people’s beliefs, how the orcas are not to be messed with because they take vengeance very seriously. Before you know it, the killer whale with the damaged fin is trashing boats in the harbor, gobbling up Nolan’s crew and even trashing his seaside home. When the townsfolk pressure Nolan to do something about it, he’s left with no choice but to confront the orca he knows wants nothing more than to see him dead.

    “The killer whale, is one of the most intelligent creatures in the universe. Incredibly, he is the only animal other than man who kills for revenge. He has one mate, and if she is harmed by man, he will hunt down that person with a relentless, terrible vengeance, across seas, across time, across all obstacles.”

    Yeah, fine, it borrows a bit from Jaws but so too does it borrow from Moby Dick. If Orca isn’t the most original film ever made, it hardly matters – it delivers on the front that matters most in that it is a seriously entertaining film. It’s got just the right mix of serious drama, high adventure and wonky exploitation to work and the fact that it is performed by a genuinely talented cast doesn’t hurt matters either. Richard Harris is quite good here, reasonably believable in the part. He looks right for the role and he’s just salty enough to pull it off. There is a mildly romantic subplot involving his character and Rampling’s sexy scientist that isn’t particularly realistic but still, Harris makes for a fine lead and Rampling is every bit as good. Supporting work from Wynn, Derek, Sampson, Hooten and a young Robert Carradine is also strong.

    Just as important to the success of the film, however, is the whale. Like Spielberg and company did in Jaws, Anderson and his team employed some animatronic creations to stand in for real killer whales when needed. Most of the time, this works quite well and remains fairly convincing. What is less convincing are the insert shots clearly done in a tank. Not everything works as well as it should in this regard, but the good does outweigh the bad. The Newfoundland locations suit the story nicely and Ennio Morricone’s score is excellent.


    Orca arrives on region free Blu-ray debut courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed in its original aspect ratio of 2.35.1 widescreen and it looks good, if never reference quality. There’s some minor print damage evident throughout it’s small stuff, just little white specks rather scratches or emulsion marks. Colors look nice and natural if, in one or two scenes, a bit flat – this could be due to the original elements rather than the transfer itself, however. Black levels are solid and the disc is well authored meaning that the image is free of any compression artifacts, noise reduction or edge enhancement issues. Detail is generally pretty solid, but there’s some softness here and there, sometimes clearly due to the original photography. All in all, Orca looks quite decent in high definition.

    English language options are provided in DTS-HD 5.1 and Mono with removable subtitles available in English only. The 5.1 mix keeps the dialogue up front but occasionally moves the score and the effects into the rear channels to nice effect. The mono track is obviously the more faithful mix, however. Both tracks have some minor sibilance going on but are otherwise fine, free or distortion and hiss and featuring properly balanced levels throughout. Morricone’s excellent score gets a pretty decent boost here.

    The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary featuring film historian/author Lee Gambin in which he talks about the film’s production history, details the exploits of the different cast members involved including, obviously, Richard Harris, as well as the locations used for the shoot, the effects featured in the film, the involvement of producer Dino De Laurentiis and the contributions of director Michael Anderson. This is well researched and nicely delivered – both interesting and fun to listen to, the way a good commentary should be.

    Umbrella has also included a featurette entitled Martha De Laurentiis Remembers Orca in which the late producer’s widow gives a quick overview of her thoughts on the film and her late husband’s involvement in it. Outside of that, the disc also contains a theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Yeah, you can make plenty of comparisons between Orca and Jaws if you like, but despite the similarities this one holds up quite well. Not all of the effects and insert shots are perfect but the production values are decent, the killer whale itself is bad ass and the cast is great. Umbrella’s Blu-ray offers the film a solid high definition release with a few choice extras thrown in for good measure. Recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      It’s got just the right mix of serious drama, high adventure and wonky exploitation
      Nice review. What do you mean by "wonky exploitation"?
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Just random, assorted craziness.