DVD Review: ORCA - THE KILLER WHALE (1977)

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REVIEW: ORCA – THE KILLER WHALE / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: MICHAEL ANDERSON / SCREENPLAY: LUCIANO VINCENZONI, SERGIO DONATI / STARRING: RICHARD HARRIS, CHARLOTTE RAMPLING, BO DEREK / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

From a time long before sharktopuses swam the oceans comes this brooding, big budget, Dino De Laurentiis-produced cash-in on the Jaws bandwagon. Richard Harris plays Nolan, a thick-skulled fisherman who hatches a foolhardy get-rich-quick scheme to catch a killer whale and sell it to a sea life aquarium by shooting it with a harpoon. (You might think that any self-respecting aquarium would prefer its creatures not to be full of holes that would let the water in, but never mind.) Unsurprisingly, the plan goes badly awry. He fatally mutilates a pregnant female orca, and her big, ferocious hubby is not happy. Nolan is instantly consumed with remorse, but by then it's too late: the rancorous cetacean is after blood, and there's no way to avoid a showdown with it... err, apart from, you know, by keeping away from the water.

To be fair, the script does a good job of handling the tricky issue of why Nolan doesn't just stay safely on land far away from the six tonne vigilante. Following him back to port, the whale busts up boats and causes all kinds of mayhem, tormenting the fishing village that Nolan calls home, with the result that the irked villagers pressure him into going back to sea to face the monster he has created. But you're also asked to swallow some decidedly far-fetched moments, as when the whale (they're highly intelligent, you know) cooks up a plan to blow up the oil refinery on the hill by starting a fire in the docks, all with a few pokes of its nose to wobbly timbers.

Still, the widescreen location cinematography of the Newfoundland coastline is breathtaking, the SFX stand up well, and the footage of killer whales is plentiful (filming them seems to have been much easier than filming great whites, real or mechanical). And there's Richard Harris. If you've only ever seen him warbling faintly from beneath Professor Dumbledore's headmasterly regalia in the first couple of Harry Potter films, then you're in for quite a shock. Flapping about manically and glowering from under the hood of his duffel coat, what he does isn't exactly acting the way we know it today, but there's never a dull moment, and in the end he's quite touching as the doomed and bewildered sea dog.

Throw in a florid Ennio Morricone score, and the whole thing is weirdly impressive in a histrionic, overblown way, if only because, in these days of cheap and cheerful SyFy channel monster flicks, it makes a refreshing change to come across one that's very expensive and very gloomy. Like so many of De Laurentiis's films, Orca now seems like a bit of a Dino-saur, but it's still fun and worth having in your sights.

Extras: None


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