Sometimes I wish my memory was not as good as it is. Then I would be able to forget this silly piece of junk and live my life in greater happiness. As it is, I promised I’d watch 1970’s summer movies, and this was on the list. It is just as dismal as I recalled it was. A rip-off of one of the greatest films ever made, and it spoils the memory of Richard Harris, an actor about whom there is much to admire. This was, unbelievable as it is to imagine, directed by an Academy Award Nominated film-maker. One year before this, Michael Anderson directed a movie that I quite enjoyed, “Logan’s Run”. Twenty years before this he did “Around the World in Eighty Days”. Sadly I think whatever talent he had was not available here, or maybe the script was just so wretched that he could not do anything with it.
You could start off hopefully, believing that we are going to see a low brow but entertaining poor man’s version of “Jaws”. There is however, no sense of adventure, no cheap thrills, and no humor worth a single laugh. The first five minutes of “Jaws” had romance, laughter, tension and horror and then the movie takes off. The first five minutes of “Orca” we watch killer whales attempt to mate and we don’t even get a money shot, we get sappy music that suggests something deep and meaningful but is just slow and unmelodious. Two days ago I was praising Ennio Morricone for his score of “Two Mules for Sister Sara”. I literally can’t believe he is responsible for this dreck. There is no tension, excitement never builds, the music sounds like it is background music in an aquarium. At one point it sounded like they might attempt a “Theme” for the killer whale, much like the one for the shark in that far superior picture, but it is abandoned quickly, like most of the ideas that the movie pretends to be about.
The rip-off begins by having a grizzled Irish fisherman (check), hunting a great white shark (check), on a battered vessel (check) and crossing paths with a scuba diving scientist (check). After that it all goes to hell. Sometimes the scientist sound like she is warning the fisherman about the Orca’s intelligence, other times she is denying that it could be doing the things she warned about. The Indian with the Mythology from his tribe speaks respectfully of the whale, and is all to quick to join in the task of killing it. We supposedly can communicate with these intelligent creatures, but not in a sophisticated way. The fisherman inadvertently kills the Orca’s mate and the unborn offspring spontaneously aborts right on the deck of the boat. After this the whale is pursuing the ship captain, even on land. There are some weird lighting effects to make the killer whale look demonic but to me it simply looked like someone was pointing a red flashlight at it. There is a barely mentioned parallel with the captain’s wife and child having been killed by a drunk driver a few years before. The truth is we never care about anyone in the movie so when they die or are maimed it is just an incident in the story.
Three or four places in the movie, Charlotte Rampling playing the scientist narrates events and subtext for the audience. The voice over in “Blade Runner” was five times less annoying and made ten times as much sense but most lovers of that film know that it should never have been there. Same with this one. The only characteristic that Harris has is his Irish accent. Otherwise there is basically no character there. He is just a wooden figure to be moved around the game board until the movie is over. Keenan Wynn is a character actor who is given no character to play, I’m not sure if he had more that a couple of lines. Bo Derek is in the movie, and she has that 70’s pretty girl look about her. You would never know that in two years she would be the sexiest thing on the planet. Anyone who says she is acting in this movie, doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
My only fond memory of this movie takes place after it was over. The movie came out in 1977, the same year as “Star Wars” and a year before “Jaws 2”. So it is intended as a picture for a younger crowd, Dolores and I took her brother Danny to see the movie. He was about sixteen, and we went to the Cerrito’s Shopping center to the multi-plex there. As we were walking out of the aisle, Dolores stepped in a popcorn bucket and went most of the way to the ground. Danny stepped right around her and said to everyone else coming out of the same aisle, “Somebody should help that poor lady”, and then he kept on walking. We laughed about this a hundred times since then, and I still say out loud “Somebody Help that Poor Lady”, when Dee stumbles or drops something. So although the movie was not good, there was some value in exiting the theater that had nothing to do with being thankful the picture was done.
Yeah, one of the film that tried to leverage Jaws for its own marketing. It has some moments (much like another rip-off flick, GRIZZLY), but it definitely pales next to you-know-what. Thanks, Richard.