Orca: The Killer Whale [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (10th January 2018).
The Film

"Orca: The Killer Whale" (1977)

Captain Nolan (played by Richard Harris) and his crew are hunting for marine animals off the coast of Newfoundland. They are on a hunt for a shark in order to sell to the local aquarium but during the operation they nearly have a tragic incident with Ken (played by Robert Carradine) falling in water and the shark coming directly to him. His life is saved by an orca that rams its body into the shark, killing it violently while saving the human from certain death. Seeing that capturing an orca could raise the bounty higher, Nolan leads the crew into capturing one, but things go seriously wrong. The male is grazed and the female mate is hit. The female gets injured extremely badly and eventually miscarries a baby orca. During the struggle the male continues to attack the boat, leading Nolan and the crew having to give up the capture and retreat.

The surviving male orca is not finished yet. Seeking revenge, the male follows Nolan's ship to the mainland, taunts his ship, and eventually causes mass destruction not only to Nolan and his crew but to the townsfolk. Marine biologist Dr. Rachel Bedford (played by Charlotte Rampling) gives him a stern warning with the intelligence of the mammals as does Umilak (played by Will Sampson) whose Native American ancestors have passed down the stories of the orca for generations. Will Nolan be able to redeem himself or will the guilt of killing the pregnant female orca get the best of him?

"Orca: The Killer Whale" came hot off the heels... or fins of "Jaws" released in 1975, the massive hit that kickstarted the summer box office phenomenon and the first film to ever cross the $100 million mark in theatrical grosses. "Animal vs Man" became a hot genre in the years following, with the heavily inspired "Piranha" in 1978 to the heavily ripped off "Great White" in 1981. But before those came along, producer Dino De Laurentiis went with a story of a killer whale rather than a killer shark in 1977's "Orca". In 1976 De Laurentiis found very big success with the remake of "King Kong" and looked to capitalize on a film with great creature effects and excitement. Even to separate it from "Jaws" the first scene literally has an orca violently killing a shark with blood seeping into the water on screen. "Orca" tries to tell the audience that this is NOT "Jaws" but it is hard to run, or swim away from such a heavy beast of a film. While "Orca" may share a lot of common points with the Spielberg shark film, it does hold up on its own.

Rather than comparing "Orca" to "Jaws" the film it has more in common with is 1974's "Death Wish". Yes, the Charles Bronson starring uber-violent vengeance film and its many sequels. A man's wife is brutally murdered. His child basically left for dead. He tracks down the killers and offs them one by one through vengeful means. Is that the premise for "Death Wish"? Or is it the premise of the killer whale in "Orca"? How about both? If seen only through the eyes of the male orca, the film is a tale of vengeance against the killers of his family. With the film frequently stating the intelligence of the orca, how they are monogamous and have only one mate for life, and that their skills with sounds transcend the complexities of language, making orca possibly more intelligent than humans in many aspects. But for the male orca to go on a destruction spree causing houses to fall from pillars into the sealine? Causing the destruction of fuel reserves for massive explosions around the coastal town? It might be a far stretch but there is some satisfaction as the audience in many ways are most likely rooting for the animal rather than the humans.

For the human characters, there are the aforementioned characters such as Charlotte Rampling's character Rachel and Will Sampson's character Umilak who know the warning signs and try to stop Nolan from making the wrong decisions. But because the film centers on Richard Harris's character of Nolan who so far seems like a horrendous person, but Harris and the script is able to put a slight push of humanity onto the basically unlikable captain. Although he has some scenes of coldness and sights on money, he does have some scenes that show absolute guilt on taking the orca's life and the consequences he faces along the way. The deaths of crewmates including Keenan Wynn, and the loss of Bo Derek's leg. The body count rises and he knows it won't stop unless he takes that responsibility fully. Harris puts in a fine performance even if the character could have been easily two dimensional. Rampling and Sampson as the moral centers are fair, but neither have the time to truly get their characters fully realized, and it does seem strange how Dr. Rachel seems to have some feelings toward Nolan in the second half.

Unfortunately the weakest point of the film comes with the editing and special effects. The shots of the Orcas were done with a mix of real orcas in tanks and animatronic orcas in the water. The scenes of the bites, the toppling house, some underwater fights unfortunately look fake. The editing covers up the cheapness by cutting very quickly and not fully showing actions and they are noticeable. Compared to "Jaws" which had amazingly well paced editing was a technical marvel - even though some were not necessarily planned that way but ended up being so in the editing room. "Orca" doesn't have the same grace and suffers in that sense. The tension is killed, the flaws become noticeable, and overall feels cheap.

"Orca" is not a total winner or total failure, as it features fine performances and an intriguing vengeance story, but the direction by Michael Anderson and the pacing does suffer at times. De Laurentiis was hoping the film would be a smash just as the previous year's "King Kong" was but unfortunately it came up a little short. The $6 million budgeted film grossed a healthy $14 million at the box office, which was a profit, but nowhere near the $90 million that "King Kong" made. "Orca" fell towards obscurity but remained a cult hit in the many years since in the ecological horror/monster genre.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray which can be played back on any Blu-ray player worldwide


Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The high definition transfer is good, but not great. It is presented in the original theatrical ratio and the framing is fairly good throughout. Colors seem fairly accurate though nothing really pops out in terms of high definition. Blues and greens are not particularly vivid and detail is not as rich as it could be. Some dust, specs, and scratches can be found throughout, especially towards the sides of the frame. Not too distracting but they are noticeable. The film has not gone through a major restoration unfortunately, but it is still on the watchable side.

The film's runtime is 92:15.


English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono

There are two audio tracks, both presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. The 5.1 track is a full remix while the 2.0 is the original mono track. The mono track is fairly good with the balance of music, effects, and dialogue, with no major issues of hisses, pops, or audio errors to speak of, and is a good way to experience the original version as one would have experienced in 1977. The 5.1 mix is mostly front heavy, with the music, effects, and dialogue spread throughout the left, center, and right speakers. Master composer Ennio Morricone's score is spread and sounds fairly good, but the dialogue spread to the front channels does have more of an echoey effect rather than a natural effect.

There are optional English HoH subtitles in an off-yellow font for the main feature. The subtitles have a few errors here and there such as some words being capitalized by mistake and mispellings. ("Felt" spelled as "Feltl", etc)


Audio commentary with film historian Lee Gambin
Lee Gambin, writer of "Massacred By Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film" gives a non-stop commentary on the film and its place in the eco-horror genre. From information on the cast and crew, shooting in Canada and Malta, behind the scenes tidbits, information on other similar films, and much more. It's highly detailed, fun, and very informative even on a solo run.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0

"Moby Dick Ala De Laurentiis: Martha De Laurentiis Remembers Orca" featurette (4:56)
Dino De Laurentiis' business partner since 1980 and his wife since 1990, Martha De Laurentiis shares some thoughts on the film's place in her late husband's cannon of work. Considering the film was made before their partnership, she doesn't have too much information to share about the production itself unfortunately.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Theatrical Trailer (2:40)
The original US trailer with the Paramount Pictures logo is presented. Although it is a 1080p transfer, it is from a very weak source looking a bit blurry.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

The film's life on DVD has been basically barebones with some editions offering a trailer at most. On Blu-ray the film was released earlier in Italy by Pulp Video and Japan by Happinet, and for both only a trailer was present as an extra. Gladly Australia's Umbrella Entertainment gave the film a little extra push by including some newly created extras, and also including an optional 5.1 track - which was a first for the film on home video.


The rear cover mistakenly mentions the disc is region B only, but rest assured it is in fact region ALL.
The cover art is reversible with the opposite artwork looking identical except for the removal of the Australian rating logo on the front.


"Orca: The Killer Whale" is a very enjoyable "Man vs Nature" film with action, vengeance, and killer whale mayhem, though the cheapness of the production can get in the way of things at times. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray features a fair transfer, fairly good audio, and some good supplements making this recommended!

The Film: B- Video: B Audio: A- Extras: B Overall: B


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