Orca (1977)


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Dino De Laurentiis, as I pointed out in my Body of Evidence review, has seemingly produced more Bad Movies than everyone else put together. He hit an especially rich, albeit rotten, vein of cinematic ore when he became obsessed with the idea of outdoing Jaws. (Of course, Jaws is a movie that launched perhaps more bad rip-offs than any other film in history. De Laurentiis was just the most persistent producer of such stuff.) Stated succinctly, Dino believed that the key to surpassing that blockbuster was to make a similar movie, but one with more heart.

While producing the 1976 remake of King Kong, he was quoted as saying the following, all in his thick, Italian accent: “When-a Jaws-a die, a-nobody cry. But when-a Konk die, everyone a-cry.” Well, people cried when they saw his King Kong, alright. At least if they were fans of the old version. Failing to make the mark with Kong, however, Dino kept trying. There was a Kong sequel, King Kong Lives, which is even worse than his first one, the Charles Bronson Western/Killer Animal flick The White Buffalo (featuring Orca co-star Will Sampson), and, most impressively, our featured presentation today.

We open with an ‘atmospheric’ black screen, featuring a pair of numerical counters on the bottom of the picture. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is playing ‘whale’ noises, like one of those New Age “Environments” cassettes. Mournful music begins, making that observation all the more relevant. To the dismay of all real movie fans, we discover that the score was composed by Soundtrack Icon Ennio Morricone, most famous for his scores for Sergio Leone’s westerns. On the plus side, this means that the film will actually feature some decent music. On the minus side, it means that Ennio Morricone scored…Orca! Ewwww!

So as lush angelic voices, so typical of Morricone’s work, spill across the screen, we watch a goofy shot of two killer whales (or Orcas) leaping from the water. Unfortunately, not even Morricone’s themes can keep this from looking a bit silly, not to mention dull. Then, less than a minute into the film, the shockingly shoddy editing begins to assert itself.

The first shot of the leaping aquatic mammals is an obvious matte shot, with the Orcas frolicking in dark waters composited against a ‘sunrise’ shot. Then, we immediately cut to shots obviously filmed in the middle of a sunny day, with the whales leaping from pale blue waters (that, quite obviously, were shot in an aquarium tank). It’s like we went from dawn to noon in a split second. I thought only Ed Wood did that kind of stuff.

Anyway, this less than completely dramatic footage is meant to inform us that Orcas are naturally happy and frolicsome creatures. After all, De Laurentiis wouldn’t want to sued by the OADL (Orca Anti-Defamation League). So be sure that the film will provide our Neptunian hero a good reason for his eventual ‘thrilling’ rampage. Oh, the footage also informs us to sit back and get ready to endure lots of boring ‘whale’ footage. This second point, however, may not have been as intentional on the part of the filmmakers.

Anyway, this sequence runs on for two solid minutes (!), with the whales leaping through the water and snuggling and whatever. The scene closes with a ‘sundown’ shot, so I guess this was all meant to represent a typically idyllic day in the life of a killer whale. What really comes across is just how mind-boggingly dull it must be to be a whale. I mean, decades of this? You’re bored after watching it for two minutes. And for all the tree huggers out there, yes, I’m sure that whales are honestly content with their lot. Of course, so might people who’ve had lobotomies.

Uh, oh. I've got a baa-ad feeling about this!

This is the natural happy state of a Killer Whale - unless somebody triggers their profound instinct for vengeance.

We next pan from a canvas tent to a rocky bay, where we spot a small boat in the distance. Nearby, a reel to reel tape recorder is playing ‘whale’ sounds, which are fed via cable to play from an underwater speaker. We see a scuba diver in the water, checking the wire. Presumably, they’re attempting to attract Orcas by playing whale sounds in the water. However, the cries instead attract stock footage, in this case stock footage of a big ol’ shark. Hmm, a shark. I wonder what that’s supposed to remind us of.

The diver swims into a little crevice, and attempts to cover herself (as we’ll see) with a rock. However, she drops the rock and it falls to the floor of the bay. Suddenly, the stock footage shark turns around, as if to say, ‘hey, what was that?!’ Now, as I understand shark sensory equipment, they pick up vibrations. This is why people splashing the water make such good targets. That means that rather than being attracted to the diver, the shark should go check out point where the rock hit the floor. But, of course, this wouldn’t be very ‘exciting.’ (As you might have guessed, it isn’t very exciting as portrayed, either.)

Up on the surface, we cut to a fishing boat. On deck we see Novak, a crusty old salt played by Keenan Wynn. Wynn is best known for his comical villain roles in a series of live-action Disney flicks, most notably as Alonzo Hawk in The Absent Minded Professor and Herbie Rides Again. So it seems somewhat odd to see him playing a straight role, here as a sailor waiting around to get et by an Orca (oops, hope I didn’t blow anything there). In any case, Novak tosses a big hunk of meat on a heavy chain into the water. Presumably, the ship is fishing for sharks.

Also onboard, up in the Crow’s Nest, we spot our main, uh, character, Nolan, captain of the boat. He’s but a poor fisherman just trying to eke a living from the sea (Arrr, shiver me timbers). Dave is played by veteran Irish hambone Richard Harris, promising us plenty of chewed scenery in our immediate future. I guess De Laurentiis figured that if a hammy Irish alcoholic actor pulled them in for Jaws (Robert Shaw, who played the crusty Quint, captain of, hey!, the good ship Orca!), then it should do the same here.

As an added bonus for Bad Movie-ologists, Annie, another crew member (wearing an odd ‘Peter Pan’ sort of outfit), proves to be played by Bo Derek. This is even before her starmaking appearance in Ten, and needless to say, Bo’s smooth and unspoiled (if vacuous) face is hardly indicative of somehow who makes their living on the open seas. The final member of the crew is Paul, Annie’s boyfriend, played by Peter Hooten. Paul’s a clone of the early, bearded Richard Dreyfuss (circa, oh, I don’t know…Jaws).

Coming down from the Cuckoo’s, er, Crow’s Nest, Dave spots the shark’s fin breaching the water. He spouts some miscellaneous nautical jargon, just to lend the scene verisimilitude. Fans of ‘sea stories’ will thrill to hear Harris spout such terminology as ‘ten o’clock,’ ‘sheer off’ and ‘pitching’ in his thick Irish brogue. Just like in Jaws, Nolan walks out onto a projected, railed part of the deck with a rifle that fires a line.

Nolan is waved off the diver’s partner, Ken, the guy in the inflatable raft (remember?). Ken is played by Robert Carradine, later star of Revenge of the Nerds, and son of Bad Movie perennial John Carradine. Nolan doesn’t hear or see him, though, and gives Paul orders to pursue the shark. Afraid that the boat will kill his partner, Ken motors in front of it, trying to force them off.

Richard Harris remembers happier days, when he was singing the classic tune, "MacArthur's Park."

The cadaverous Charlotte Rampling, in another of the movies that ruined her career.

Paul, spotting him, goes hard to starboard, causing Nolan to miss the shark. This is all very confusing. And none of it, not the diver being menaced by the killer shark, the diver being menaced by Nolan’s boat, Ken cutting off Nolan’s boat, Nolan’s boat trying to get the shark, is at all interesting. Still, it’s, uh, busy.

Ken eventually manages to haul the diver into the raft. They drift over to Nolan’s boat, where he comes over to chew them out. However, he comes to a shocked stop when he sees that the diver is the ‘beauteous’ Charlotte Rampling. Actually, that’s unfair. Rampling was kind of a minor sex symbol in the ’70s, so apparently many do find her attractive. However, to me she’s just really, really thin and somewhat creepy looking. In any case, though, it’s hard to fathom her eventual attraction (oops, sorry) for the bedraggled Nolan.

Nolan and Paul eventually start complaining about missing the shark, which would have netted them “$250,000” (!) from an aquarium. This figure results from the following calculation: An aquarium will pay $1,000 a foot, and the shark here is figured to be “twenty-five feet is he was a yard!” Now, admittedly, we never see anything we can scale the shark against, but in no way does the footage here indicate anything on the order of so giant a beast. Also, no great white shark has ever survived in captivity, so the institution would be paying a quarter of a million bucks for a corpse. Of course, I see no equipment on board Nolan’s ship that would allow him to transport a living sea creature anyway (more on this later).

Of course, the shark soon returns, because they haven’t rung all the ‘excitement’ out of it yet. Rachel climbs into Nolan’s boat, while Ken decides to try to get the raft to safety. This seems, umm, unlikely. After all, we’re talking about a roughly eight foot inflatable craft driven by smallish outboard motor. Meanwhile, we’re told, the shark is twenty-five feet long, the same size as the shark in Jaws (remember that) and about three times as long as his wee boat. Such a shark would also weigh somewhere between two and three tons, so you tell me how realistic Ken’s decision is. Why not just tie the raft onto the Bumpo.

Ok, we all know the kind of things that always happen when a monster is chasing you in a movie. A woman will always fall and twist her ankle. A car, no matter how new and expensive, will also grind away until the last second before starting. Etc. Here, Ken’s engine just happens to stall. And, like an utter doofus, Ken’s awkwardly stands up in the boat to try to restart it, and does a Jerry Lewis pratfall into the water. Gee, if I cared about anything happening in this movie, this would be very exciting.

Everyone on the Bumpo starts yelling for him to get back into his raft (yeah, as if that would help). Hearing this, Ken realizes his situation (duh), only to find that he’s now somehow gotten like fifty feet away from his boat (?!). He continues to swim, pursued by the shark which is now ‘realized’ though the duel methods of stock footage and a big rubber model. It looks like Ken’s about to become a shark snack.

But suddenly, just when we most expect it, an Orca comes streaking through the water (again, this was obviously shot in a tank) and smacks into the rubber shark, sending it flying from the water. The shark falls back down, mortally wounded. Hey! That shark was just as big as the one in Jaws! So I guess that our aquatic protagonist here is stronger than Bruce the Shark! Take that, Spielberg! This attempt to show that Orca ‘can beat’ Jaws is both hilariously adolescent as well as ultimately sad. I mean, c’mon, I gave up wondering if the Hulk was stronger than Thor about twenty years ago. Sorry, Orca, but Bruce starred in a good movie. That makes him ‘stronger.’

Now that De Laurentiis has had his little victory, it’s time to rub it in. As Nolan gasps in wonder, Rachel clues him in. “There’s only one creature in the world that could do that,” she notes. A rhino? An elephant? Mike Tyson? Nope. “A killer whale.” Now, let’s be generous, and say that she means an elephant couldn’t because it’s not in the water. But only a killer whale? What, a sperm whale couldn’t? A blue whale, the largest animal to ever exist on the planet?

The mighty Orca smashes into a dangerous rubber shark...

...sending it flying high into the air. Wheee!

Rachel continues blabbing about Orcas, and we eventually see that it’s later, and that she’s giving a scientific (well, sorta) lecture in a hall. Here we learn about all the amazing qualities of the Killer Whale (See IMMORTAL DIALOG). My favorite line is when she mentions their “profound instinct for vengeance.” (!!) This is really an amazing piece of work, even for this kind of movie. Basically, the idea is that Orcas, are, like, you know, way awesome, and you shouldn’t get one pissed off. Of course, if no one here pissed off an Orca, we wouldn’t have a movie. Not that we really have a movie here, anyway. But, you know…

We cut away to see Nolan cutting out an inlet by stringing a net across it. Rachel appears, and she continues her narration. Nolan has become an attentive member of her lectures, and has followed up with questions after class. Now comes the film’s most utterly fantastic scene, despite the superorcan feats that Orca will later perform. For Rachel notes that Nolan’s combination of ignorance and curiosity, “made him seem vulnerable, and even attractive.” (!) A somewhat more realistic theory is expounded a moment later, “It was that or I’d been in Newfoundland too long.” (Although it’s hard to believe you could be anywhere that long.)

Of course, Rachel not exactly coming across like a brainiac, anyway. Hmm, Nolan’s attending your lectures, huh? Nolan, the guy who you met when he was hunting a large aquatic animal, looking to capture it and sell it to an aquarium. Yet, the idea that Nolan might be interested in doing the same with one of her adored Killer Whales has apparently not entered her pseudo-scientific little head. Instead, she seems pleased to be drawing the attraction of a scraggly, fishy smelling sea dude. Giggle giggle.

Seeing the netting cutting off the inlet to create a holding pen, Rachel finally figures out what’s happening. Needless to say, she’s less than pleased. She basically calls him a slaver, accusing him of selling ‘a fellow creature.’ Note that she’s using these ‘arguments’ with a middle aged fisherman who’s lived in isolated Newfoundland all his life. In other words, probably not a guy who’s spent a lot of time at Starbucks downing CafÈ Lattes and spouting about animal ‘rights.’

Rachel actually thinks that Nolan won’t be able to capture one of those super-intelligent Orcas. Rather, she more fears that he’ll kill a bunch of them in the attempt. She even offers to sleep with him if it’ll keep him off the hunt (talk about going beyond the call of duty…). Nolan, unsurprisingly, is less than complimented to be told that he’ll likely be outwitted by a fish. (Although, given this exact guy, perhaps it’s not so implausible.) In any case, after a mutedly angry exchange, we end up about where you’d think: Nolan’s going after an Orca, and Rachel’s pissed off about it.

We cut to some more nature footage of the Orcas, again showing how lighthearted their lives are. I have to say, though, if Rachel’s has right about their stellar intelligence, their lives must actually be a nightmare of boredom. I mean, what do they do? Swim. Eat. Make little Orcas. You’d really think that super IQs would require them to do a little more than just frolic in the waves all day. I think that real reason the Orca later goes after Nolan is that it envies this mental pigmy his opposable thumbs. Why, if Orcas had those, I guess they’d rule the world!

On the Bumpo, Annie is loading the harpoons with ‘dope’ (and if any actress knows about ‘dope,’ it’s Bo Derek!). (Please note: That last ‘dope’ reference should not be read as an indication that Ms. Derek had a reputation as being a pothead. That would be rude. I was actually referring to the fact that she’s stupid.) Asking how much, Nolan gives her a less than educated guesstimate, proving that Rachel’s fears were pretty well justified. (I mean, if you asked an Orca how much dope to use on a human being, he’d quickly calculate factors like age, sex and body weight and give you an answer exact down to the last milligram.)

See? Killer Whales have bigger brains than humans. (Of course, if you're talking Richard Harris and Bo Derek...)

Boy, if I had a dollar for every bad movie that featured an oscilloscope...

Annie, oddly, starts lecturing Nolan on Orcas. She notes that they’re monogamous. Nolan, of course, has to ask what ‘monogamous’ is. Anyway, you’d have thought that this basic point would have been cited during the numerous lectures that Nolan attended. Annie, being a girl and everything, is worried that they’ll be breaking up a family. Listen to her, Nolan, listen to her! Let’s just end this film before it ends in tragedy, like wasting another hour and fifteen minutes of my life.

Wishful thinking, on both Annie’s and my parts, as Nolan decides to pursue his course. From the Crow’s Nest, Novak shouts out, having spotted stock footage of Killer Whales. Nolan runs out onto the spar of the ship, aiming his harpoon rifle. Amazingly, he misses (!) one nearby whale, merely nicking its fin. (This is to enable the audience to identify this Orca, so we’ll call him ‘Nick.’ I guess that makes his ‘wife,’ ‘Nora.’) The errant harpoon continues on, spearing Nora, resulting in a suspiciously human scream. Inept as Nolan is, though, it rather undermines Rachel’s faith that the Orcas will prove too smart to be captured.

Nora continues to writhe in agony, ‘screaming’ all the time. Annie notes that they speared the female rather than the male. Why is this such a big deal? Is it ‘meaner’ to capture a female Orca than a male Orca? Would a guy Orca be more stoic about being harpooned than a girl whale? The wounded female tries to escape, but Nolan keeps tracking her. Then, in a moment that should lay to rest the whole ‘Orca’s supreme intelligence’ notion, Nora runs right into Nolan’s propellers, cutting herself open pretty good. This is the smartest animal on the planet?

Annie somehow intuits that, “she’s trying to kill herself!” (How would she know?) This seems a little extreme, as the harpoon isn’t a killing weapon, but merely meant to attach a line to its target. And why isn’t Nick doing anything. Later in the film he’ll go around smashing up ships like nobody’s business. Why doesn’t he now attack the ship assaulting his mate? Nolan, quite obviously horrified by the whole situation (perhaps because actor Harris is unused to being out-hammed, even by a Killer Whale), orders the engines shut down.

Engines down, Nolan and Novak make preparations to haul the wounded beastie up on board. (Apparently, Nolan’s Master Plan for capturing a live Orca was to spear it, then haul it up into the air over the ship’s deck until they get back to his holding bay. I hope Rachel told him how long Orcas can survive out of water.) Meanwhile, Nick circles the boat, as an ominous music cue plays. Apparently, he’s less than pleased to see Nora winched up onto the Bumpo. Then Nick pops his head out of the water, the better to get a good look.

Then, in the film’s gruesome ‘highlight,’ Nora spontaneously aborts an Orca fetus, in slow-motion yet. (This will presumably trigger Nick’s vaunted ‘profound instinct for vengeance.) Frankly, Nora’s death would have been enough motivation for the audience, and this just really seems much too gross an image for an ‘entertainment’ picture. Still, this obviously meant to lend more justification for Nick’s quest for revenge. In case you haven’t gotten it, this isn’t a ‘monster’ movie, like Jaws. Instead, it’s meant to be a ‘tragedy,’ with the actions of flawed but basically good man turning a supra-intelligent yet peaceful being into a bitter, reprisal driven crusader. Oh, the Humanity! And the, uh, Orcanity, too, I guess.

Nick makes loud dinosaur sounds of torment as Nolan hoses the fetus off the deck. Then, in a significant moment, we get the first close-up of Nick’s staring eye. This is presumably meant to be a menacing visual, given the context of the scene and all, and will be oft repeated throughout the film. Then Nick turns and leaves, providing us with one last continuity error, as in this shot he clearly has no nick in his fin.

Nora the Whale runs into the ship's propeller. This is the smartest animal in the world?

Actor Keenan Wynn ponders how a movie about a Killer Whale can be less realistic than a film featuring a sentient Volkswagon.

We get a shot of the Bumpo, complete with hanging whale, silhouetted against the falling sun. (Again, how long can these things live outside the water?) This looks like one of the old Miller Beer adds. (“When it’s time to relax…”) Meanwhile, Nick rises from the depths to smash into the bottom of the boat. Paul is the first to figure out that they’ve been hit, rather than having hit something. As for Annie, she’s fallen over in the galley and broken her leg.

Nolan runs up topside and turns on a spotlight, searching the waters. Novak, meanwhile, checks out the flooding engine compartment. Nolan spots Nick and tries a shot at him as he rams the boat again. He decides to release the still barely living Nora back into the water, hoping this will distract Nick. He tells Novak to give him a hand. Novak shimmies out onto a projecting boom to cut the ropes binding here, and I doubt if a total of six people who have seen this movie didn’t see what was coming.

Sure enough, Nick comes jumping out from the water, and just like a tame Killer Whale at Sea World leaping for a fish, grabs Novak in his jaws and pulls him under. At least Novak was able to turn himself into a mannequin before he went down. That always lessens the pain of being chomped on a Killer Whale (which, anyway, is equally bogus in this shot.) As Paul scans the water with the searchlight, Nick rises from the water for another ‘eye shot.’ Ooh, spooky!

Next up is a funeral procession, with a pod of whales following Nick as he pushed Nora into the sunset. Morricone’s much-too-good score tries to add an authentically somber tone, but is ultimately defeated by the silly context of the scene. At one point, the others turn around, leaving Nick and Nora to their, choke, respective destinies. Of course, the audience has been fantasizing about doing the same for half an hour by this point. Hmm, maybe Orcas are smarter than people.

Nick ends up beaching Nora’s body on a stony beach. Another camera angle reveals this to be the bay where the Bumpo is harbored. Arriving shortly after, Nolan and Paul spot the body. Could it be a message of some sort? Nolan walks over, meeting Rachel, who’s sitting watch over the corpse. Rachel informs Nolan that Nick followed his ship in, and purposely left Nora behind for Nolan’s edification.

This theory is confirmed by the suddenly appearing Jacob, an American Indian (and thus, in movie shorthand, a ‘nature’ savant). Although an ostensibly intelligent and educated person, Jacob still talks like an ‘Indian.’ In fact, his first line is, “She speaks you the truth.” Jacob is played by Will Sampson, who had major roles in such cinema classics as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and, memorably, played Ten Bears in The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Unfortunately, Sampson only, of course, got ‘Indian’ parts, and ended up in this and other junk like The White Buffalo, another Dino De Laurentiis wannabe. Even more insultingly, Jacob is even more stereotypical of an ‘Indian’ role than the Indians in Prophecy, about two steps up from Tonto (who at least was the product of a more unenlightened time). Sampson must have be quite aggrieved at having to accept such roles in order to find work.

Now Nolan’s team is assembled for his eventual confrontation with Nick. At his side, other than the experience Seaman Paul will be Rachel, avatar of Man’s Scientific Knowledge, and Jacob, the personification of Man’s ability to become one with Nature. Oh, and there’s his boat and rifle and stuff, too. Still, Nick’s, well, an Orca. Hardly seems a fair fight. Maybe if they supplied Nolan with a Seawolf-class submarine or something.

Actor Peter Hooten, playing Paul, demonstrates his chilling impression of Robert Foxworth in PROPHECY.

Bo communes with spirits, seeking assistance in getting through this film.

Sampson warns Nolan (in Indian speak) that Nick’s out to get him, but Nolan refuses to listen. Rachel chimes in. “He saw you, Nolan,” she warns. “He saw you on the deck of the boat.” At the least, though, Nolan will stay out of Nick’s neck of the ocean, and give up on hunting Orcas. Then we cut to a church, where Nolan and Paul are the only attendees at Mass for Novak’s death. This seems odd. Certainly, in a community of sea going types, you’d think that the funeral of a fellow fisherman who died at sea would draw a little better.

Nolan meets with the Reverend after the service. First we get some boring expository dialog, as Nolan explains about how an Irish laddie like hisself ended here in Newfoundland. (As if we give a rat’s ass.) Nolan finally comes out with his real question. “Can you commit a sin against an animal?” “Why, you can commit a sin against a blade of grass,” comes the reply. This is very informative. For instance, it informs us that the Reverend is some kind of New Age theological crackpot. This is confirmed when he continues to explain that, “Sins are really against oneself.” (Wow!) Boy, glad he didn’t bring that whole, old-fashioned ‘God’ thing into it.

When Nolan and Paul walk down to the dock, they are met by another local fisherman. This is Swain, the representative for the other sailors. It turns out that the other fishermen are superstitious about hunting Orcas, wisely fearing the wrath of this superior, god-like species. Swain is relieved to hear that Nolan has given up the hunt. It turns out that vengeance driven Orcas scare off fish (not to mention audiences).

As if on cue (which it was), Nick’s fin breaches the water out in the bay. Then he submerges, entering the inlet in secret. Soon a couple of boats, unwisely fashioned of balsa wood, fall to his snout. This latest message delivered, Nick returns to sea. Later that night, a drunken Nolan (boy, it must have been hard for Harris to play that scene) watches as they haul off Nora’s body. Rachel drops by to loan him a book, leading to Nolan to stutter out the title word, “mythology.” Hmm, maybe he’d have more luck with the words, ‘clichÈ’ and ‘uninspired.’

Nolan invites Rachel to attend a wake he’s throwing for Nora (!). Then Swain drives up, wanting a word. Swain informs Nolan that repairs on the Bumpo are being given top priority. The reason being, the community wants Nolan to go kill that whale so as to get off their collective backs. Nolan, of course, has decided to stay away from Nick. Swain, however, notes the sunken ships in the bay, and the fish, which Nick is apparently chasing off so as to starve out the town. As well, Nick has been seen circling the area, waiting for Nolan to come out and fight.

Musing, Nolan wanders onto a little peninsula in the water, where he looks out upon the waters. Sure enough, Nick makes an appearance (after we waste about two ‘suspenseful’ minutes waiting for him to show), culminating in another ‘eye shot.’ He bellows a challenge, and an Orca-eye view shows us Nolan from Nick’s perspective. (Wow!) A lighting fixture that illuminates the end of the peninsula casts Nick in an ‘eerie’ red glow, an incredibly lame attempt at an ‘artistic’ touch. This causes Nolan to experience flashbacks of the aborting whale fetus (like it wasn’t obnoxious enough the first time) and a car crash. This will all be boring explicated later.

Early the next morning, we see Swain informing the fishermen that no authority will take responsibility for killing Nick. Why? Because that would mess up the whole movie. Meanwhile, Nolan walks out onto the balcony of his rented shack (remember, he doesn’t live here, he’s just hiding from Nick) to find Jacob. Jacob informs Nolan that he’s considered a coward for refusing to hunt Nick down. Nolan replies that he has other reasons, and of course Jacob, being a wise Indian and all, accepts that this is true.

Despite this, Jacob has come to urge Nolan to confront Nick. Things have gone to far to come to a peaceful conclusion, and Nick can only be stopped by being killed. Thanking Jacob for his advise, Nolan reenters his house. Looking for Paul, he opens his bedroom door, where he finds him in bed with Annie, cast and all. I guess that this is supposed to somehow be humorous, although it isn’t in the slightest. Why do I think this? I can’t say, other than to point out that there seems no other even remotely logical reason for the scene’s appearance.

That night, Nolan puts up a dummy (insert joke here), a sort of a scare-Nolan, on the peninsula’s edge. Presumably, this is to fool Nick for some purpose. Ha! As if Nick, who would make Einstein look like a mental midget (I mean, he’s an Orca, right?), would fall for such a ridiculous ruse! Rachel makes one of her periodic appearances to check out what Nolan’s up to. It turns out that Nolan’s plan was to lure Nick into sight and cap him with a hunting rifle.

Rachel tells him that Nick won’t show. The reason he sank only other boats and left the Bumpo alone is because he wants Nolan to come and confront him on the open waters. Nolan, obviously, in less than enthusiastic at the idea. Still, he admits that he doesn’t have the heart to shoot Nick down (then what’s with the scarecrow?). Having been told repeatedly that Orcas can communicate, Nolan hopes to apologize to Nick, let him know that the whole thing was a tragic mistake, and beg his forgiveness. (!!)

Nick, however, has other ideas, entering the town’s docking bay. Back by the peninsula, Nolan keeps watch with Rachel, having borrowed her tent. (In fact, you could say this whole scene is ‘in tents.’ Ha! My little joke.) This is Harris’ big “OscarÆ Clip” moment, as he divulges the real reason he wishes to come to peaceful terms with Nick.

It turns out that Nolan’s pregnant wife, driving to the hospital, was struck by a drunken driver. Both the wife and child died. A close-up of Rachel’s reaction shows her to be broken up, but whether over Nolan’s sad tale, or by Harris’ maudlin performance, we don’t really know. What’s truly odd about this ‘big scene’ is that the camera is placed to Harris’ back, so we get at best a slight profile as he spills his guts to Rachel. This is, to say the least, an odd directorial choice for a big ‘character’ moment.

Meanwhile, Nick is again attacking the community where Nolan’s hiding out. Conveniently, all the mechanisms he needs to wreak havoc project down into the water, or are placed directly over the water where he can leap into them. His first step is to jump up and smash some fuel lines that are, of course, projecting directly over the water. Then he hits an underwater strut (again, many of the buildings are conveniently built over the water, on top of underwater pillars). This causes a convenient lantern to fall over onto the spilling fuel, setting the entire dock ablaze.

OK, this is the scene that utterly breaks the reality test. Let’s grant that Orcas are fully as smart as humans. Still, they, lacking those opposable thumbs, have never been tool makers and builders. It is utterly, fantastically unbelievable to posit that Nick would understand what pipes are, understand that they carry fuel, understand that fuel is combustible (Orcas live in the water, for Pete’s sake!), that the buildings above him would come equipped with lanterns, that making a lantern fall would break it and start a fire, etc. Yet we are supposed to believe, not that Nick figured out one of these things, all of which are totally alien to his frame of reference. Instead, we’re to swallow that he figured each out, and was able to utilize this knowledge in a systematic fashion in order to attack the town. Frankly, Nick is the most intelligent creature I’ve seen this side of Ayla the cavewoman (See Clan of the Cave Bears.)

This is the movie’s big ‘money’ scene, by the way, so the amount of damage caused is epic. Half the town burns down. Boats are engulfed in flame and explode. And, finally, the fire travels back up the main fuel line to a nearby oil refinery (!!), blowing the huge fuel tanks. This is right up there with the killer bees in The Swarm causing a nuclear reactor to explode (although, to be fair, fuel tanks could explode, while reactors would instead melt down). Meanwhile, we are treated to cinematic shots of Nick, in the foreground, leaping merrily in front of the carnage he’s caused.

Nick the Whale smashes some conveniently placed fuel pipes...

...resulting in the nearby oil refinery (?!) 'dramatically' exploding.

The gigantic explosions bring Nolan and Rachel running from their tent. Trotting down to the end of the peninsula, they see Nick leap up from the water. This sprays Nolan with water, a visual oddly reminiscent of the ending of Free Willy, where Willy drips water all over that kid. The next morning finds the whole town working on the Bumpo. They obviously want Nolan’s crew out of town pronto.

That night, we stop by the house where Nolan, Paul and Annie are quartered. The camera pans past the house’s windows, from the outside looking in. (Wow, what an artistic statement about the essential nature of Voyeurism and Cinema. Or something.) Inside, Annie continues to convalesce in bed, as Paul does a weird little dance for her. (Yuck. More than we needed to know, really.) Then we pan to the living room window. Inside, Nolan is answering the phone.

Finally, the ‘cool’ effect noted, we actually inside the house. The call is from Swain, informing Nolan that the Bumpo is ready to set sail. A few threats of bodily harm are tossed in to give Nolan a little added motivation. Nolan calls Paul in, telling him to run into town and gas up their truck, so that they can split. Then he calls Rachel, telling her that he’s heading out after Nick. He tells her that what Nick wants. Oddly, Rachel (Rachel!) now replies that no one knows what Nick wants (yeah, the clues he’s left behind are so vague).

Rachel is further shocked to learn that Nolan plans to head out alone. (Plus, the Bumpo seems a rather large boat to be run single-handed.) Rachel then trots out the argument that it’s in Nick’s best interest that Nolan not go. This is under the logic that you wouldn’t necessarily give a crazed human anything he wanted, and so you shouldn’t give a crazed whale anything he wants. Nolan is stumped by this proposition (well, the movie never pretended he was very bright), and promises Rachel that he won’t go after Nick.

But the ultra-shrewd Nick is not to be so easily thwarted. Inside, Nolan starts to head out to the garage, to pack up some gear. Annie comes out and expresses an intuitive sense the something bad is going to happen (perhaps she’s seeing forward to BOlero or Ghosts Can’t Do It). Nolan sits the hobbling Annie down and tells her to relax. Then he runs to the garage to pack up. Meanwhile, Paul has arrived at the town service station, only to find that they won’t sell him gas. Jacob appears, and tells him that they will be allowed to leave the town in only one way: Via the Bumpo. Jacob offers to join the crew, but warns that fighting Nick is the only option Nolan has.

Back at the house, we see Nick swimming past the support pillars that keep it out of the water. (You’d think, particularly after Nick smashed similar posts to cause the fire, that Nolan would recognize the inherent vulnerability of his home. Nick certainly would have.) Inside, we see Annie bristle, as she senses her danger. Boy, dumb animals are always to first to figure it out, aren’t they? After dragging the scene out awhile, purportedly for ‘tension’ purposes, Nick starts ramming the pillars.

Nolan runs in to try to help Annie out, but the house has soon started tilting into the water. Paul appears and helps Nolan toss a net down the slanting floor for Annie to grab hold of. I should note that we periodically cut ‘outside’ to a hilariously cheezy model house that they use for the ‘special effects’ inserts. You don’t exactly have to have an expert eye for miniatures to recognize that the model work as presented is, uh, less then perfectly convincing.

Also, you can’t help but notice that the ‘person sliding down the slanting floor’ idea is ripped directly out of Jaws. Remember the scene where the shark leaps up onto the aft section of the Orca, causing Quint to slide right down into its teeth? Here, Annie ends up sliding down and projecting out of a section of broken wall, allowing Nick to (yes!) leap up and bite off her broken leg, cast and all. (!!) I have to give the movie this: This is one of the greatest scenes in motion picture history! (Although if you use the slo-mo button, you can see a quick shot of Annie’s cast sticking down through the floor above Nick’s head, after Nick has bitten it off!) Finally, realizing that there’s only a half hour of running time left, Nolan vows to go after Nick.

No miniature models will survive Nick the Whale's fearsome Reign of Terror.

You know you're in for it when you see that Bo Derek is (get ready for it) IN THE CAST!

We cut to the Bumpo leaving the harbor on a foggy morning. Joining him are Paul, Rachel (why would Nolan even think of letting her go on this voyage?), Jacob and Ken, Rachel’s assistant. (Why Rachel would allow Ken, who has Purina Whale ChowÆ written all over him, to come along isn’t explicated.) As they leave the docks, Nolan bitterly observes the assembled townsfolk, there to make sure that he gets going (and who can blame them?).

Rachel continues her periodic job as Narrator. One bit in particular stands out: “I’d insisted on leaving South Harbor with them. I told myself that somehow I was responsible for Nolan’s state of mind. That I had filled his head with romantic notions about a whale capable not only of profound grief, which I believed, but also of calculated and vindictive actions, which I found hard to believe, despite all that had happened.” Now, I’m going to direct you to the long speech included below under IMMORTAL DIALOG. During her lecture, Rachel informs her students that Orcas “have a profound instinct for vengeance,” and that they’re, in many ways, perhaps smarter than humans. This directly contradicts everything she ‘thinks’ here, despite the fact that all of Nick’s activities confirm her original teachings.

Rachel, the scientist, continues on, making statement that defy all the empirical evidence laid before her. “Maybe I hoped the voyage would give me another way to interpret the animal. It seemed a peculiar kind of human perversity to assume, that because the whale has an intelligence close to ours, it would also have our most primitive and ugly emotion: vengeance.” Now, first of all, I’m not sure that vengeance is an ’emotion.’ Second, why yes, it is rather difficult to believe that a fish could be as primitive as a human. The next thing you know, they’ll be leaving toilet seats up.

We learn that Nolan is heading back to the spot where he speared Nora. He believes that that is where Nick will be waiting for him. On the journey out, Ken asks if someone shouldn’t be keeping watch. Nolan tells him, “He’s not ready.” Then a minute later Nick attacks the ship. Perhaps this is meant to be sometime later, but there’s no indication of that. Paul grabs a rifle, but Nolan orders him to put it down. This is going to be a fair fight: Mano a whalo.

This is stupid on two fronts: First, as Nick presumably killed Annie, Paul has as much a stake in this as Nolan. Second, Nick has exactly been choosy about his victims. As we shall see, while Nolan has decided to fight him single handed, Nick has hardly sworn off the others as potential victims.

Nolan runs out on deck, carrying both a big-ass rifle and a bundle of dynamite sticks. Lighting the fuse, he calls out a depth-charge warning. Rachel, hearing this, runs over to stop him from using this unfair weapon (Rachel apparently intends to protect both Nolan and Nick, which is counterintuitive at best, and retarded at worst). Her struggles keep Nolan from ditching the lit dynamite. Then Nick hits the boat again, causing the TNT to fly from Nolan’s grip, whereupon it lands farther down the deck. Rachel manages to throw it overboard, whereupon it creates an extremely fakey superimposed ‘explosion.’

Now occurs one of the more ludicrous sequences in the film, which is saying something. Nick starts cavorting in the water, waving his tail at them, etc. Nolan, standing there with his gigantic whale rifle, tries to understand what he’s doing rather than taking the opportunity for an easy shot. I mean, even if he just shot off Nick’s tail, that would certainly render him incapable of movement, and allow Nolan to kill him off at his leisure. Instead, and I swear this is what happens, Nolan watches Nick’s antics and nods: “He wants us to follow him.”

OK, now Nolan came out here to kill Nick. So how do you possibly explain him skipping this perfect opportunity to blow him away. The Code of the West? (“Sorry, ma’am, but you just can’t shoot an hombre in the back, even if he is a polecat.”) And really, why, and I mean why, would he do what Nick wants him too? If Nick signals that they should drop their weapons and duke it out Man to Whale, would Nolan go along with that?

But, of course, Nolan goes along and follows Nick. Then he makes sure that Rachel is alright. Apparently, he only brought the three sticks of dynamite, so there goes that idea (good planning, chief). Next Ken strolls up on deck, and, duh, Nick suddenly jumps out of the water and grabs him. (Oh my god, they killed Kenny!) This is filmed in a series of quick, confusing close-ups, so that you can’t really tell that the sequence doesn’t seem to make sense. Oh, and remember when Nolan told Paul the fight was between him and Nick? Well, Nick doesn’t seem to be playing by the same rules. This makes Nolan’s following him seem even dumber.

Despite all this, the Bumpo continues on where Nick leads into the night. Inside, Rachel and Nolan are listening to Nick’s cries over an oscilloscope (don’t ask me, I’m just telling you what I see). Apparently hard up for conversation, Rachel asks Nolan, “What’s he telling you?” Nolan replies that he’s saying that Nolan’s his drunk driver. Rachel warns that the others will want to turn back now, and goes to relieve Paul on watch.

Up in the bridge, Rachel takes over. Apparently, they’ve come some distance, because their breath is visible now. Soon, dawn makes its appearance. Nolan is checking charts, and surmises that Nick is leading the Bumpo up to Labrador. That means ice fields, and Jacob warns that if the boat gets trapped, it’ll crush the Bumpo like a toy. “Well, ice cuts both ways,” Nolan notes, since Nick would have to smash through any ice to get air. Still, and again, why is Nolan following Nick’s lead? Why not turn around and either make Nick fight or let them go?

A vampire-like Rampling rises from her slab, er, bed, and offers to warm Nolan.

Actor Will Sampson wants out of this movie, and out of it now!

Later, Paul started to go a little bonkers. Jacob, meanwhile, comes up on the bridge to note that they don’t have enough fuel to make it back to port (!). Nolan mentions a radar station that they’re approaching. He tells them to signal an SOS and they’ll send a helicopter to rescue them. Jacob notices (duh) that Nolan said “lift you out,” and questions why he didn’t say, “lift us out.” From Nolan’s fatalistic chuckle, it’s apparent that he doesn’t believe he’ll be coming back.

Soon Nick has led the Bumpo into ice filled waters. The next ‘exciting’ bit occurs at night, when Nolan almost drives the boat into an iceberg. Paul and Jacob insist that they stop for the night (duh), but Nolan is now clearly insane. (Hmm, a little Ahab-itis appears to be the obvious diagnosis.) Jacob finally convinces the wired Nolan to grab some shuteye. Meanwhile, Paul continues to monkey with the lifeboat, for no good reason other than to place it over the water, where a leaping Orca could get it. Sure enough, Nick pops up again at just the right moment, shatters the lifeboat, and Paul bites it. Wow. How exciting.

Going back to his room, Nolan finds Rachel, looking more thin and cadaverous than ever, waiting in his bunk. “Come,” she says. “I’ll warm you.” Brrr. This is definitely the creepiest moment of the film, reminiscent of those scenes in vampire movies where the sexy female vampire tries to get her perspective victim to invite her in. The fact that she waits wearing only a light sweater with the sleeves rolled up while Nolan shivers in his heavy parka only adds to the impression. Nolan, though, has to yak some more (“Oh, what have I done, yada yada”). He tells her that tomorrow is the final day, then finally falls asleep in Rachel’s bony arms.

The next morning, indeed, we see Nick make his move. He begins pushing along a smallish iceberg. Back on the Bumpo, Nolan unlimbers his whale rifle as Rachel joins him on deck. “He loved his family more than I loved mine,” Nolan whispers. Whatever that means. Nolan then lays aside his rifle. “I won’t be needing this,” he explains. “It’s going to be a fair fight, on equal terms.” (!!!!) Rachel, listening to this, says nothing, perhaps hoping like the rest of us to just get the damn movie over with already. Instead, he grabs an old fashioned harpoon, of the throwing variety.

Nick is way ahead of him, of course, and still seems to be playing by different rules. “Just like an Irishman,” he’s probably thinking. “Bringing a harpoon to an iceberg fight!” Meanwhile, Jacob pops up on deck brandishing a rifle, ordering Nolan to start heading back. (You’d think he’d have suggested this when they had some fuel left.) Then Rachel runs up with news of the iceberg that’s approaching the ship, going against the current.

Nolan tells her to grab him the harpoon. He knows that Nick will have to come up for air soon. (Of course, Nick could just come up on the other side of the iceberg, where he’d be out of Nolan’s sight. And again, I think that if Nick’s using an iceberg, Nolan can fairly use the rifle. But what do I know?) Sure enough, though, Nick, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, surfaces to the side of the iceberg, allowing Nolan to plant the harpoon right in his side.

But the momentum of the berg carries it into the Bumpo, and we see the side of the boat stave in. Moreover, the boat is carried into an ice wall on the other side, pinning it in. Ice boulders dislodge from the ice wall, and Jacob makes his predestined exit, buried under tons of ice (or ounces of Styrofoam, anyway). Nolan and Rachel, meanwhile, grab some gear and jump out onto an ice floe as the Bumpo sinks to the bottom.

Nick chases them from under the ice, smashing up in spots while trying to get at them. Nolan, meanwhile, uses a shotgun in an extremely inefficient manner to hold him off (so much for the ‘no guns’ rule). Finally, Nolan slips, and ends up on a separate piece of ice, which Nick pushes away from Rachel’s. Rachel tosses him the shotgun, but when Nick rises, for one yet another ‘eye’ shot, Nolan of course refrains from firing, until it’s too late. (In an amusingly awful ‘art’ shot, we first see Nolan reflected in Nick’s eye, then Nick reflected in Nolan’s eye. This is even dumber than it sounds.)

In another ‘Quint’ scene, Nick leaps onto one side of the ice, forcing the other side up into the air. Unable to find purchase on the slippery surface, Nolan slides down into the water. Of course, this means that Nick is already dead, because the instant he leaves the water he’s going to freeze solid. But that wouldn’t be ‘dramatic,’ or ‘awesome.’ So Nick circles Nolan and then finally flips him out of the water with his tail, sending him crashing into an ice wall. Bye bye, Nolan.

As Rachel watches in horror, Nick swims over. However, he rises only for one last eye shot. I presume that this is meant to indicate that, with Nolan dead, he no longer means anyone harm. Then he swims away. Now, I notice that he’s swimming under the ice. Does he mean to kill himself, by denying himself air? Or did they just think it looked ‘neat?’ While we’re pondering that, a truly awful song, “My Love, We are One,” begins, sung to Morricone’s tragic theme music. This is sung by a woman with a truly awful voice, warbled in a queer pseudo-operatic style, and is really unimaginatively poor. Which, when you think about, makes it the perfect endnote for this film.

The director lets us know that he's an artist.

Wow. It's even cooler the second time.

IMMORTAL DIALOG:

OK, everybody, let’s all sing along with “My Love, We are One.” C’mon, you all know the lyrics, right?

I will dream,
the sun through darkened clouds,
and I will live with you, rainbows for your eyes.
Rainbows for your eyes.

My Love, We are One.
We are One!
We are One, My Love.
Let me lead you where the moonlit waters fall,
Shadows softly call My Love, Weeeee are Waa-Un!

We are One!
We are one, cried My Love!
Let me lead you through the stillness of the Night!
Deliver Dawn’s First Light, My Love!
Weeeee are Waa-Un!
Weeeee are Waa-Un!
Weeeee are Waa-Un!
Weeeeeeeee r-r-r-r-r-r Waa-un-n!

Dr. Rachel Bedford gives a lecture to a packed house of Bad Movie fanatics, here to see the dissemination of a giant wad of Expository Dialog, much of which seems to be rather, uh, dubiously substantiated:

“This is without challenge the most powerful animal on the globe. (1)

The Killer Whale. He is a mammal with warm blood (2), found in every sea.

The ancient Romans called him Orca Orcinus (3), Latin for the “The Bringer of Death.”

His tapered form and muscular fin make the Orca the fastest moving whale in all the oceans. (4)

The adult male measures around thirty feet and weighs six tons. But there have been cases where he’s run to forty-five feet. (5)

[The film accompanying the lecture cuts to a killer whale at a Sea World-type establishment.] Now, here’s a killer whale is what is probably his most familiar guise: Tamed, on exhibition. One captured as a pup, and brought up with men. (6) Treated with kindness, there is no creature that is a greater friend to man. (7)

But if not [dramatic pause]…The Orca’s mouth has forty-eight teeth set in two impressive rows. As parents, Killer Whales are exemplary, better than most human beings. (8)

And like human beings, they have a profound instinct for vengeance. (9)

Yet the most amazing thing about these creatures is neither their gentleness nor their violence, but their brains. [Slides are introduced, showing comparative sketches of the brain of four mammals.] Now, these three brains are of a monkey, a human being, and this is the brain of a Killer Whale. [Note: Killer Whale brain, as shown, is bigger than human brain.] We know very little about the nature of the Whale’s intelligence, except that it exists, and is powerful. (10)

And in some respects, it may even be superior to Man. (11)

[Slide of an Orca fetus is shown.] A four month old fetus, incredibly like that of a human baby, it even has two hands with five fingers on each. [A tape of Whale songs is now played.] Whales talk. They communicate, by a combination of pure sound, (12) and sonar echo-location.

[Turns on tape.] The whale sounds you are now hearing contain wavelengths that can travel, not just across one ocean basin, but around the entire world. (13)

This was recorded underwater, (14) and analyzed by computers at Caltech. (15)

It was found to contain fifteen million pieces of information. The Bible only contains four million. (16)

What are they saying? For that matter, do they have to say anything to communicate? (17)

Their sonar, would be a little like our having x-ray vision. (18)

If we could look into one another, and instantly know if someone else was happy or sad, (19) indifferent or aroused, (20) healthy, or suffering from a tumor we could actually see, (21) then a human phrase like “How are you?,” would be meaningless. (22)

What we call language, they might call unnecessary or redundant, or…retarded.” (23)


(1) Again, what about a Blue Whale? Also, one could make an argument that the President of the United States is more powerful, given that so few Killer Whales maintain gigantic arsenals of nuclear missiles. (Back)

(2) Uh, as opposed to…(Back)

(3) Whereas we call him “Borca Snorcinus,” which is Latin for “Bringer of Tedium induced Sleep.” (Back)

(4) He is also the fastest Whale on all but one of the Continents. (Back)

(5) Wow. I ran to forty-five feet one time, but I threw up afterwards. (Back)

(6) This, in fact, was the original concept for “The Brady Bunch.” (Back)

(7) You might want to remove your dog from the room before this line, or you’ll be hearing about it for the next two weeks. (Back)

(8) This according to comparative Human and Orca SAT scores. Young Orcas average seventeen percent higher scores than Humans in the same grade, although some Human advocates site cultural and speciest biases in the tests. (Back)

(9) Meaning that any Killer Whale currently watching this film also badly wants to kick Dino De Laurentiis’ ass. (Back)

(10) For example, Orcas are up to four times as likely as Humans to Win Ben Stein’s Money. (Back)

(11) This is, of course, especially noticeable in the field of Architecture. (Back)

(12) Whereas we must also use noodles. (Back)

(13) This explains why the two most common Killer Whale phrases are, “SHUT…UP!!!!” and “Geez, is that really how I sound?” (Back)

(14) Given the powerful Orca Labor Unions, it’s all but impossible to get them into a recording studio. (Back)

(15) Unfortunately, they were analyzed by inferior Human-built computers. (Back)

(16) Well, that proves it! (Back)

(17) If they don’t, then why are they ‘saying’ anything at all? (Back)

(18) Except not. (Back)

(19) Strictly speaking, that’s not how X-ray vision works. (Back)

(20) Or BORED! BORED, I TELLS YA!!!! (Back)

(21) As opposed to suffering from a movie we can actually see. (Back)

(22) Yeah, especially to a big, damn fish! (Back)

(23) “What we call the script for Orca…” (Back)

  • Anders

    An orca probably has a larger brain than a human – brain size grows with body size. Whether it has a larger brain relative to its body… that’s another matter.

  • orcas have large brains even for their size, probably to help control their sonar.

    That said, I welcome our new cetacean overlords.