Saturday, July 14, 2012

Matthew: Year One (1977): Whale Tale

The Advertisement for the movie ORCA appeared on the back cover of Marvel Comics dated Sept and Oct 1977 (that’s June and July in the real world…I think).  I thought for sure it had run more than two months, because I remember seeing it so often.  Well, when comics are only thirty-cents each, you tend to get a lot of them (with your Slurpees) and when you’re a kid falling in love with the genre you re-read your books over and over again.  So, I guess I did see the Ad dozens of times.  The movie on the other hand, I just watched recently on Netflix, satisfying my curiosity thirty-five years later.

You know for a long time, I actually thought killer whales were like great white sharks because of this image.  That was long before the Free Willy movies showed them as much nicer.  I mean, look at the hype on this thing – that is one frightening beast.  I’d heard about the Jaws movie (a favorite of my older brother) and knew those creatures were scary, so this played right on that notion (as it was designed to do).

The actual movie definitely lives up to this depiction, there is carnage galore and rampant destruction for sure.  However, the reason is never hinted at on the page.  The Orca is not some mindless beast bent on havoc just to satisfy its need to feed; rather, it’s enacting revenge against the man (and his associates) that killed his mate.  It turns out the Orca (I’m basing all my “facts” from the movie folks) mates for life and they also have more highly advanced brains than humans. 
So, when the main character, Captain Nolan, played by Richard Harris, kills the female accidently in a blundered attempt to capture it to sell to an aquarium, that’s when the trouble begins.  As the whale is hoisted up over the ship, we find out the female was also pregnant in a gruesome scene where her whale baby comes out and drops on the deck.  The captain callously sprays it into the water with a hose.  All of this is witnessed by the enraged spouse, who just happens to now have nick in his fin, so you can be sure to identify him throughout the rest of the movie.

The whale is cunning and systematically attacks Nolan indirectly in various ways to lure him back to the sea for a final confrontation.  Several of his crewmen get chomped (Bo Derek loses a leg while others lose their lives), his ship is damaged, the harbor is demolished, and the whale even manages to set the fuel depot on fire (I told you he was smart). The whale is often bathed in a red glow whenever he’s plotting or enjoying his “fin”diwork   
On hand to be the attractive narrator is Doctor Rachel Bedford (naturally a killer whale expert who provides important facts to advance the plot), played by Charlotte Rampling.  She and Nolan are at odds through much of the film, although she is genuinely trying to help him despite his destructive actions.  Actually, both these characters and Nolan in particular are much more complex than you would surmise.  Harris does a great job of making you care for him – his character lost his wife and child to a drunk driver, so he and the whale share the same pain.  The supporting characters are not so bright.

I’ve got to say that my wife and I enjoyed the film.  Sure, it’s predictable, you know from the get-go that both the whale and Nolan are going to end up destroying one another. (I even called the “Let me warm you” moment between Rachel and Nolan.)  But the execution makes this at least a B+ movie, rather than just a “B-movie”.  Of course, you couldn’t have guessed that the showdown would take place amidst some icebergs!
What really baffles me is why someone thought this was a good film to promote to kids reading comic books!

For the trivia buffs out there, these two months did not contain the famous Hostess super-hero Ads.  Instead, it was a Hostess Ad featuring baseball cards.  (Oh, the days of Wonder Bread cards…)

1 comment:

  1. My husband and his best friend have been talking about this movie for years - apparently they saw it in a rental store but never got the chance to actually see it. All they could do was ponder how the whale had set stuff on fire.