16 July 2010

Revenge Willy

We’re going old school for this one, to a movie that’s even older than me. To a movie that doesn’t have any computer generated effects because computers in those days took up entire buildings and took 2 days to compute the multiplications table. Yes, we’re taking it all the way back to 1977, to a little known (to me) movie entitled Orca: The Killer Whale. As far as my requirement for descriptive titles goes, this one wins points for brevity, but looses points for being inaccurate. It should have been called Orca: The Killer Dolphin or Orca: The Evil Mastermind, I would have accepted either.
As for the fake science, there really wasn’t that much of it. I mean, there wasn’t anything special or prehistoric about the Orca that needed to be explained away. I’m fairly certain they fudged some of the information on dolphin behaviour and sociology, but as far as these movies go it was hardly a glaring offender. Everything they showed is technically possible, just not probable in the context they used.

I want to say that this movie was actually pretty good. The writing and acting were pretty bad, but it was refreshing to be reminded about special effects in the pre-computer era. I will admit that the opening sequence – clearly footage of orcas in captivity – left me with low expectations. Then the next sequence didn’t help much. An Irish fisherman sailing an American boat off the coast of Newfoundland was hunting a great white shark. His aim was to capture one live and sell it to an aquarium, likely trying to cash in on the Jaws fever that would have been sweeping the nation. Bastard. While hunting he runs into a “teacher” from “the university” who is studying orca calls. Her stupid assistant falls in the water and attracts the shark, and is saved by an orca that head-butts the shark into submission. Here’s what the viewer sees: stock footage of sharks and orcas, footage of the assistant treading water, then we see an orca ramming head-first into a badly-made shark model. So fake. But, honestly, the movie got better.

So, the Captain is all “what was that?” and teacher chick teaches the Captain about what incredible smart creatures the orcas are. Of course, he decides to try and capture one to sell to an aquarium. He’s about 16 years too early for the Free Willy craze, but that’s the least of his problems. In attempting to tranq a male, he misses and hits the male’s mate. The female, severely wounded, throws herself on the propeller of the fishing boat in an attempt to kill herself. Meanwhile her mate is seriously upset and making anguished vocalisations. The fishermen haul the female out of the water. She’s still alive and there’s this scene that’s probably the most disturbing scene I have ever seen in one of these monster-killer-animal movies. I won’t tell you what it is, but I will say that it’s clearly a motivating force for the Male Orca and what he does next.

What follows is the revenge. Orca follows the boat back to port and proceeds to terrorize the entire town by sinking boats and blowing up oil refineries (this was one genius dolphin). Eventually Orca trashes the Captain’s house (or, at least, where he was staying) which seems to be his last straw as he finally goes back to sea to face the Orca like a man.

There’s a final showdown on ice floes in, like, the Arctic. I won’t tell you who wins. I will say that the annoying character I hated dies. And that Orca was probably the most sympathetic character in the whole movie. I would like to applaud the performance of the trained orcas that acted in the part of Orca. They did a good job of bumping into things and swimming around. And as far as I know, they didn't actually kill anyone during filming. Bravo!

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