The 1977 release of Orca was problematic, mostly because it was a late contender to Jaws. It didn’t get much love with critics because of this not-unfair comparison, but it’s also somewhat unfair to view Michael Anderson’s film as a simple copycat – there are a slew of movies that directly ripped Jaws off, and that’s not the case here. Orca might focus on another nautical creature, and it might showcase the battle between man and sea beast, but the movie is a bit more complex than boiling it down to its requisite parts, and often Orca highlights a much older tale than Jaws: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
In all honesty, though, Orca‘s storyline is a lot cheesier than Moby Dick, and the plot requires audiences to suspend disbelief as Captain Nolan (Richard Harris), a sea poacher, is specifically targeted by a killer whale after Nolan kills the mother of his unborn child. The idea relies on believing that a whale (1) can have this much forethought and (2) actually partakes in monogamy. Still, the film uses a lot of exposition to try to sell this theme thanks to Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling), a marine biologist who helps teach Nolan about whales and their behaviors.
Orca is a slow film, and it’s not always successful in keeping the killer whale in the spotlight. Too often it devolves into dialogue or wastes time contemplating Nolan’s debt to his seaside town after his whale rivalry causes mass destruction. But Anderson’s whale attacks are structured quite well, with suspenseful moments that utilize both real and well-crafted prop whales. The death scene of the mother whale is disturbing when an unborn fetus falls onto Nolan’s boat deck, and while it’s difficult to place all of the blame on him, Anderson at least gives some emotional depth to the killer whale attack while also crafting some sympathy for the creatures.
And that’s what makes Orca less a copycat of Jaws than an inspired follow-up. The film takes advantage of Jaws’ popularity but it also tries to make its own story out of Nolan’s hunt for his own white whale. While Orca could benefit from some better editing and a speedier, more eventful story, it’s still a successful film on its own, especially when the viewer intentionally refrains from Jaws comparisons. It’s at least worth a watch simply because Harris often put himself in mortal danger during the role; don’t let his risks go unrewarded.
Scream Factory has released Orca on Blu-ray without notating the type of transfer provided. It looks to be of the same quality as Umbrella Entertainment’s previous Blu-ray (though with a much higher bitrate) with some moderate changes. For one, there is a definite color shift – water scenes tend towards a greener tint, while the overall color timing is more yellowish than Umbrella’s pinker hues. Perhaps the only real change in quality viewers might find is towards the end of the film in the snowy setting – it looks a bit less grainy, managing the whites and sky a tad better. Also noticeable on this release is a bit more information on the sides and bottom of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with the framing zoomed out a bit from Umbrella’s.
Overall, it’ll be up to the viewer to decide which Blu-ray is more preferable, because ultimately the differences are fairly minimal. We’ll let you be the judge with our screenshot comparisons.
For audio, Scream Factory provides a DTS-HD MA mono track which has no real issues and seems about the same as Umbrella’s. Another difference here is that a 5.1 track is not included. Subtitles are provided.
Special features are slim and were previously included on past releases, including an audio commentary with film historian Lee Gambin and a theatrical trailer.
Full uncompressed gallery of screenshots from this Blu-ray.
Audio Commentary With Author/Film Historian Lee Gambin
Theatrical Trailer (unrestored HD; 2:26)
Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray
MOBY DICK ala DE LAURENTIIS: Martha De Laurentiis remembers ORCA
Overall, Scream Factory’s Orca is a solid release for those that don’t already own a previous Blu-ray version or for those who don’t want to import. Minor changes to color and framing may sway your opinion.
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