Orca: The Killer Whale (Blu-ray) (1977)

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Released 6-Dec-2017

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Disaster Audio Commentary-by Film Historian Lee Gambin
Featurette-Martha De Laurentiis Remembers
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1977
Running Time 92:15
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Michael Anderson
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Richard Harris
Charlotte Rampling
Will Sampson
Bo Derek
Keenan Wynn
Robert Carradine
Peter Hooten
Scott Walker
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $19.95 Music Ennio Morricone


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Action during credits

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Plot Synopsis

†††† Produced by Italian filmmaking luminary Dino De Laurentiis, 1977ís Orca: The Killer Whale represents a brazen attempt to capitalize on the astonishing success of Steven Spielbergís 1975 blockbuster Jaws. In addition, this particular film goes one step further by ostensibly incorporating elements of Moby Dick, as it pits a boat captain against a killer whale. From an ironic standpoint, a certain degree of entertainment value can be derived from the enormously cheesy and at times incompetent Orca, but its borderline impossible to defend this cult curiosity as a serious motion picture. Despite the efforts of director Michael Anderson (Loganís Run), the movie is so far removed from the spine-tingling horror and enduring effectiveness of Jaws, even though it was created with a comparable budget. And whereas age has been kind to Jaws, the same cannot be said of Orca, as it looks seriously dated in 2018.

†††† Irish-Canadian fisherman Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) makes his living by capturing marine animals for aquariums, and hopes to return to Ireland once the mortgage on his boat is paid off. Choosing to hunt for an orca, Nolan mistakenly harpoons and reels in a pregnant female killer whale, leading to its death as well as the demise of its unborn foetus. Unfortunately, the orcaís male mate witnesses the slaughter, and becomes determined to get revenge on Nolan. Following him to a nearby coastal town, the orca starts to wreak havoc on the village, destroying its resources and sinking ships as it challenges Nolan to a showdown. Confiding in whale expert Dr. Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling), Nolan is terrified of facing the orca since he knows the odds are not in his favour, but the livelihood of the village is in danger if the captain does not face up to his misdeeds.

†††† Even though comparisons to Jaws from a narrative standpoint are justified, the story is actually closer to Jaws: The Revenge, which was released later, in 1987. Indeed, it certainly does appear that the producers of Jaws: The Revenge took inspiration from Orca. How ironic. The concept behind Orca admittedly has promise, with an intriguing moral dilemma at the centre of the film since Nolan did kill the orcaís mate and should pay for his mistake. Unfortunately, itís clear that screenwriters Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Donati did not conduct much research before penning the script - leaving aside the unlikeliness that a killer whale would actually go to the trouble of terrorising a small seaside village, the mammals are not even monogamous, making the story look all the more ridiculous. In addition, scenes set on dry land during which Nolan contemplates the situation slows down the pacing dramatically, and thereís even a pretentious voiceover delivered by Rampling which is intended to add some depth and gravitas, but instead comes off as laughable and cheesy.

†††† To the filmís credit, the authentic shark footage during the opening sequence is impressive, but itís extremely obvious when the mechanical shark takes over - said fake shark looks like a bathtub toy; stiff and unconvincing. Itís something of a blessing when the orca is given centre stage, as the mechanical killer whale is not half-bad and at times itís difficult to distinguish between the fake orca and footage of the real things. In addition, there are a number of striking, brilliantly-composed shots thanks to credited cinematographers J. Barry Herron and Ted Moore. However, certain key sequences are undeniably hammy and campy, with overwrought sound effects and bizarre editing. There are a lot of close-ups of the orcaís eyes, set to the mammalís high-pitched screeching. One vestige of the production which actually deserves respect is the original score, composed by Spaghetti Western veteran Ennio Morricone. Although it is a tad histrionic at times, the compositions are nevertheless proficient and full of flavour for the most part. Harris is another huge asset, as he actually takes the material seriously and looks wracked with guilt during more dramatic moments. Itís just a shame that the filmmaking fails to properly serve him.

†††† In amid the hit-and-miss ensemble cast, Bo Derek appears as a member of Nolanís crew, in her first motion picture appearance (though not the first movie she actually filmed). None of the other actors make much of an impression, though Will Sampson (One Flew Over the Cuckooís Nest) is on hand as a wise Native American who tells stories about the orca. Even though Orca: The Killer Whale is not necessarily unwatchable, and itís entertaining and even compelling to a certain degree in a ďso bad itís goodĒ type of way, it is nevertheless a bit of a shame that itís not a better film overall. No doubt Orca will always hold a degree of cult appeal for the right audience, but itís unclear how more casual watchers will receive the movie as first-time viewers in 2018.

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Transfer Quality

Video

†††† Orca: The Killer Whale has only previously been released on Blu-ray in Japan and France, and this therefore marks the first time that the movie has seen a Blu-ray release in an English-speaking region. Reviews of the overseas discs are hard to come by, but its likely safe to assume that Umbrella made use of the same available high definition master. Presented in AVC-encoded 1080p, and framed at 2.35:1, this Blu-ray transfer is truly a mixed bag. In virtually every shot, there is print damage - from specks of dirt to lines running down the screen, as well as rampant flickering and more. For better or for worse, it genuinely feels as if you're watching a battered old film print, as whomever prepared the master made no attempt to remaster the movie in any capacity. At least grain is left in-tact and is well-resolved, making the transfer look organic and nicely textured, though the presentation is still limited by the shortcomings of the source. "Grain haters" will probably detest this one.

†††† With so few special features on the disc, and the movie only clocking in at a bit over 90 minutes, Umbrella make use of a single-layered BD-25, which is sufficient, especially given that the disc is nearly filled to its full capacity. The video encode is competent, never falling victim to noticeable macroblocking, aliasing, or any other compression artefacts, and the bitrate averages at above 25 Mbps. At the very least, detail and texturing is fine, and the transfer does look natively high definition - this isn't just a nasty upscale. Of course, the quality of the presentation can differ from shot to shot, with certain moments looking very rough, soft and unrefined while other moments do impress. Clarity is inconsistent, as well - at night, the black levels are a bit much, giving rise to a bit of black crush, while it can be difficult to discern what's happening in dim underwater shots. Colours never exactly pop like they would with High Dynamic Range grading, but it looks faithful to the source, carrying the appearance of a production from the 1970s.

†††† When the transfer is on, the grain looks nicely resolved, there's ample texture to the image, it's agreeably sharp, and colours look strong. But even still, print damage is omnipresent. Meanwhile, when the transfer is off, it's muddy and crude, and the flickering is very distracting. Could Orca look better? Almost certainly. With a fresh scan (4K would be preferable) and some extensive restoration work to clean up all the print damage and artefacts, new life could be given to this niche Italian cult movie. But whether or not it receives the appropriate care and attention from a label like Shout! Factory or Arrow remains to be seen. At the end of the day, Umbrella's disc is watchable, and the company have made the most of a flawed source. Fans wanting to upgrade from their DVDs or VHS tapes should enjoy this one, and it's nice to have it in high definition. It's just a shame that the quality of the presentation is so inconsistent.

†††† English subtitles are available. There are a surprising number of errors in the subtitles (including "Iam" instead of "I am," only half of a subtitle being italicised, and more), but their inclusion is still appreciated.


Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

†††† Umbrella provide two audio options for the movie: a DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix, and a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track, but neither option is much to write home about. The 5.1 mix is a huge disappointment, as it fails to effectively take advantage of the surround channels and sounds mono more often than not. (If somebody told me it was just a simple stereo track, I would believe them.) Much like the video, it's clear that the audio has not been remastered in any form, so you'll hear pops and clicks throughout, but the big issue is with sibilance - any time the letter "s" is uttered in any sentence by any of the actors, there's a hissing noise. Sometimes it's easy to ignore, but at other times it's a huge distraction and nails-on-a-chalkboard irritating. Prioritisation is weird as well, with some sound effects sounding too overwrought compared to dialogue in the same scene. At least dialogue is mixed loudly, and you'll never have troubles hearing it - though comprehending the dialogue can be difficult with the rampant sibilance problem. At least the audio is lossless, too - I don't want to imagine what a lossy encode would sound like.

†††† There is little difference between the mono mix and the 5.1 track - the mono track still has sibilance issues, and there are pops and clicks throughout the movie. I can't exactly call the audio particularly good, but sibilance problems aside, it's fine - Morricone's score is easy to appreciate, the subwoofer is used at appropriate times to give impact to various sound effects, and there are no sync problems. But surround activity for the 5.1 track is non-existent and the audio is in dire need of a proper remaster. Again, perhaps the good folks at Shout! or Arrow might give this one the audio-visual restoration it needs, but this'll do for the time being I guess. It's better than a DVD.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

†††† In keeping with Umbrella's traditions, the main menu is interactive and features clips from the movie. There's a small supply of extras, but it's a shame that no key players were interviewed.

Audio Commentary with Film Historian Lee Gambin

†††† Australian film historian and writer Lee Gambin drops in to deliver an audio commentary track, which was recorded exclusively for Umbrella's release. Gambin is knowledgeable about motion pictures (particularly horror films), Dino De Laurentiis's career, and the production of Orca. He touches upon the countless movies that were inspired by Jaws, the fact that the shark footage in the beginning was shot by Ron and Valerie Taylor (who worked on Jaws), the way Harris resented any comparisons to Jaws, Bo Derek's role, and more. He mentions that Charlotte Rampling's agent got in touch to express her approval for this Blu-ray (apparently she was just too busy to participate). In essence, this commentary is a grab-bag of factoids of varying interest that Gambin gleaned from research. There are some dead spots, though, and Gambin occasionally struggles to find things to talk about, sometimes just narrating the on-screen goings-on. It's not exactly essential listening, and a commentary track featuring somebody who worked on the movie would be more enticing, but this is fine for what it is.

Moby Dick Ala De Laurentiis: Martha De Laurentiis Remembers Orca (HD; 4:56)

†††† In this interview conducted by Umbrella exclusively for this Blu-ray release, Dino De Laurentiis's wife Martha talks about Orca as well as Dino in general. Martha was not actually involved in the production of Orca, and therefore doesn't have a great deal of insight into the production.

Theatrical Trailer (HD; 2:40)

†††† Taken from a very rough standard definition source (it looks like a low-grade YouTube video) but encoded in 1080p, here we have the vintage theatrical trailer for Orca. It's borderline unwatchable. This is actually presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, as opposed to the movie's original aspect ratio of 2.40:1.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

† † I believe this is the only Blu-ray release with any actual special features. Buy local.

Summary

†††† Established fans of Orca: The Killer Whale will likely never sway from their opinion but as a first-time watcher in 2018 the movie has some serious problems and has dated dreadfully. It's got nothing on Jaws.

†††† News about Umbrella's Blu-ray release is mixed. The video transfer suffers from an array of problems, mostly in relation to severe print damage, but at least it looks natural and the encode is competent. Meanwhile, the audio is in serious need of clean-up work. Extras are scant but the effort is appreciated. Fans should enjoy the upgrade, especially if they've been clinging onto VHS tapes for decades.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Review Equipment
DVDLG UP970 4K UHD HDR Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

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