"Orca" now are area theaers, wobbly leg of Dino De laurentiis' three step assault on "Jaws." For all practical purposes De Laurentiis shot his bolt with "King Kong," a box-office success on paper out a decisive setback nevertheless, because the producer expected to outdraw "Jaws" and did perhaps 25 per cent of his obsession's business.
"The White Buffalo," a monster melodmama in a Western setting, was a total disaster.
The seagoing "Orca," in which a feckless fisherman played by Richard Harris antagonize a merciless killer whale, is at least presentable, but its fate should echo that the Harris character, last seen quietly sliding off an ice-berg to a watery grave.
Despite the maritime setting and the menace presumably embodied in a sea monster. "Orca" is essentially a rehash of an earlier De Laurentiis hit, "Death Wish," with the killer whale in Charles Bronson role . Harris, trying to capture one of the creatures, nicks the male in the fin and unintentionally but fatally injures his pregnant mate. Fixing Harris with a steely, albeit filmy, eye, the vindictive male engages in a prolonged series of deadly reprisals before finally delivering the coup de grace to his downright apologetic human tormentor.
Primitive susceptibilities and thought processes are not necessarily a disadvantage to people who fabricate movies, but the De Laurnetiis crowd had grown a little too aboriginal to make meio-dramatic sense. "orca" is characterized by some preposterous form of zoological-sentimental fallacy, requiring the audience to go along with the idea that Harris' poor sap of a fisherman deserves to be terrorized and executed by this over-whelming powerful, morally superior beast.
Harris' blundeing skipper is certainly no Ahab. he isn't even asking for trouble in the way Robert Shaw's Quint did in "Jaws." In fact, he's such a pathetic conception of an antognist that the filmakers compel him to acknowledge that the fish is more of a man. A despondent Harris confesses to Charlotte Rampling, cast as a stern marine biologist, that his own wife and child were killed by a drunken driver, whom he neglected to get revenue on. Comparing reactions, he concludes that the whale "loved his family more than I did."
One gathers that protecting the mate and the young ranks high in De Laurentiis' heirarchy of moral imperatives. Will Sampson, cast as a platitudinous bargain-basement Queequeg in "Orca," was intent to avenging a murdered child in "The White Baffalo." Craving elemental justice when the family is injured, De Laurentiis' protagnists seem to go off deep end. Now that he's seen fit to identify with a killer whale widower, there's not much left for De Laurentiis but a vengeful Mother Nature herself.
As it happend, De Laurentiis is preparing a remake of the old John Ford spectacle "hurricane." Proving that adversity does not indeed make strange bed-fellows, Roman Polanski is supposed to direct it.
Quite uie apart from the inadequacy of the Harris character as an object of anyone's spite let along the soite of a creature as difficult to cuddle up to in the wild as a killer whale, the premise is compromised by the fact that there's no reason why the beast can't exact his revenge immediately. No reason, that is, except the necessity to string a dubious premise out to feature length. As usual, De Laurentiis' crew has come up a bit short in the monstous illusion department: Their killer whale resembles the vinyl blow-up toys one associates with the wading pool.
There are some attractive seascapes along the coasr of Newfoundland, but nothing in the picure could possibly justify the alleged production cost of $12 million. IT appears one should be divided by 3 or 4 when guessing at the real cost of a De Laurentiis production. This would bring "King Kong," for example, down to a plausible $8 million or so.