Saturday, October 20, 2012

Orca and Ripoff Flicks

I've acknowledged The Big Picture as one of my favourite web series before, and its best moments often come in October when "MovieBob" does an annual feature called "Schlocktober." For a full month Bob gives us episodes on "obscure and/or bizarre horror and monster movies," basically ensuring that Christmas comes an extra four times a year for horror/monster movie nerds. This year Bob has decided to feature Orca as one of his movie picks, and the results are fantastic. Give the episode a watch below (major spoilers for Orca):

This video brings up a long-time curiosity of mine: movies that were green-lit strictly to feed off the popularity of blockbuster hits. One of my all time favourite films, Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece Alien, is perhaps the best example of this phenomenon. Dan O'Bannon's script was approved for production largely by virtue of the fact that Star Wars was an unprecedented hit in 1977, leading movie execs to say "People love space!" and fast track potential contenders for said space-fans' money. But the story of Alien is a serious diamond in the rough type scenario, as more often than not these "ripoff flicks" end up as poor shadows of the films that inspired them. Just watch Moonraker and you'll see what I mean.

As Bob indicates in the video, the release of Jaws had a similar effect to that of Star Wars, and Orca was one of many attempts to steal Steven Spielberg's crown as the king of underwater horror (to date none have succeeded, IMHO). Another illustrious contender was Joe Dante's Piranha, a parody of the many Jaws imitations. It is notable both for being "the best of the Jaws ripoffs" in Spielberg's own estimation (source: Wikipedia), and because James Cameron made his directorial debut with the sequel, Piranha II: The Spawning. Also the hilarious 2010 remake, Piranha 3D, featured a 3D underwater nude ballet sequence that might be most exploitative thing ever filmed.

The ripoff flicks phenomenon has intrigued me for years because when things go right (see: all of the aforementioned examples besides Moonraker) it's the perfect confluence of the financial and artistic motivations behind filmmaking. Granted, things tend to go wrong more often than not (see: Moonraker), but the best examples make all of the worst movies worth it (others might not agree with me). Hell, the superhero film genre is itself an example of this phenomenon, and I'd watch Catwoman a hundred times if that's what it took to get The Dark Knight. I might revisit this subject in more depth in a future post, but for now it's enough to say that ripoff flicks present a more nuanced picture of the business side of filmmaking.

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